Bureaucracies and Web Browsers

Large bureaucracies seem to have difficulty with the web browser. Bureaucracies frequently pick poor web browsers (I’m looking at you Internet Explorer), keep the bad browser well past its expiration date, and then don’t allow their employees to download better, modern browser such as Firefox, Chrome, and Opera.

browser wars

I’ve put some thought into why this is the case, and here is what I’ve come up with (please add to the list if you can think of any I left out):

  • The people at the top don’t recognize a difference between browsers – “It’s all Interweb to me.” This isn’t malicious, it’s more a byproduct of ignorance.
  • Fear of downloads – “Letting employees download and install programs on their own will trigger the end of the world.”
  • Custom systems – Large bureaucratic organizations love proprietary, custom systems. “Screw that open source thing, I want something that is unique. Who cares if it has never been tested, is only compatible with the current web browser (planning for the future is for suckers), and will be buggy as hell… I won’t be the one using it.”
  • “It’s free? It must be a virus or really crappy.”
  • The CIO drank the Microsoft Kool Aid, then forced everyone else to do the same… Just as that evil dude from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom forced Indy to drink the blood of Kali Ma.
  • Too few people (especially significant people in the hierarchy) speak up and make web browser selection an issue.

While I’m not a fan of Internet Explorer 7 or 8, I can kind of accept their use. What is inexcusable is the roughly 15% of web browsing being done with Internet Explorer 6; an eight year-old browser. IE6 usage is propelled largely by corporations that cling to it for a whole lot of poor reasons.

The reasons to upgrade from IE6 are that it is insecure, slow, and it doesn’t conform to current web browser standards. That last issue makes life a living hell on web developers for no good reason who have to specifically code and test for IE6 compatibility.

The good news is that IE6 usage is down roughly 10% from last year, and significant web sites are finally saying “no” to IE6 compatibility. Today, YouTube seems to have stopped supporting the decrepit browser. Music to my ears.

In other browser news, a US State Department employee named Jim Finkle became my hero when his question prompted this exchange with Secretary of State Clinton during a town hall meeting:

MS. GREENBERG: Okay. Our next question comes from Jim Finkle:

Can you please let the staff use an alternative web browser called Firefox? I just – (applause) – I just moved to the State Department from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and was surprised that State doesn’t use this browser. It was approved for the entire intelligence community, so I don’t understand why State can’t use it. It’s a much safer program. Thank you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, apparently, there’s a lot of support for this suggestion. (Laughter.) I don’t know the answer. Pat, do you know the answer? (Laughter.)

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: The answer is at the moment, it’s an expense question. We can –

QUESTION: It’s free. (Laughter.) (BoingBoing)

It’s the little things in life… and that one put a big smile on this geek’s face.

The Internet is critical for so much of our daily work. As a consequence, the window through which we view the online world is important. Don’t settle for a second or third rate browser.

Practice safe computing with a modern browser.

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