There are standards and then there are de facto standards, as Jonathan Schwartz of Sun observed a few weeks ago. In few areas has this been more true than the browser. Ever since Microsoft ascended to dominance in the browser market, Internet Explorer has been the de facto browser standard. Applications like Google’s toolbar run only on that product, rather than browsers in general. Without getting into the ethical and anti-trust question behind that adoption, it’s clear that most web applications are designed for IE. Other standards compliance browsers like the excellent Mozilla Firefox may work on web applications like Microsoft’s Outlook Web Access, but you can be sure they won’t be supported. At least for now. Why would they, as nearly all of their constituents are running IE?
What may be interesting however, is what the rise of desktop Linux may mean to cross platform application support. Regardless of what you think about the promise for the platform itself and opinions clearly differ we’re of the opinion that Linux on the desktop will at least be an increasingly important component of Microsoft negotiations. The Munich win pretty much cemented that notion, with negotiations meriting the much discussed personal visit from Ballmer. Even if organizations would prefer to keep Microsoft offerings in house as many do it behooves them to at least bring Linux into the conversation to improve their bargaining position.
That’s all well and good, but how does the browser tie in? Well, we’re seeing more and more internal and external applications everything from conference room scheduling to internal employee classifieds transition to portal based applications displayed in intranet/extranet/etc settings. Many of these applications that surface as portlets lack the ability to play nicely with non-IE browsers. Same goes for non-portal based thin client applications.
The problem then is obvious: organizations want to use Linux as a lever against Microsoft pricing, but are simultaneously designing their next generation thin client applications to be dependent on the platform. Now to be sure, there are workarounds like the CrossOver Office product from Codeweavers that will let you run IE on Linux, but that’s hardly an ideal solution.
So the question is, will desktop Linux be a new driver for cross platform capabilities? Not yet, likely. But if I was an enterprise CIO, I’d be taking a long look at true cross platform browsers like Mozilla to see what they could do, lest that rear its ugly head next time Microsoft’s sales force pays a visit.