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What browser wars? The enterprise still loves IE 6

Forrester Research indicates that 60 percent of companies use Internet Explorer 6 as their default browser. Bottom line: companies need a browser policy to improve productivity.

This was originally posted at ZDNet's Between the Lines.

This news may come as a shocker to the tech-savvy folks in the house, but 60 percent of companies use Internet Explorer 6 as their default browser, according to Forrester Research. Meanwhile, your IT department spends a decent amount of time erecting barriers to prevent browser upgrades. Bottom line: companies need a browser policy, or they will risk productivity losses.

Welcome to the wonderful world of enterprise browser adoption. While the tech press spends a lot of time talking about Web 2.0 and even 3.0, Corporate America is on Web 0.5.

To be sure, there are good reasons for the enterprise reticence on browsers--they're a security risk. However, too few IT departments have a browser policy, and they sure don't think through potential productivity gains with advancements such as tabs, faster processing, and JavaScript engines and better search features.

Forrester analyst Sheri McLeish says in a research report:

As more and more companies look to SaaS (software-as-a-service) solutions, and the Web delivers richer media, firms need to rethink their browser choices in concert with the Web-based apps they deploy. Today, the overwhelming majority of enterprises support Internet Explorer--remarkably, 60 percent of enterprises are still on IE 6.

I've witnessed the love affair with Internet Explorer 6 up close. I got a new work laptop a few months ago, and IE 6 was the default. I forgot what that browser looked like--partially because I use Firefox, but also because I had IE 7 (now IE 8) before. Luckily, the upgrade didn't kill me.

Forrester's market share stats illustrate how enterprises are sleeping through the browser wars:

  • IE is the corporate browser of choice, with 78 percent of enterprises using it as a default;
  • IE 6 has 60 percent of the enterprise market, with IE 7 clocking in at 39 percent;
  • Firefox has 18.2 percent of the enterprise market;
  • Chrome has 2 percent;
  • Safari has 1.4 percent.

The problem: Information workers live in browsers all day. And companies are giving them the equivalent of a Yugo.

Why? Companies are worried about custom apps that may fail on new browsers and security and compliance. In addition, companies limit the ability to upgrade. Seventy percent of companies restrict browser choice and Web content. Forrester notes that "IT control trumps technology populism."

Ultimately, this IT control may be short sighted, argues McLeish:

Even if enterprises lag behind in browser upgrades, leading consumer-facing Web sites take advantage of browser capabilities that enhance rendering speed, better support rich Internet applications (RIAs), and offer new privacy and security capabilities. From an information worker perspective, these benefits are only part of the picture.

Features like tabs, add-ons, quick copying, improved search and navigation, and better post-crash recovery provide tangible productivity benefits for most information workers. Address bars that double as search save time, and available add-ons feature a wide range of functionality such as better remembering of passwords and saving pages to view later without creating permanent bookmarks.

The other issue: Employees use multiple browsers, depending on various applications. We've become agnostic about browsers, so limiting them is the equivalent of removing a key wrench from the toolbox.

McLeish's main point is that enterprises need a browser strategy. Luckily she cooked up this handy crib sheet to get you started:

Forrester Research