Firefox Gains On Internet Explorer In Businesses

Even if IT shops aren't formally pushing employees to Firefox, they are moving to support the browser in their enterprise Web apps, Forrester Research suggests.
In what could be a foreboding sign for the future of Microsoft Internet Explorer, a new study finds that IE7 has done little to slow the gains Mozilla Firefox is making on Microsoft in enterprises despite Firefox's relative lack of business-oriented features.

A Forrester Research survey of more than 50,000 large enterprise employees found that over the course of 2007, Internet Explorer's overall market share in that segment decreased by 10%, while Firefox's share almost doubled from 9.8% to 18%.

Also hidden in the numbers is an indication that Internet Explorer 7 is having trouble finding traction as companies are sticking with the 6-year-old Internet Explorer 6. Microsoft released IE7 in October 2006, but 55.2% of companies still used IE6 as of December 2007. Only 23.4% of companies used IE7, barely outpacing the growth and use of Firefox.

Meanwhile, Firefox 2.0, also released in October 2006, "almost completely replaced" the previous version of Firefox, version 1.5. That result, along with Firefox's growth despite the fact that "Mozilla continues to expend little energy on wooing IT managers to formally adopt Firefox," as the report notes, could indicate that employees rather than IT managers are driving Firefox adoption. Forrester suggests that even if IT shops aren't formally pushing employees to Firefox, they are moving to support the browser in their enterprise Web apps.

The data should be less than reassuring to Microsoft. "Even with Microsoft spoon feeding users high-priority automatic updates, enterprise apathy is proving extremely difficult to overcome," Forrester analyst Thomas Mendel wrote in the report. Mendel and his co-authors recommend that businesses still without migration plans should now wait until the final version of standards-compliant IE8 is released -- the date has not been announced -- before upgrading.

In some ways, IE7 could be seen as a stepping-stone to IE8. IE7 improves security by blocking known phishing sites; IE8 will do the same thing with sites known to contain malware. IE7 increases standards support, but IE8 is much more completely standards-compliant. IE7 catches up with Firefox in some ways by adding features such as tabs, a search box, and RSS support, but IE8 adds more significant innovations in WebSlices and Activities. WebSlices are snippets of Web pages that users can subscribe to, much like RSS feeds. Activities are a new set of right-click commands used to access a third-party service from within a Web page.

However, if IE7 isn't taking off in enterprises, it's questionable whether Microsoft should expect any better in IE8. Analyst firm Gartner cautioned last month that IE8's default standards mode could break enterprise applications. Apps might not render properly if they've been developed primarily for earlier, non-standards- compliant versions of IE. Gartner wrote then that companies should "strive to design for standards, not browsers."

Many companies appear to be perfectly content with staying with IE6 until they see something better. The same thinking has been part of the reason for the slow take-up of Windows Vista in enterprises. And some of the security features added by IE7 and IE8 don't work unless Vista is installed, so the pace of Vista uptake could also weigh on IE's own upgrades.