It Is About Time for a Browser Audit

So here we are with the start of a new year, and already probably most of your resolutions are either forgotten about or still on your "to do" list.

Here is one that won’t take much time, won’t cost much to do and will bring some immediate returns. All you have to do is answer one question: how many different browser versions are running on your users’ desktops?

I thought about this recently with Netscape’s own New Year resolution to end support for its browsers.

Why bother with this inventory? There are three good reasons: First, if you are thinking of deploying any Web-based applications this year, it would be nice to know who is still using that old Netscape version or who is running multiple browsers on their PC. These are going to be your problem children, and you might as well flag them right off the bat.

Web-based software is a great thing in theory. You supposedly don’t need any desktop software, just bring up your browser and you can run a full accounting system, publishing system, content management system, ERP and inventory, and so forth. Except, as you deploy these complex pieces of software, you realize that not all clients are created equally, and some of your users may not be able to view or even interact with these programs if they are running older browser versions.

A great example of this is what happened to me late last year with Google’s Gmail. They upgraded their software and it broke under certain browser versions. They had to go back and add a switch so that people like me could return to the older software version to continue to work with the product. And if the Google gods with all of its Ajax programmers can’t get this right, what does that say for the likes of the rest of us mere mortals that are still feeling our way around this Web-based stuff?

Second, the browser is not just a single piece of software, and I was asking you a trick question that is going to take some time to really answer in the kind of detail that you will ultimately need. What I am really asking you to find out is which version of Java, Flash, QuickTime, Acrobat, and other supporting files are in use around your enterprise. This also means finding out which users are running older Windows OS versions and can’t upgrade to the latest IE version? What Firefox plug-ins are in common use that will not play nicely with what you are planning on deploying? Which Windows OS patches are installed to make IE more secure?

Third, speaking of security, if you are running older versions of IE or Firefox, you need to be concerned about the exploits that can happen with these PCs and put protective measures in place, or else upgrade those users and train them accordingly. There are big interface changes between IE v6 and v7, for example, and some of your users might not be happy at being forced to upgrade just so they won’t unintentionally infect their PCs with spyware or botnets or whatnot. You no doubt know who these users are but an inventory would be a good idea nonetheless to identify them right off the bat.

There are tons of different tools that can do these inventories, from the nearly free and trivial to the complex and costly, but the important thing is to take some time and collect the information and then put together a plan to upgrade the necessary machines. It will make your life for 2008 a lot easier.

And this is one of those resolutions, unlike weight loss or stopping smoking, that you can really get accomplished quickly, too.

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