Microsoft’s predominance in the browser space has been slowly eroding over the years, with Firefox, Apple’s Safari and Opera encroaching on the once near-ubiquitous Internet Explorer

IT departments choosing between them have to be prepared for unhappy users who don’t want to give up their favourite browser and who may download that browser despite the existence of another on their desktop.

But they shouldn’t worry too much about such downloads, said Colin Teubner, an analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.

If companies haven’t blocked installing applications in general, they shouldn’t be concerned about or bother blocking users downloading another browser, he said.

“It may not work with some enterprise applications, but it won’t break anything,” Teubner said.

And some organizations don’t have a choice in the matter – they must support all browsers because they can’t mandate one to their users.

York University is one such place.

“It’s a university environment. People are free to install what they wish,” said Peter Rowley, director of information systems for computing and network services at York in Toronto. “The choice of the user is absolutely paramount.”

Internet Explorer and Firefox are predominant, though users on the Mac OS also use Safari. To accommodate the diversity, the university supports patches and upgrades for multiple browsers.

And supporting the browsers on its Web site hasn’t proved too difficult a task, he said.

“The standards are fairly well followed these days,” he said. The one exception is that Safari is incompatible with the campus-wide login system, so users must login to pages using another browser, which is typically Firefox, he said.

But not everyone encourages the freedom to choose for users. It makes sense for companies to standardize on a browser such as an IE7 image to reduce complexity, said George Goodall, a research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont. Organizations with power users, however, do tend to let users choose, he said.

No need to wait
And with the introduction of Internet Explorer 7, many of the differences between Firefox and Microsoft have disappeared, Goodall said.

“Traditionally, Firefox has been a leader on security, but with IE7, those differences have gone,” he said. He recommends that companies upgrade to IE7 sooner rather than later. “I wouldn’t say the same thing about Vista or Office 2007, but it’s worth it with IE7.”

Teubner agrees. He encourages companies to adopt IE7 once line-of-business applications have been tested on it.

Internet Explorer is the most popular browser in the enterprise market at the moment, according to Forrester Research.

In September 2006, IE had 88.8 per cent of the market, while Firefox had 9.9 per cent, Safari 0.7 per cent, Netscape 0.2 per cent and Opera 0.2 per cent.

Forrester also found that Firefox use in the enterprise grew at an average rate of 0.1 per cent per month in Q3 last year.

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