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Rivals level guns at IE in enterprise browser war

Elizabeth Montalbano | June 12, 2009
While Microsoft's browser is the standard with enterprise customers, Mozilla and Google are readying tools to compete

NEW YORK, 11 JUNE 2009 - While Microsoft's Internet Explorer faces healthy competition with other browsers among consumers, in the enterprise it has long remained the de facto standard. But that could soon change as rivals -- particularly Mozilla and Google -- add features to their browsers that make them better suited for use across corporate desktops.

Forrester analyst Sheri McLeish pointed to a variety of factors that are making alternatives to IE more compelling for the enterprise, among them their growing popularity with the average Web user, which has taken market share away from IE.

"Being able to lead on the consumer browser side for desktops gives those people familiarity with those tools and can help push them out into an enterprise setting," she said.

That, coupled with antitrust pressures that will cause Microsoft to ship Windows 7 in Europe without IE8, something the company disclosed Thursday, is giving alternative browsers an opening among enterprise users, McLeish said.

But it will be the enterprise-friendly features -- in areas like installation, provisioning and setting group policies -- that really determine whether companies will use other browsers, she said.

Because of its long history with business software, Microsoft has the needs of the enterprise well in hand. The company offers a host of tools that make it easy for IT departments to install, provision and set group security and other policies for its browser on multiple desktops.

IE's inclusion with Windows also allows Microsoft to put tools in the OS that apply directly to the browser. For example, it offers so-called slipstream installation, which enables IE to be deployed as part of the Windows image that IT professionals create for corporate desktops. This eliminates the need to install the browser separately on each machine.

Microsoft has also offered, as part of the Group Policy settings in Windows, the ability to set policies for IE across desktops, which makes it easy for corporations to set security policies that help prevent malware from getting inside the firewall or sensitive information from going outside it.

Before Mozilla's Firefox browser started gaining traction among consumers several years ago, IE had been the standard browser for so long that many corporate applications were built to run on it and the Web protocols it supported, which -- until IE 7 and the forthcoming IE8 -- weren't always industry standard.

In fact, many companies that built applications for IE are still running IE6 to retain compatibility, analysts said. And even if they have updated to a newer version of IE, they use Window's Group Policy settings to render applications as if they are running on IE6 because they would not work otherwise, said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft.


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