Chrome now most used browser in the enterprise: analyst

Enterprises may say they are committed to Microsoft's browsers, that they continue to define the venerable Internet Explorer (IE) as their employees' standard. But reality is different, an analyst argued Thursday.

"Microsoft retains a very strong relationship with [enterprise] IT," said David Michael Smith, of Gartner, in an interview. "Most enterprises still have a 'standard' browser, and most of the time, that's something from Microsoft. These days it's IE11. But we've found that people actually use Chrome more than IE."

Smith, who was wrapping up a rewrite and update of a 2015 research report on browsers in the enterprise, was adamant that, as Gartner at the time forecast, Chrome is the kingpin. "It's the most-used browser in enterprise" he said.

IE retains a sizable share -- Smith called it "a significant presence" -- largely because it's still required in most companies. "There are a lot of [enterprise] applications that only work in IE, because [those apps] use plug-ins," Smith said, ticking off examples like Adobe Flash, Java and Microsoft's own Silverlight. "Anything that requires an ActiveX control needs IE."

Many businesses have adopted the two-prong strategy that Gartner and others began recommending years ago: Keep a "legacy" browser to handle older sites, services and web apps, but offer another for everything else. That approach lets employees access the old, but does not punish them with a creaky, sub-standard browser for general-purpose surfing.

Under such a model, Internet Explorer has played, and continues to play, the legacy role.

For the second half of the two-prong practice, enterprises offer workers a "modern" browser, one that largely if not entirely disposes with plug-ins, hews to accepted internet standards and quickly renders pages and apps, typically by calling on the machine's graphics processor as well as its CPU.

Chrome, said Smith, is now the "overwhelming choice" as the modern enterprise browser.

Microsoft hopes to change that with its Windows 10-centric Edge browser. Repeatedly dubbed "modern" by Microsoft, Edge can run alongside IE11 on the same device, a first for Microsoft. With IE11 and Edge, Microsoft contends, enterprise customers can wage the two-prong strategy of legacy and modern, all within Redmond's own ecosystem.

The problem with the plan is that Edge runs only on Windows 10, and since Windows 10 has yet to replace Windows 7, Microsoft's own modern browser is unavailable to most customers.

Smith wasn't optimistic that Edge would supplant Chrome, even when Windows 10 is widely deployed on corporate computers in the next few years. "Edge certainly will have opportunities" once Windows 10 is the enterprise-standard OS, "but I would say that Chrome has a lot of momentum, largely for the fact that it is so popular on the internet."