Users work with their web browsers more often than most other applications, whether they choose Google Chrome,...
Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge or Apple Safari.
Each browsing option brings something different to the table. Firefox, for example, is open source, meaning anyone can alter its source code. Google Chrome is the dominant web browser today, but Safari and Microsoft Edge -- the newest browser -- also hold a notable market share. At the end of July 2022, according to Statcounter GlobalStats, Chrome held a 66.9% share of desktop installations, compared to Edge at 10.6%, Safari at 8.9% and Firefox at 7.8%.
Because web browsers are so integral to the user experience, it's critical for IT professionals to understand what each one offers in terms of management capabilities, security and more.
How Microsoft Edge stacks up, and the demise of Internet Explorer
Microsoft Edge Microsoft Edge is now the default browser in Windows 10, and Microsoft has announced Internet Explorer's retirement. IE now holds only a slight share of the browser market, while Edge continues to gain traction across desktops and other devices.
Edge is built on the Chromium engine -- just like Chrome -- and can run on any Windows 7 or later, macOS and Linux desktop. Edge has two modes:
- IE Mode is a built-in feature for rendering legacy sites and applications based on IE. The Trident MSHTML engine from IE 11 is included to support IE Mode.
- Enterprise Mode enables IT administrators to control which sites and apps should automatically open in IE Mode. This could be helpful in cases such as legacy web applications built on the IE engine.
Like Firefox, Edge supports multiple update channels to receive new features. The difference with Edge is that the channel program includes the Beta, Dev and Canary preview releases, as well as the Stable and Extended Stable production releases.
Stable is intended for broad desktop deployments and is the most used channel. It receives new features approximately every four weeks, with quality updates shipped as needed. The Extended Stable channel works a little differently from the other channels. Rather than functioning as a separate application, Extended Stable is an enterprise option in the Stable edition. The option extends the release cycle to every eight weeks to accommodate IT teams that need more time to roll out updates.
Edge is preinstalled in Windows 10, version 20H2 and any later builds and Microsoft updates it automatically with the OS. For other Windows deployments, or to have more control over the update process, administrators can use familiar tools such as PowerShell, Configuration Manager or Intune.
IT teams can use tools such as Group Policy or Active Directory to configure Edge policy settings. In addition, they can use the Edge ADMX templates in Microsoft Intune for their Windows 10 and Windows 11 desktops. The ADMX templates also enable administrators to configure Edge policy settings through a third-party enterprise mobility management product or service.
For macOS devices, administrators can use Intune to deploy Edge to their desktops. They can also deploy plist files that define Edge policy settings, and use Jamf to deploy Edge to Mac systems. As with Firefox, IT pros can customize the Edge .pkg file and then deploy it those desktops.
For Linux desktops, administrators can download Edge as either a .deb or .rpm file. At the same time, they can download policy files that are specific to the selected channel, version and build. However, Microsoft doesn't provide much in the way of tools or guidance for deploying and managing Edge on Linux. This could change as Edge on Linux becomes more commonplace, but at this point it's only speculation.
One of the biggest advantages of Edge is its integration with the Microsoft ecosystem, which is similar to Chrome's integration with Google's services. For example, Edge integrates with Microsoft 365 and can work with the Cortana digital assistant to improve the user experience. Edge comes with some of the same privacy concerns as Chrome, but it gets high marks for security. In addition, it tends to utilize resources such as RAM more efficiently than Chrome and Firefox.
How Google Chrome can stand out for businesses
The Google Chrome browser works on devices running Microsoft Windows, Apple macOS and Linux OSes, among others. Google offers IT professionals a range of options for deploying and managing Chrome in their environments.
Google provides Chrome Enterprise policies, which enable administrators to customize and configure Chrome instances on their managed endpoints. With more than 200 available policies, IT pros can control accessibility settings, prevent screen captures, manage client certificates, block URLs, control printing, set the default search provider and manage a variety of other settings.
To configure these policies on Windows desktops, administrators can use Windows Group Policy or other configuration tools to deploy and manage Chrome. They can also download a set of ADM or ADMX templates for Windows desktops. To deploy and manage Chrome on macOS and Linux, IT teams can use their own configuration tools.
Administrators can use the Google Workspace Admin console to manage Chrome user-based policies on Windows, macOS and Linux computers. From the console, they can enforce policies for a specific group of user accounts, making it possible to sync policies and preferences across each user's devices. The policies are automatically applied to the browser when users sign in. Administrators can also enforce policies on enrolled browsers without requiring user sign in.
More recently, Google introduced the Chrome Browser Cloud Management service, which provides a single cloud-based tool for setting browser policies on Windows, macOS and Linux devices. The service is free to existing Google Workspace, Chrome Enterprise, Cloud Identity and Chrome Browser Enterprise Support customers. Administrators can access the service through the Google Admin console, where they can enforce policies and view reports on Chrome browsers deployed across their organizations.
Chrome includes several built-in security protections, including the ability to block malicious sites, downloads and other content. Automatic updates provide the latest security patches and protect against zero-day vulnerabilities. Administrators can also configure policies that secure the browser, control which extensions a user can access and enable site isolation, which sandboxes each instance of the browser so a malicious page can't infect another page. In addition, IT can prevent users from opening corporate sites on unapproved devices by requiring them to log into their work-associated Google Account.
Chrome supports numerous extensions and is compatible with most web applications. Many applications are optimized specifically for Chrome, sometimes at the expense of other browsers. Chrome also includes the Legacy Browser Support feature, which enables users to view legacy web applications that require IE compatibility.
Despite Chrome's extensive reach across the industry, the browser comes with two often-cited concerns. It tends to hog system resources, both processor and memory, and it doesn't provide the same level of privacy as other browsers. The privacy issues should come as no surprise, given that much of Google's revenue is based on tracking user behavior.
Mozilla Firefox makes its case for business use
The base Mozilla Firefox browser is suitable for some organizations, but if IT teams are looking for advanced capabilities, they can employ Firefox Enterprise. The program includes several software products IT administrators can use to deploy and manage Firefox on their Windows, macOS and Linux desktops.
The approach administrators take to browser management typically depends on the underlying platform. Unlike Google, which offers the Chrome Browser Cloud Management service, Mozilla doesn't provide an enterprise management platform. Firefox Enterprise includes both platform-specific and cross-platform management controls, enabling a fair amount of IT platform flexibility.
Firefox Enterprise supports two update channels available for Windows, macOS and Linux desktops. The channels are downloadable Firefox editions rather than services or subscriptions that IT needs to set up.
- The Rapid Release channel is the browser build that most consumers use. The browser receives major updates every four weeks and minor updates as needed to address issues such as security fixes or policy updates.
- The Extended Support Release (ESR) channel receives major updates approximately every 42 weeks, with minor updates as needed, but at least every four weeks. Firefox ESR is geared toward organizations that do mass deployments, such as universities and enterprise businesses.
Firefox Enterprise offers several platform-specific tools to deploy and manage the Firefox browser. For example, Mozilla provides MSI installers to deploy the browser to Windows desktops. The installers are available in 32- and 64-bit architectures that IT can customize before deploying through standard tools such as Active Directory and Microsoft Endpoint Manager.
In addition, Firefox Enterprise offers a set of ADM and ADMX templates administrators can use with Group Policy to configure Firefox on their Windows desktops.
For macOS desktops, Mozilla provides both .dmg and .pkg installation files. IT pros can customize the .pkg file and then use Jamf to deploy Firefox to macOS computers. Mozilla also provides a policy management template via a plist file administrators can use to apply Firefox policies to Chrome on macOS computers.
Firefox Enterprise doesn't include management controls specific to Linux environments. However, the program does support the use of the policies.json file, which makes it possible to customize Firefox on any of the supported platforms. IT teams can create policies.json files as needed and then deploy them to the Firefox installations directory on their target systems.
In addition, administrators can use AutoConfig files to set and lock Firefox preferences on any of the supported platforms. AutoConfig enables IT to control browser preferences that aren't covered by Windows Group Policy or the policies.json file.
The Firefox browser raises some of the same performance concerns as those found with Chrome, but it doesn't support nearly as many extensions. Firefox outshines Chrome and other browsers when it comes to privacy. It blocks third-party tracking cookies by default, as well as cryptocurrency mining scripts and social trackers. Firefox also provides a private browsing mode that automatically deletes a user's search and page history if privacy is a chief concern.
Safari for macOS business deployments
Safari stands apart from the other browsers in many ways. To begin with, it's limited to Apple devices, so only organizations that support the Apple ecosystem -- or plan to at some point -- should consider Safari.
Even if an organization does support Apple devices, IT needs to manage them alongside other platforms, and by default these other platforms can't run Safari in a simple way. IT teams might want to stick with one browser, as developing web-based business applications is easier if the apps target the same browser across all devices.
Another consideration is the limited number of extensions available to Safari, especially when compared to Chrome. This lack of extensions can affect productivity for workers who spend a lot of time on their browsers and need the minor UI and functionality changes extensions offer.
Even if an organization supports Apple devices and there is no user pushback to Safari, there is still the question of managing the Safari browser. The browser comes native with macOS and Apple releases updates as part of the overall device update process. Safari isn't something that IT has to deploy and manage on its own.
The mobile device management capabilities built into macOS provide some Safari-specific configuration settings, but these options are fairly limited. Managing Safari is just one small piece in the larger Apple device management process. If IT teams are already managing Mac desktops, then they're managing Safari by default. The App Store for macOS doesn't even include Safari.
Choosing Safari is not about what it takes to support it, as the support is baked in. Instead, it's about whether Safari benefits the Mac users and, by extension, the organization. For some users, the lack of extensions could be a deal breaker. For others, Safari's integration with the Apple ecosystem is a huge plus. For example, users can sync their bookmarks across Apple devices or use the Handoff feature to move their data and continue tasks across multiple devices.
Apple has made privacy a central theme in its browser. It doesn't match Firefox in this respect, but its privacy settings are far beyond those of Chrome. For example, Safari includes Intelligent Tracking Prevention, which uses on-device machine learning to help block web trackers. Users can even launch a Privacy Report from the browser's toolbar to view the cross-site trackers that are blocked.
Safari includes plenty of features to keep workers productive and secure, but the browser has a reputation for lagging behind others when it comes to supporting newer web features. There are times when certain web applications won't work in Safari while operating correctly in Chrome or Edge.