Will standardizing on a single browser today help keep IT costs at bay?

Will standardizing on a single browser today help keep IT costs at bay?

Summary: A new Microsoft-commissioned study makes the case that corporations do well by standardizing on a single browser. Microsoft's obvious hope and contention is that browser is Internet Explorer.


I don't often cover Microsoft-commissioned studies because of the seeming increased potential for biased results. But I'm bending my rules with a new study by Forrester Research commissioned by Microsoft about standardizing on a single browser in the enterprise.

Microsoft highlighted the study and provided a free download link for it via its "Exploring IE" blog this week. The reason I decided to take a look was my interest in how Microsoft is campaigning to get business users to standardize on Internet Explorer (IE) -- and hopefully not the older, not-so-standards-compliant versions of it.

Forrester's report, "The Business Case for Standardizing on a Single Modern Browser in the Enterprise," highlights answers from 133 North American IT pros and business-decision makers surveyed. Ninety-six percent of those surveyed said their firms encouraged standardization on a single browser for company-issued PCs. (So bring-your-own devices are excluded here.) But only 51 percent of those surveyed said single-browser use was enforced by lockdowns at their companies.



From the summary on the Exploring Microsoft blog post (which doesn't mention, by the way, that Microsoft commissioned this study -- but which Forrester does make quite clear at the top of its downloadable report):

"Forrester found that firms spend an extra $4,200 per web app annually to support multiple browsers. For a large corporation, that translates to almost $400,000 per year just for web apps. Any potential benefits were clearly outweighed by support, maintenance, and other costs - as most firms with multiple browsers experienced cost increases in excess of 20% overall. This is in line with conventional wisdom, which says to pick one browser but develop sites to common web standards."

Forrester found security and patch management, testing, and training (and to a lesser extent app-development costs) increased when businesses allowed deployment of more than one company-sanctioned browser.

Forrester analysts didn't tell those surveyed who commissioned this study (according to a note in the results). Nor did Forrester's report make any recommendations about on which single browser enterprises should standardize.

But Microsoft's blog write-up plays up the fact that IE10 is integrated with Windows 8 -- just as IE9 was with Windows 7. So if an enterprise has Windows, the implication is IE is the single browser you already have by default and the one that is the obvious choice for those looking to standardize on a single browser.

Even though IE's share is holding roughly constant at just over 50 percent of the market at this point, not every enterprise user and admin likely agrees that standardizing on one browser is a no brainer. Browsium, for example, is taking a different tack and is focused on giving IT browser-management tools via its Catalyst product (now in beta) for multi-browser shops.

"It’s not about only using one browser. It’s about giving IT the browser management tools they need to retain control, because the multi-browser enterprise is here to stay," said Gary Schare, Browsium President and Chief Operating Officer.

Topics: Browser, Microsoft, Windows, IT Policies


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Will standardizing on a single browser today help keep IT costs at bay?

    Yes it will. We standardize on IE because it comes with Microsoft Windows which means no additional software downloads. Also means one way of doing things like how to download and run files instead of downloading and searching for them then running. Intranet sites can be coded and know they work for all PCs in the company. It really does work out well.
    • And IE is easily serviced

      For small businesses that don't have costly patch management solutions, IE is the answer. WSUS is free, provides all servicing of IE, and reports any client PCs where patches failed to install. It also works for PCs where users don't have the admin rights that may be required to install patches for other browsers - even assuming there was a chance that a user would take any responsibility for this. When we used Firefox, the office manager would have to go from one PC to another, logging in with admin credentials any time a patch was released - major work, and no centralized way to verify browser patch level.
    • "We standardize on IE" ?

      Who is we ?

      You and your pet goldfish ?
      Alan Smithie
    • Great idea for small business, but impractical for large enterprises...

      I work in education, supporting an enterprise with ~30,000 users (staff and students) on nearly as many workstations and laptops. We found that we have to support a dual standard of both IE and Firefox because some web apps simply don't function correctly in one browser or the other. I applaud Microsoft for commissioning such a study, but in the real world, where vendors, not customers with in-house programmers, write most of the software used (which is increasingly more and more web-based), standardizing on one single browser the enterprise is a pie-in-the-sky idea that is simply untenable. //bg
      • We agree

        Our school has encountered the same issue!
  • Was perfectly fine to cover the study

    It keeps us aware that MS does fund studies as a marketing technique, and still hopes to convince businesses to standardize on IE.

    If the results had been any different, then MS would not have allowed them to be published.
    John L. Ries
    • and you have proof of this?

      I love when people make accusations without proof? toward anyone?
      • What proof is needed?

        MS routinely touts studies it funds that support its own position and we never hear about any that don't. So either, it has a perfect track record, or management suppresses negative results. Take your pick.

        Besides, I remember the news article posted in ZDNet several years ago about an MS-funded researcher who was fired for testifying about the security risks of software monocultures (the dismissal was vociferously defended by pro-MS Talbackers, as one might expect).
        John L. Ries
        • I want that edit button

          He didn't testify, but did write a paper, if I remember correctly.
          John L. Ries
      • The important thing to remember is...

        ...you can do sales, or you can do impartial research, but not both simultaneously (one is about persuasion and the other is about truth). By the same token, there is such thing as "advocacy journalism" as it is a contradiction in terms.
        John L. Ries
        • Ack!

          "...there is *no* such thing" is what I meant.
          John L. Ries
      • re: and you have proof of this?

        You need proof that businesses that commission studies tout the favorable studies and shelve the unfavorable studies?
        none none
  • I don't get it...

    Why would a company standardize on the only major browser that isn't compatible across multiple platforms? Sounds like Firefox or Google Chrome would be the best options.
    • Because...

      ...MS would also like businesses to standardize on Windows. Why would they not?
      John L. Ries
      • Most businesses already do.

        Of the last 8 jobs I've worked at (including the temp jobs I had during college), *all* of them used Windows for the OS. And of those that allowed Internet access (restricted or otherwise), they standardized on 1 browser: Internet Explorer.

        As for compatibility...with nearly every version of Firefox & IE, I've found in my *personal* browsing experience that, if the problem isn't tied into a 3rd-party plug-in, then 4 out of 5 times it's *Firefox* that will have an issue with a page that gives IE no problems whatsoever.

        However, because Mozilla's products are my personal favorite, I usually only use IE when a) I'm at work, or b) I happen across a page that doesn't work right in Firefox or Seamonkey. And it's been a while since I ran into a page that either one had a problem with, so my home IE usage is really, really low.
    • Benefits outweigh the dubious "I could use it on my phone" opportunity cost

      Well a few reasons:

      1) It is the browser already included on all of that company's computers.
      2) It is also the browser that offers the highest level of control for that company's network administrators.
      3) It is also the only browser that works with the company's Active Directory - Integrated applications to reliably support single-sign on.

      There is a cost associated with standardizing on IE in terms of platform flexibility and the ability to use it with a plethora of operating systems and devices, however there is also a number of valuable benefits as well - only one of which is a reduction in cost.
  • Modern browsers are mostly standards compliant and mostly compatible

    What businesses get from IE is an enterprise-focused browser that fits in well with the existing infrastructure. Some of the benefits include:

    * Patch Tuesday patching. This allows the browser to be part of the overall patching, testing and maintenance IT "rhythm"
    * GPO capabilities. IE allows the enterprise to manage the browser using the same tools it uses to manage the rest of the desktop client environment
    * Microsoft's 5+5 support lifecycle. Unlike the other other major browsers, IE has an enterprise friendly release and support lifecycle. Consumers and enthusiasts many like the browser of the month release cycles that Chrome and Firefox have, but they are inappropriate for enterprise environments.
    • "Browser of the month"...

      ...is a legitimate criticism and if I abandon Firefox, that will be why; but for me, the fact that IE is Windows-only (and I work cross-platform) is a show stopper.
      John L. Ries
      • Firefox has the answer

        There is a Firefox Extended Support Release option for the enterprise. These versions are supported for about 1 year, with a 12-week overlap between release of a new one and end-of-life of the previous one.

        They need to do a better job of publicizing this, obviously.
        • That doesn't really compare to IE though

          IE is supported for at least 5 years in mainstream support plus an additional 5 in extended support. Yes, IE6 needs to die, but it will last as long as XP does.