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IE is everywhere, but don't dismiss alternative browsers

Our columnist says free alternative browsers such as Google Chrome and Firefox are giving IE a run for its money because they run anywhere and don't rely on mandatory updates.

Internet Explorer has been the default browser for desktops and laptops since the early days of the Web. It comes bundled into the Windows operating system and is essentially included for free. Why would you want to switch from the conventional Microsoft offering to an alternate browser like Google Chrome or Firefox?

Actually, there are several good reasons.

It's your choice

As I've pointed out in articles about LibreOffice and the GIMP graphics editor, in the past few years, free software has become radically more mature and reliable than it used to be.

In my opinion, these alternative Web browsers can satisfy standard business needs just as well as Microsoft software. I haven't used Windows-based machines since 2006, and that was only because I worked for a large corporation. All of my writing, speaking, communications, hacking and consulting work is done using free software.

When something is reliable and fast, people will use it. According to some benchmarking studies, Google Chrome and Firefox are every bit as fast as Internet Explorer (IE).

In addition, the fact that these programs are free makes it easy for organizations to try them out. If you don't like one or both, just stick with Internet Explorer. Users have the freedom to choose or use multiple browsers.

Unlike with IE, you aren't locked into onerous mandatory updates or upgrades just to run the latest version of Chrome or Firefox, and all of them can be updated automatically if so desired.

Run one alternative browser on everything

Another huge edge that Chrome and Firefox have is that it doesn't matter what kind of device they are on. Both run on Macs, Linux and Android devices, the iPhone, and of course, Windows machines. Granted, there are minor differences across platforms, but the look and feel for each remains consistent.

From an operations standpoint, having the same browser running on different platforms is a big plus because although there might be slight variations, the configuration, extensions and plug-ins will certainly be very similar. At the same time, an organization running on a single browser needs only one set of documentation for setup and usage.

Chrome and Firefox are regularly upgraded with expanded features, streamlined operation and the latest security measures.

One less thing to think about

Thanks in part to desktop virtualization and cloud computing, enterprise usage of the Web has significantly increased in the past several years. People use the Internet all day to conduct business and then head home to do more of the same, only with their own hardware and software. You might need to check Facebook, LinkedIn or email, or an employee might need to post something to Twitter.

Since Chrome and Firefox can be freely downloaded from the Web, anyone with a notebook and Internet connection can install them without central IT intervention. Employees comfortable with free browsers on their personal devices will be able to take what they learn on their own time and apply it to productive usage for work. Still, IT administrators should review application compatibility and security.

Yes, it's certainly possible to run IE at home. You might even run it on your Linux box in a virtual environment, but that's a lot of extra effort.

What happens if you're still on Windows XP at home and have the latest version of Windows 8 at work? Your home browser no longer has security updates or support, making it potentially vulnerable to ever-evolving security threats.

The opposite might be even worse: Smaller companies may not always keep up with the latest versions of Windows and simply choose to use what they have until they replace their equipment.

Running the latest version of Firefox or Chrome, even on Windows XP, is going to be less troublesome than using some outdated 2-year-old version of IE. Performance and security changes a lot in two years, and it's wise to be using the latest version when possible. Free software makes that easy.

Free Internet Explorer alternatives such as Chrome and Firefox can run on any hardware, empower people for both personal and work usage, and reduce security risks that stem from trying to keep up with Microsoft updates. They also provide freedom of choice, allowing individual employees to find what works best without worrying about licensing costs.

About the author:
Rob Reilly is an independent consultant, writer, and speaker serving clients in the private sector, small business and tech media. His analytical and "how-to" articles cover Linux and open source, the Internet of Things, DIY and the Maker Movement and technology career development. He can be reached at robreilly@earthlink.net.

Next Steps

Use Group Policy to lock down Internet Explorer 11 settings

Troubleshoot IE 10 to beat bad browser behavior

Microsoft's Modern.ie can help test Windows app compatibility

The end of IE 8 support sounds call for updates

What security risks do alternate browsers pose?

This was last published in November 2014

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Does your organization use an alternative browser alongside or instead of IE? Why?
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All of our users (Desktops, laptops, tablets) having Firefox installed on their devices,
and usually using it as the primary browser
IE still there of course as a backup!
few users have chrome as a third installed browser
using firefox make it easier to track and fix web sites and web applications compatibilities issues, and even if Firefox is not perfect it looks like the best available browser for now.
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We can use what ever browser we prefer here at work. I prefer Chrome then Firefox and lastly IE. I have IE11 now and some site do not run well under the new version. I know of very few that use IE by choice. We have 1 application we all must use IE for. WE do not have the time or resources to re-write for the other browsers. I think the main reason we shy away from IE is the security history.. I'm sorry to say but it's hard for them to recover their image after so many failures.
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The browser of choice here is Firefox, then Chrome. A few people may occasionally turn to IE but rarely by choice. I don't think any of the younger people - who didn't come up through a MS universe - use it at all. Their limited responsiveness and ongoing security issues have cost MS most of their audience. 
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At my company, only the IT department employees are given admin rights on their own computers, so they can install any browser (or other software) they prefer. I would say Chrome is the most popular browser in IT.

For other employees, the Helpdesk will typically set them up with IE10, and the latest versions of Chrome and Firefox.

For a long time, we only officially supported IE internally, and a lot of our intranet web apps work best on IE, so a lot of employees stick with that.
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Whenever cross-browser support is required for the applications under development, the minimum 3 are IE, FF, and Chrome.
In large orgs users typically have no choice but to use what's been installed, and quite often it's IE. Too often it's also IE of older versions, like 8 when 10 has already been available for a year.
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We do use alternate browsers in conjunction with IE. This is a result of (1) having external customers that use other browsers, such as Safari, Firefox, and Chrome, who did not want to change and (2) internal users having a preferred browser.
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We develop code for all platforms. The end user may not be using IE, it's all comes down to a users choice. Personally I prefer Chrome and Firefox over IE. For me it's always been the security issues with IE. It's gotten better but thad bad history still makes me cautious. 
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For me - and for most end users I know - IE is a last resort, but has to be used for many business applications. 
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Same here Ben, we have one app that has to run in IE. IT's old and nobody has the time to "modernize" it to run on all browsers.
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Security and compatibility. You get one, you lose the other. That's always been the issue with IE for my clients and for our office. I don't think I've used IE since I stopped working at Fidelity in the early 2000s. There are just better, more secure options.

I find FF to be unwieldy once you load all the add-ons and plug-ins to it. It used to be my main choice.
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I agree with you, Todd. My preferences would be Chrome, then Firefox, then Safari if I'm on my Mac. 
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Article for super noobs I am sure. IE or Internet Destroyer as it's known is not a web browser and should never be confused with being one.
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IE is the ultimate "Wag the Dog" application, in that companies of large size and many users are mandated to have to use IE, and many combinations. When I test for Chrome, Firefox or Safari, it's considered OK to just focus on the latest versions. When we have to test for IE, we have to test separately for IE11, IE10, IE9 and IE8 (and up until recently, IE7... ouch!).  Much as I wish we didn't have to support so many IE options, we do, and invariably, the problems we find are most frequently found in IE.
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For personal use, I actually use all three major browsers - IE, Chrome and Firefox. Performance and functionality are my main concerns. There are always certain sites that work better on one browser and may crash another. 

For development and testing, I agree it is a pain to support multiple IE versions. We finally moved past IE8 and are supporting mostly 9 and 10 (our applications are internal and are used by company employees, so we have more control over what they are using). 
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IE has long-since sacrificed its market edge. It's dropped far behind more responsive browsers like - as others noted - Chrome and Firefox and Safari. Then again, I just downloaded IE11 so we'll see if that has any impact.

For the most part, I've become pretty browser neutral now that it's relatively simple to share bookmarks and tabs. All, I've found, slow to the point of uselessness when loaded with all the desired - and essential - add-ons. So I use them all, using whichever is doing the job, as long as it does the job....
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Chrome for me thank you. I used to work for a county agency who built their own reed based software and went with Chrime due to the security issues and massive flaws with IE. They saw the writing on the wall in 2013 and spend thousands of dollars to switch platforms mid programming.
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Now that IE is Edge I'm even less impressed with the program. It's grown ever more MS-centric and simply does not play well with others (though it tolerates them when necessary). Even the most basic task of importing bookmarks is a hassle (unless I'm importing from IE to Edge).

We use Firefox for the most part with a fallback to Chrome. IE isn't even on the list.
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I use all three of those browsers - IE, Chrome and Firefox. At my company, we support all three. For personal browsing and such, I switch between the three, usually for performance reasons. There can really be a large variation in performance depending on the site and the technology used.
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I'm finding issues with all 3 lately, IE, Firefox and Chrome. Example would be a video link works in one browser but not another. After watching the video you click link to view/post comments. it does not work. Go back to site where you could not watch video and you can view/post comments here. This may be due to plug in support or just bad web site design. I have been getting frustrated with a lot of sites taking forever to load. I think they assume everyone has fast internet. I don't. I have 3M DSL. It's the only speed I can get on my budget due to Rx costs. I do not need lots of video clips loading by default. I wish there was a way to tweak the browsers to only load text and links. This useless video and ads must be a killer on smartphones with data plans.
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A long, long time ago, I discovered that IE did not always display correctly in HTML.  I also discovered that it also did not refresh correctly so it may display historical pages rather than the correct current page.  When I was coding for browsers, I definitely mad sure that the code displays correctly in all the browsers, and tested as such.  You have to keep in mind though, that some sites are specifically written for IE though and will not display correctly in other browsers and in some cases other things do not work either. 

Since IE has consistently had security issues, I no longer trust it.  Chrome has historically had issues with Flash, and know I understand that Chrome is moving away from using Flash so that is going to break a lot of websites that use Flash.  My browser of choice is Firefox, but that does not mean that I am totally happy with Firefox.
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