At the big-name financial house, employees have no choice but to use Internet Explorer 7, a Microsoft web browser that made its debut in October of 2006. Like so many large corporations, Morgan Stanley limits employee machines to certain approved software — working to maintain security while ensuring that applications work as they should — but such well-intentioned policies can also keep newer software at bay.
“We’re a bank, you know, so it’s not so simple to make the switch to a newer browser,” says Aurelije Zovko, a Morgan Stanley executive director who handles IT duties for the New York-based company.
IE7 is significantly slower than the newest versions of IE, Chrome, Firefox, and other browsers, and it can’t handle the latest technologies used by today’s online applications, including then fledgling HTML5 standards. But there’s a way for Zovko to work around the limitations of the aging IE7 without actually switching to a new browser. Zovko is kicking the tires on Google Chrome Frame — an Internet Explorer plug-in that adds Google’s latest browser engine to older versions of Microsoft’s browser, which are still used across vast swaths of the corporate world.
Zovko and company use custom browser applications specifically designed for IE7, but at the same time, they’re adopting newer applications that require newer browser technology. With Chrome Frame running inside IE7, they can accommodate both the old and the new apps inside the same browser. Yes, on the face of it, Morgan Stanley could handle all these applications simply by installing the full-fledged Chrome browser alongside Internet Explorer, but things aren’t always so simple inside the corporate IT department.
Morgan Stanley is just one example of a company straddling the line between aging Internet Explorer browsers and Google’s Chrome. Three years after its debut, Chrome is making some serious headway among consumers — just this month, it passed Mozilla’s Firefox to become the world’s second most popular browser, behind IE — but Google is also pushing Chrome into the business world, hoping to loosen the foothold Microsoft established so many years ago. And this push includes Google’s shameless effort to remake Internet Explorer in its own image.
Google’s effort is indicative of a sweeping revolution across the world of corporate IT. Traditionally, businesses adopt new technologies at a painfully slow pace, but Google and others are working to grease the wheels — and in many cases, employees inside big businesses are turning those wheels by adopting new technologies without the explicit approval of their IT managers. Chrome Frame is an example of both.
Chrome Frame Rides the Wave
Microsoft released its latest browser, IE9, this March, and it is hard at work on the next version, IE10. But the corporate world is still years behind. According to rough numbers from online research outfit Stat Owl, IE8 is still the most popular corporate browser with about 38 percent of the market, and the second and third most popular are IE7 (27.56 percent) and IE6 (6.43 percent).
So, about a year ago, Google introduced IT admin controls for deploying and configuring both Chrome and Chrome Frame across business networks. Many companies can simply make the switch from, say, IE7 to Chrome. But others — because they’re running legacy applications that require older version of IE — need another option.
Inside businesses, employees can install Chrome Frame on their own — and many do. But the company is also encouraging business IT departments to officially adopt the plug-in. “We want users on better browsers,” says Google Chrome engineer Alex Russell, who joined the company specifically to work on the IE plug-in. “But when they can’t move, for whatever reason, Chrome Frame turns into a viable alternative.”
Google declined to provide statistics on the adoption of Chrome and Chrome Frame inside businesses, but Russell says he had seen companies officially make the move to Chrome Frame, and others outside of Google are saying much the same. Appirio — an outfit that helps companies adopt new-age cloud computing services from the likes of Google and Salesforce.com — tells Wired that it too is working to move businesses, including Morgan Stanley, onto Google’s IE plug-in.
“We’re not surprised anymore when when see [IE7],” says Appirio chief technology officer Glenn Weinstein. “It’s dismaying to see how many large enterprises are still clinging to IE-only browser policies. You’d think that companies would have come around by now. But they haven’t.”
Meanwhile, other outfits are making the leap to the standalone version of Chrome while continuing to accommodate Internet Explorer-dependent applications via a third-party Chrome plug-in called IE Tab.SNL Financial — a financial services outfit based in Charlottesville, Virginia — has gone this route in order to accommodate its older browser applications alongside Google Apps. “We have a few applications that don’t run in Chrome, so people have to use IE or use IE Tab inside Chrome,” says SNL CTO Galen Warren. “IE Tab is kinda like the Chrome Frame thing in reverse.”