Microsoft-bankrolled report argues for single-browser enterprises

'Unrealistic,' counters company that crafts browser management tools; 'hollow victory,' adds analyst

A Microsoft-commissioned report published last week said companies can save tens of thousands of dollars in support and development costs by standardizing on one browser.

Although the report, conducted by Forrester Research and paid for by Microsoft, never used the words "Internet Explorer," "Windows," "Chrome" or "Firefox," there was little doubt of its focus: Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE).

"The study revealed that IT pros overwhelming prefer to standardize on the browser that ships with their desktop OS," Forrester said. IE, of course, is the browser bundled with Windows, the planet's most popular business desktop operating system.

According to surveys of 133 IT decision makers at North American enterprises, 96% of the companies have standardized on one browser for workers' PCs. But they're split over whether to support others.

Nearly half of the enterprises allowed employees to install an alternative alongside the company-standard browser. About a third of those refused to answer users' support questions about such browsers, while the remainder supported alternatives on a "best-effort" basis, Forrester said.

The relative lack of interest in non-standard browsers was driven by several fears, said Forrester, including a higher number of calls to the corporate help desk, more trouble patching and maintaining a wider range of software, and higher development costs of in-house Web apps that must run on multiple browsers.

A third of the companies that allow more than one browser estimated that doing so drove up costs by at least 20%. Some of that money was spent on Web app development, which they figured jumped 14% when multiple browsers were involved. Most of the estimated app creation cost increases came from security and patch management, and testing -- together nearly half the total -- while actual development accounted for just 5%.

Forrester may have been hesitant to name names in the report, but Microsoft certainly wasn't.

In a Dec. 13 blog post, Roger Capriotti, the director of IE marketing, leaned heavily on the report to tout 10 reasons why he thought IE10 -- the newest version that's bundled with Windows 8 and Windows RT, and is now in a preview stage for Windows 7 -- is best for business. In that blog, Capriotti used "Internet Explorer" 28 times as he cited its TCO (total cost of ownership) advantage.

The Forrester survey, said Capriotti, "Reveals business priorities that reaffirm Internet Explorer's choice as a great browser for business."

But what neither Forrester or Capriotti mentioned, said an analyst, was the BYOD, or "bring your own device," trend that's making company-controlled desktops and notebooks, and thus their browsers, less important as employee tools.

"It is accurate that most businesses stick to or certainly prefer to stick to one browser in terms of what they actually distribute or what their internal development teams focus on to limit their test matrix," acknowledged Al Hilwa of IDC, a research firm rival of Forrester. "However, the BYOD trend is making inroads [and] companies' control of the desktop may end up being a hollow victory in the long run as users bring in diverse devices with different browsers."

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