Study Shows High Cost of Developing for Multiple Browsers

The overall IT cost to support multiple browsers is 20 percent higher, according to the report.

The costs associated with internal development of Web apps to work across different browsers can be significant, according to a new study funded by Microsoft.

Forrester Consulting, which is part of Forrester Research, interviewed 133 IT and business decision-makers in 51 North American firms from September 2012 to November 2012. The respondents were not told that Microsoft funded the study. The results are published a new report, "The Business Case for Standardizing on a Single Modern Browser in the Enterprise."

According to those surveyed, a single Web app costs an extra $4,200 annually to support a multibrowser scenario. That cost can balloon for larger organizations. The study estimated that companies developing about 100 Web apps would face an extra $400,000 annual cost if each Web app had to be supported on multiple browsers.

The overall cost increase to support multiple browsers was estimated as a 20 percent hike by the study's respondents. The Forrester Consulting study indicated that the companies represented in the study had spent more than $30,000 each year to pay for the lifecycle costs of a single Web app.

Microsoft's Single-Browser World View
Microsoft's position with regard to the study is clear. "Our recommendation is to standardize on a single browser, Internet Explorer," a Microsoft spokesperson stated by e-mail. The study was touted by Roger Capriotti, director of Internet Explorer marketing, who posted a blog item on Thursday listing 10 reasons to use IE, along with a link to the study.

The study doesn't exactly promote Microsoft's marketing messaging in that respect, but it does reflect it. For instance, the study reported that "96 percent of the enterprises surveyed standardize on a single browser for work PCs." The browser isn't mentioned in the report, but clearly IE is meant.

Moreover, 51 percent of the study's participants reported that their organizations enforce the use of a single browser, while 45 percent allow employees to install a browser of their choice, whether that browser is supported by IT or not. Security was the main reason for organizations to upgrade a browser, according to respondents.

The recommendations of the Forrester Consulting study are a few general precepts. Web app developers in companies need to be aware of costs, browser update cycles and HTML 5 standardization. The study stops short of saying that organizations should standardize on IE. That's all good, but are we really living in a one-browser world?

The Multibrowser Perspective
One company that's betting on the world becoming one that embraces multiple browsers is Redmond, Wash.-based Browsium Inc. The company's Catalyst product, rolled out in beta form in October, was specifically designed to that end.

"With our Catalyst product, we stepped into the realm of multibrowser management, which is what Microsoft is talking about here," said Gary Schare, president and chief operating officer at Browsium, in a phone interview. "Their [Microsoft's] approach is that, 'Hey, multiple browsers can be expensive, so the best thing to do is don't have multiple browsers.' We see multiple browsers as inevitable, resulting in compatibility problems and security problems. And therefore, we built a tool to help gain control and better manage multiple browsers."

Catalyst is just the first in a series of tools that the company will roll out to help IT pros manage multiple browsers, according to Schare.

Microsoft may already be moving IT shops into a multibrowser world with Windows 8 and Windows RT, although company spokespersons don't seem to agree with that perspective. When asked whether a Web app written to work with IE 10 on Windows 8 will work exactly the same on IE 10 on Windows RT, Microsoft's spokesperson provided the following response: "Certain plug-ins are not supported on Windows RT, but the core browser is the same."

Schare doesn't see it in quite the same way.

"Their [Microsoft's] Windows 8 strategy is, in and of itself, a multibrowser approach," he said. "In fact, it's a multi-multi [approach]. Because there are two browsers in Windows 8, the Metro and the Desktop, and then there are two browsers in Windows RT, there's a Desktop IE 10 and a Metro IE 10 in Windows RT, and those browsers are different than the Windows 8 ones because they don't allow any add-ons."

This point appears to be a source of continuing confusion because Microsoft at one point published a document stating that on the Desktop side of Windows 8, IE 10 does support add-ons, such as ActiveX, Flash and Silverlight. Moreover, the Adobe Flash Player is integrated in both IE 10 Desktop and Metro. (Note that Microsoft has renamed its "Metro" user interface, calling it "Windows Store App.")

Still, concerns about IE 10 on Windows 8 are "down the road" for many IT shops because "Windows 8 is not a factor in enterprises today," Schare said. Similarly, Microsoft's promotion of IE 10 and standards, such as HTML 5, with the idea that standards will make things easier for organizations, is a little futuristic, according to Schare.

"The theory is that eventually this stuff becomes transparent to the app," Schare said. "It doesn't matter which browser you are using. The reality is that we are nowhere near that today. It'll be a long time before we get to that point -- especially in the enterprise where they're dealing with legacy apps, they're dealing with apps they wrote yesterday and they're dealing with the next set of apps they're bringing in tomorrow. And they have to really think about which platform those are running on. And the reality is that all those factors combined created an environment where IT quite often has to have a multibrowser environment in order to make everything work properly. Not to mention it's almost impossible to stop end users from installing the browser of their choice. You can't stop Chrome from being installed when Chrome installs into your user profile. It doesn't require any admin rights to be installed on a system."

Those organizations using Google Apps have already lost the use of IE 6 and IE 7 to run them. And Schare added that Google already has announced plans to drop support for IE 8 with Google Apps.

With all of that back and forth, it's just a multibrowser world, according to Schare. The Forrester Consulting study actually validated Browsium's approach, he added.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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