Will enterprise IT dump Internet Explorer for Google Chrome?

The answer appears to be: slowly, if at all.
  • Eric Lai (Computerworld (US))
  • 04 September, 2008 11:51

Techies appear to be flocking to Google Chrome, which may lead many consumers and small businesses to follow.

But will enterprises also take to Chrome? After all, they remain stubbornly loyal to Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer (IE) despite Mozilla Firefox's growing popularity.

The answer appears to be: slowly, if at all. While developers may enthuse over Chrome's clean look and fast rendering of Web pages, they will chafe at the additional grunt work needed to rewrite and test to support Chrome.

"The only thing that would make me want to test on Chrome is if the client wants it or if Chrome gets significant market share," said Greg Raiz, a Web developer and owner of Raizlabs, a Brookline, Mass. custom software maker. "Honestly, it's a business thing."

An even bigger obstacle are IT managers and CIOs, for whom raw browser performance is only one of many factors.

"I'd have to make sure Chrome worked well with all of our other apps. What is the business value in that?" said Robert Fort, CIO for Virgin Entertainment Group Inc. The Los Angeles retailer is standardized on Internet Explorer 7 and other Microsoft software, while all of Fort's developers work in Microsoft's .Net.

"I give Google all the credit in the world for innovative solutions ... but to Microsoft's credit, they've got a lot more of an enterprise attitude," Fort said.

He also worries about the employee retraining and application testing that would be required if Virgin started officially supporting Chrome.

"Google Chrome is definitely faster than IE 8 Beta 2. But there'd have to be astronomical performance improvements in Chrome for us to switch," he said.

Such inertia is no surprise to Forrester Research Inc. analyst Sherri McLeish.

"Too many IT shops are comfortable with IE. They've already made a decision, so they're not likely to introduce another vendor," McLeish said.

Google's propensity to keep its software in long trial periods also puts IT managers off. "There's a lot of hubbub in the press, but it's still a beta, so for enterprises, it fundamentally isn't as interesting," she said.

IE remains standard for enterprise management

A more concrete obstacle for Chrome is the difficulty that enterprises would face trying to deploy and manage Chrome as easily as with IE.

Safari and Firefox are ahead of Chrome in this regard. But their weaknesses compared to IE -- which can be deployed and patched by system administrators and managed through group policies such as Active Directory -- are so glaring that they largely prevent widescale enterprise deployments, say experts such as Rafael Ebron, a former product manager for Firefox and Netscape.

"Firefox is 4 years old and includes a lot of the enterprise features from the work we did at Netscape. And there's still plenty of work to be done," he said in an e-mail. "Google Chrome will need to include those same features and support to be considered for deployment."

Some are even more critical.

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"Google seems to have forgotten, however, that while Chrome runs Web apps, it still runs on the desktop," wrote Mike Abundo, vice-president for online services for the Philippine Internet Commerce Society, in his blog. Abundo claimed that he "wasted a whole morning" unsuccessfully trying to install and run Google Chrome on his PC, which he said was configured fairly standardly.

"Heck, I can't even get the uninstaller to run," Abundo wrote.

ActiveX still lurks in many enterprise Web apps

To be sure, some enterprise developers are really excited about Chrome. Take Bradley Walker, a Web developer for a 300-person healthcare staffing company in the Kansas City, Mo. area.

He is rewriting the firm's Web-based staffing software for Firefox, "but the complexity is becoming a bit staggering on how it should all work and work very quickly," wrote Walker in his blog.

"In trying out Chrome, my app is lightning quick and I think it might just be the thing for a enterprise level application to survive on," he wrote. In a separate e-mail, Walker praised Chrome's use of Google Gears for offline application access and its use of "isolated tabs" to limit crashes. "It's frustrating to have a Web page go bonkers and then take the entire application with it because it has locked up or otherwise became unresponsive," he wrote.

But Raiz, despite calling Chrome a "superb job for a version one," thinks its uptake will be limited due to the "ton of legacy enterprise apps out there" that rely on IE-only technologies such as ActiveX.

"Lots of enterprise customers have all of sorts of apps developed over the past 10-15 years that were written only with IE 4 or 5 in mind," Raiz said. "The developer who wrote it is probably long gone and the code may no longer be maintained."