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1/18/2005
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Some Companies Switching From Microsoft's IE Browser

Penn State University recently advised students against the use of IE. A number of small companies interviewed by InformationWeek.com are following suit, citing similar security concerns.

A month after Penn State University advised 80,000 students to drop Microsoft's Internet Explorer for alternatives such as Mozilla's Firefox, more than 100 companies tell InformationWeek they're doing the same.

After Penn State's decision, InformationWeek.com polled readers to gauge the move's significance: Was this an isolated example of an over-cautious school administration or was it destined to become a marketwide trend? While the results may fall short of a trend--in many cases they involve companies with fewer than 100 employees--there were enough organizations making the switch to deem their actions noteworthy.

A full 106 of the 186 respondents--57%--to our unscientific poll had recommended to computer users that they switch from IE to an alternative browser. In almost every instance, these organizations said concern over IE security problems hasn't been overstated. And even some of those who have not recommended dropping IE felt its problems aren't overblown. A small minority expressed no qualms about IE and have not recommended switching from IE.

Asked to comment on the responses to our poll, Microsoft, through its public relations agency, sent a lengthy E-mail (full text of E-mail) stating, "We're aware that some people have recommended against IE, but we also know that hundreds of millions of users use Windows because of its broad ecosystem of applications that are constantly being tested and implemented." Also in its reply, Microsoft states, "Microsoft exhaustively tests all new updates to IE (security and otherwise) to ensure that applications and Web sites continue to behave as expected."

Because of the unscientific nature of the poll, perhaps the most reliable information comes from detailed interviews with those working with the two browsers.

The largest company we interviewed (we spoke only to those that completed the survey) had just shy of 100 employees. Some had informal business-technology operations, where people with an affinity for computers become de facto tech staff along with their other duties.

Penn State, on the other hand, has 80,000 students. Its Information Technology Services department made the move "because the threats are real and alternatives exist to mitigate Web browser vulnerabilities," according to a statement the department issued. But clearly, the university's decision is having ripple effects.

Cliff Kachinske, for instance, said Penn State's decision prompted him to recommend that the almost 100 employees of his company, Advanced Control Systems, drop IE. Advanced Control Systems has no formal IT department. Kachinske manages the company's quality-assurance department and keeps business-technology systems running.

He has no way of knowing if people followed his advice, he says, though he hasn't used IE since the first stable version of Firefox was released.

Asked if he sees a day when Microsoft can make IE secure enough to win him back, Kachinske says, "Anything can happen. But Firefox is a better browser."

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