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?

Several organisations have tried to measure the frequency of problems found in browsers, but since all the companies report bugs and security holes differently, these numbers don’t compare like with like.

When it comes to security, companies should not rely on browser vendors. Make sure that your network and system defences are strong enough to prevent any problems that the browsers allow, and apply fixes quickly when issues do arise.

Platform Support

It used to be that companies were concerned with one issue when it came to platform support: Does the browser run on Windows? For many companies, however, it’s not that simple anymore.

While the numbers are still small compared with those of Windows PCs, Macs are definitely becoming more common in many companies. And more than a few employees may be accessing web applications on Linux, especially with the widening use of netbooks.

The two top players for platform support are clearly Firefox and Opera. Firefox is available on Windows, Mac and Linux, and runs nearly identically on all of them. Opera also runs on these platforms (although new versions aren’t always released on all platforms at the same time), and Opera has an excellent mobile implementation.

Safari, of course, runs on the Mac and iPhone platforms, and while it runs on Windows, the implementation isn’t quite identical (though the Version 4 beta is better in this area than previous versions).

Both IE 8 and Chrome are Windows-only. IE 8 will likely stay that way, but Google officials have said the company plans to release Chrome on other platforms.

Performance

When browser makers compare themselves, one of the main areas they focus on is performance. At one point or another during the last year, each browser has been declared the fastest in one way or another.

For the most part these are comparisons of fast versus faster, in my opinion. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a browser that I consider slow in any way. And when I have seen a browser run slowly, it was either due to a bug in that release (and speed was improved upon updating) or it was due to issues with a plug-in or extension.

Still, there are differences in browser performance, especially in the area of JavaScript performance. Rather than run one test to look at performance, I accessed several tests freely available on the web and ran each browser against them. Since most of these tests come from or are associated with a browser vendor in some way, it was no surprise that some browsers seemed to do best in the tests associated with them.The browsers that performed the best in these tests tended to be Chrome and Opera. Safari was just behind these browsers, with Firefox and IE bringing up the rear.

Final Comparison

Browser Security Browser Features Platform Support Performance
Chrome Fair Good Fair Excellent
Firefox Fair Good Excellent Fair
IE 8 Fair Good Fair Fair
Opera Fair Good Excellent Excellent
Safari Fair Good Good Good

Like taking your car to a racetrack to see how fast it can go, running these tests must give results that mean something. But just as that time trial on the racetrack won’t tell you how your car will perform in rush-hour traffic, these tests won’t tell you how these browsers will run your corporate applications.

Performance does matter, but only in as much as it has an impact on the applications that you use in your business. So, rather than rely on external (and potentially biased) performance reports, make sure that the browsers you use in your company perform well with the applications you use.

In the end, this is the key to picking a browser for your company. Don’t pick the one that is the fastest, the most standards-compliant or the most feature-rich. Pick the one that meets your specific needs the best.