The Best Browser for Business Is……

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Cloud computing and company web apps have raised the profile of web browsers in business, but how on earth do you decide which browser?

For a long time, not only were many web-based enterprise applications designed specifically to work with Internet Explorer, many would work only with IE.

However, the growth of AJAX-based websites and improved standards support by web developers has largely changed this. While IE-only web applications still exist, they are by far in the minority. During general web use in my tests, I rarely ran into any websites that would refuse to run in any browser that I chose; I also didn’t see many cases where a site displayed differently in one browser than it did in another.However, in testing with business applications, I did run into some small compatibility issues. These tests not only included the web-based applications I use for my own job, but also the web applications I review and test for eWEEK Labs.

Overall, Firefox had the least number of issues with websites and business applications. Nearly everything ran smoothly using the browser; in most of the applications I tested I was able to access all of the functions and features. Most of the problems I encountered were in applications designed specifically for IE use.

Somewhat surprisingly, IE 8 also runs into problems with IE-only websites. During my tests, several sites and applications designed for IE use, including some Microsoft applications, didn’t work properly with IE 8 in default mode. However, in all cases, switching to IE 8’s ‘IE 7 compatibility mode’ fixed the issues.

However, while the compatibility mode fixes the problem, this is still somewhat of a business issue. Workers will need to be trained to use compatibility mode, or the IT department will need to configure IE 8 to use compatibility mode for certain sites or turn it on all the time.

For most sites visited during my tests, the browsers Chrome, Safari and Opera worked well. However, I did run into some minor problems with several applications, mainly in the ability to take advantage of some embedded features, such as the WYSIWYG editor in applications such as Mambo.

In some, but not all, of these cases, the main culprit is developer laziness. Some developers set up their applications to look for the most common browsers (namely, IE and Firefox) and reject other browsers in the same way that they would reject old browsers. This can sometimes be fixed by changing the user agent in these browsers to identify itself as another browser, but this is something most businesses probably wouldn’t want to do.

Standards Support

The browsers that do the best when it comes to solid support of web standards are Opera, Chrome and Safari, all of which do well in tests such as the Web Standards Project’s Acid3.

Firefox also does well when it comes to standards support, although it is behind the top three performers. While IE 8 has much better standards support than previous versions of IE, it is still well behind the other current-generation web browsers.

One would expect that the browsers that have the best standards support would be the ones that run the widest number of websites and applications without problems. But it turns out that the opposite is true.