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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 [email protected].

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