An example of an Oracle corporate app running in a desktop browser.
One solution is being promoted by ex-Microsoft employee Gary Schare, who has founded a company called Browsium that looks to help businesses manage multiple browser installations. “XP is still almost 40 percent of business desktops,” he said. Browsium’s Catalyst software is a third-party enterprise software management tool that allows businesses to force specific Web sites, such as corporate intranet sites that open Web apps, to open in specific browsers. “Microsoft could help enterprises with migrations to new versions of IE,” Schare said. “But then there’s the Windows 8 problem, that it’s not appealing to the enterprise. Microsoft is being held hostage to its own legacy.” Both enterprise versions of Chrome and Firefox allow for corporate IT departments to delay the auto-updates while still implementing the security patches that come with the six-week release cycle those browsers are on. Google also offers an MSI installer for group deployment of Chrome. But there is more than a merely technological barrier to changing browsers. “The IT guys see it as a problem of more browsers equals more more security holes. So it’s like a chicken-and-egg problem in enterprise,” said Oracle’s Herbert. Just as Microsoft pushed its manufacturing partners to innovate new hardware configurations to support Windows 8, it wouldn’t be surprising to soon see Redmond take a more active role in pressuring its major enterprise customers to upgrade from Windows XP to at least Windows 7.IDC has put out a white paper that can be best summarized as telling businesses that sticking around on Windows XP is bad not only from a computer security standpoint, but from a productivity standpoint, too. Right before the launch of Windows 8, Redmond took the position that business upgrade paths may not go straight through to its new touch-centered OS. Stella Chernyak, senior director of marketing for Microsoft, wrote in October, “Organizations may need to take different approaches to their operating system migrations due to the specific needs of their environment. For some, moving their full company to Windows 8 will be the best choice, and for others it may be migrating first to Windows 7. Still, for many, it will be deploying Windows 8 side-by-side with Windows 7 for key scenarios, such as Windows 8 tablets for mobile users.” But what Microsoft wants to have happen and what will happen may not align. Herbert isn’t bullish on Microsoft’s prospects in the situation. “Microsoft is in a tough spot in my mind. Because they built a crappy browser to begin with, and they didn’t invest in backward compatibility. Their customer’s only option is to move away from IE. If you’ve got some stupid app that only works in IE6, you’re not going to move away from it [just to adopt a newer version of IE],” Herbert said. Internet Explorer’s compatibility mode is not a realistic option for enterprises, either, said Herbert. “It’s painful [to get compatibility mode in IE to work]. We have a 10 page document to configure settings for that.” For what it’s worth, both Schare and Herbert said they would put their money on Chrome being the next big browser on corporate computers. “We enable different default browsers on different apps on every PC. I see the most momentum with Chrome,” said Schare. Herbert added that ActiveX remains a bugaboo for IT departments. “I think using a new browser is the easiest path. How hard is it to deploy Chrome? It’s probably easier to deploy Chrome than to deploy a single ActiveX control. “Chrome has one other strong point that IE and Firefox lack. Currently, Chrome runs on all manner of computing device, from desktops to mobile. It runs on Macs, on Linux, on Windows XP and above, on iOS, and on Android. If the future of business computing is mobile, Chrome is far and away the best-positioned browser for the coming era of mobile enterprise.