It's easy to take shots at Microsoft's Internet Explorer and make snarky references to "Grandma's browser." But despite a shift from IE in the consumer market, when it comes to business, Microsoft's browser is still the choice of three out of four users. And when businesses do drop nine-year-old IE6, they are deploying IE8 instead of glitzier competitors like Mozilla's Firefox and Google's Chrome.
That's one of the more interesting results of a new survey by Zscaler, a SaaS vendor of business security applications that looked at actual Web traffic on the networks of its approximately 1 million customers. The study also found that despite efforts to defeat them, old botnots like Koobface and Torpgi are still strong and that black hats are now using SEO (search engine optimization) techniques to attract victims, a twisted variation of the strategy used by content providers to build Web traffic.
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While a widely publicized Net Applications study recently pegged overall market share for IE at just below 60 percent for the first time, the Zscalar analysis found that as of January 2010, all versions of IE claimed a 76.6 percent share in the business world, while Firefox, Chrome, and Safari had shares of 9.6 percent, 1.6 percent, and 1.5 percent, respectively.
Moving to IE8
In the first quarter of the year, an unpatched zero-day exploit left users of IE6 exposed for 21 days. But the same exploit had no effect on IE8. By the end of the period, IE6 lost 7.5 points of business share, with most of that going to IE8, according to Zscalar. IE6 dropped from 33.5 to 26.9 percent, while IE8 grew from 5.8 to 10 percent overall share in the business market.
That makes sense, of course, but there's another factor to consider: ActiveX, its security flaws, and its role in legacy business applications. Many corporate apps were never rewritten for Java, as IE was the standard browser in Windows; its ActiveX client app dev protocol became the standard as well. IE8, though, has issues with IE6's ActiveX, so many IT shops have been stuck with IE6 even though they would prefer a more modern IE environment.
But that's changing, says Mike Geide, a Zscalar senior security researcher. As business migrates more and more applications to newer platforms, the use of ActiveX has become less significant. To be sure, the transition has been a slow one, and there are still older, ActiveX applications such as time sheets and project management customized for a particular use, he says.
As that base of ActiveX-dependent applications dwindles, the reasons to leave IE6 behind get more compelling. Security, of course, is a major one; IE8 has security features the older browser lacks. What's more, as large content providers such as Google's YouTube drop support of IE6, users pressure IT to upgrade, says Geide.