IE loses stranglehold on the enterprise as Chrome makes major inroads

Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser is about to lose the one market it's had locked up for decades: The enterprise.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) is about to lose the one market it's had locked up for decades: The enterprise.

According to research firm Gartner, enterprise usage of Chrome will surpass that of IE by the end of this year. In 2016, Google's browser will dominate corporations, with about two-thirds of enterprise users running Chrome as their primary browser.

That prediction flies in the face of longtime assumptions that even as consumers deserted IE for alternatives like Apple's Safari, Chrome or Mozilla's Firefox, IE remained an unassailable fortress in business, where Windows rules and entrenched line-of-business Web apps demand IE.

"Enterprises had to stick on IE8 because Microsoft supported only one version of IE on a system," said Gartner analyst Michael Silver in an interview, referring to business reliance on the older edition for intranet browsing and running aged apps. "They couldn't get IE11, which forced them into putting another modern browser on devices."

Increasingly, that other browser has been Chrome.

Gartner estimated that by year's end, Google will be the No. 1 primary browser in corporations, edging IE by a few percentage points. Next year, Chrome's enterprise usage will surge from 43% to 65%, while IE's will plummet from 47% to 28%.

That's a sea change.

But Microsoft's fighting back with Edge, an overhaul of IE that will ship as the default browser in Windows 10. Repeatedly dubbed a "modern browser" by Microsoft, Edge can run alongside IE11 on the same device, a first for Microsoft. In a recently published report for clients, Silver and his Gartner colleague David Smith said Edge was Microsoft's answer to the "realization of the market of today."

"Microsoft needs a second browser for those who need both a modern and legacy browser on the same device," Silver and Smith wrote of the Redmond, Wash., company's revamped browser strategy.

While Edge will play the part of the "modern" side of the equation -- Microsoft's answer to Chrome's infiltration of the enterprise -- IE11, which will also be included with Windows 10, will play the "legacy" character.

The latter will remain critical, since although Edge will assume default status for Windows 10, there's no plan to bring Edge to Windows 7, the most popular version of Microsoft's OS, accounting for 63% of all copies of Windows that went online in May. Enterprises that need a browser to run older apps and internal sites will have to stick with IE11 -- also the only edition that Microsoft will support on Windows 7 after Jan. 12, 2016 -- until they migrate to Windows 10, possibly even after that.

Enterprise reliance on IE11, and the impossibility of running Edge until Windows 10 is installed -- something not expected in numbers until 2017 and later -- is what will keep Chrome pushing into corporate, Silver said.

"Part of Microsoft's strategy is to make Edge compatible enough [with Chrome], and get businesses to use Edge instead of Chrome," said Silver. "[But] Microsoft is already a little bit late" to change that dynamic.

Some businesses, however, won't be able to desert IE11 and move to Edge even after they migrate to Windows 10. For them, IE11 is forever.

Those enterprises will be the ones that adopt Microsoft's "long-term servicing branch" (LTSB), one of the three update tracks the company will offer customers. LTSB locks down devices by serving up only security and critical updates -- no feature changes or functionality improvements -- meaning that the systems, once on Windows 10, remain static.

"Edge will not be present on PCs running LTSB because the automatic update model of Edge is a complete mismatch with the LTSB approach, which is designed to severely limit updates," Silver and Smith wrote in their report.

Some organizations haven't grasped that yet, Silver said. "The whole thing is pretty messy."

Gartner has long recommended that enterprises adopt a two-pronged approach to browsers: One to handle legacy apps and sites, the other for all other online apps and websites. Doing so lets employees access the old but does not punish them by making them access the Internet with a creaky, sub-par browser.

Edge is Microsoft's move to fulfill the two-pronged scheme solely with its own browsers: IE11 for legacy, Edge for all the rest. But with Windows 10 required to implement such a strategy, enterprises will only continue to add alternate browsers, like Chrome.

"Even with Edge, Microsoft is still in trouble," Silver said.

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