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Importance of browser-based collaboration tools as enterprise application

Added 1st Jul 2009

Article Highlights

  • The importance of browsers as an enterprise application
  • The challenges browsers represent
  • Why it’s hard to use just one

Organizations have traditionally devoted minimum attention to Web browsers, but IT departments feel that they need to change that hands-off strategy. In the past two years, a variety of factors have made browsers a much more important piece of business software for IT to deal with.

“The fact is that you probably end up with Chrome, Firefox, IE, and maybe Safari on your machine, and you'll use [one or another] depending on the applicationThe fact is that you probably end up with Chrome, Firefox, IE, and maybe Safari on your machine, and you'll use [one or another] depending on the application”

One consideration has been the  rising popularity of cloud computing in the enterprise, which has led CIOs to green-light the adoption of Web-hosted applications of various types, like office productivity, collaboration, and CRM. In addition, on-premise enterprise applications, whether in-house or commercial products, increasingly favor browsers as their frontend components. Last but not the least, is the rising range of viable Web browsers. Microsoft's Internet Explorer for a long time was the only browser option, but today there are significant user bases for Firefox. Forrester Research reports that IE holds 78 percent of the installed base, Firefox 18 percent, Chrome 2 percent, Safari 1.4 percent, and Opera 0.2 percent. Even within the IE family, fundamental changes in IE8 in many ways mean IT should treat it as a separate browser. The greater dependence on a larger stable of browsers, not to mention their numerous versions and plug-ins, complicates the environment that IT must manage, with greater impact on the business when compatibility or other issues arise. And the pace of browser updates is only adding to the pressure.

The Browser as an Enterprise App

"Enterprises need to think about the browser as a productivity tool, not as a transparent application. They need to look at browsers more strategically," says Sheri McLeish, a Forrester analyst. "The browser is one of the most important pieces of software we have right now," says Andy Armagost, the Unix/Linux system administrator at Brigham Oil & Gas. The browser is the front end to various applications, including Yahoo's Zimbra Collaboration Suite, which is the company's main e-mail and collaboration platform. So it's not surprising that "a good portion of the help desks requests we get are related to browsers, like needing a particular plug-in to do something on a particular Web site," Armagost says.

At Brigham Oil & Gas, the browser of choice is Firefox 3 because the IT  department believes it offers better performance and is more secure than IE and previous Firefox versions. Thus, Brigham Oil & Gas has designed several of its in-house applications specifically for Firefox. Still, the IT department keeps an eye on the other browsers. It has to track and support IE, which is the only browser option for certain sites and Web apps that use ActiveX technology. And it tracks Google's Chrome; though still young, Chrome promises interesting improvements in performance and other areas, Armagost says.

Don't Ignore Browsers

But Brigham Oil & Gas' hands-on approach to its users' browsers is the exception rather than the rule. A recent Forrester Research study found that 60 percent of enterprises are still using IE6, an "old" browser. These hands-off enterprises are depriving their time-strapped users from the security, performance, and functionality enhancements that newer browsers like IE7, IE8, Firefox 3, Chrome, and Safari 4 can offer, says Forrester's McLeish. That IE6 is by far the most widely used browser among enterprises reflects most IT departments' lack of interest in browsers. "There's a tremendous lack of education for employees from their IT departments around browsers," McLeish says. However, this laissez-faire approach toward browsers won't last long, McLeish says: "The rise of software as a service will force enterprises to at least come up with a browser strategy for their workforce."

  • Page 1 : Importance of browser-based collaboration tools as enterprise application
  • Page 2 : One Browser Won't Fix It
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