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Battle of the browsers

11 November 2004  |  9580 views  |  0 Source: Finextra Research

Back in 2002, the Toronto Linux User Group published a table that listed the tolerance of bank Web sites to browser alternatives to Internet Explorer. The full list ran to some 300 banks and exposed widespread industry indifference to non-Microsoft browsers.

At the time Microsoft had a firm stranglehold on the market, having conquered upstart rival Netscape by the simple expedient of integrating Explorer into the Windows operating system.

However, over the past six months, Microsoft’s commanding lead over the browser market has begun to slip: from 95.5% market share in June to 92.2% by the end of October, according to the latest data from analytics firm WebSideStory. That translates to millions of surfers ditching Explorer in favour of a number of up-and-coming alternatives, such as Mozilla’s Firefox, Opera, and Safari for Mac diehards. Much of the Explorer traffic is traveling in the direction of Firefox – a personal favourite of the Finextra team – which was released earlier this week and is streets ahead of Explorer in terms of functionality and adherence to open standards.

But it’s not just the superior technical spec that is driving users away from Explorer. The Microsoft browser has also become a liability for the online banking community. In July, the increasing susceptibility of Microsoft software to spyware and Trojans led major Web security bodies to advise consumers to switch to another browser rather than wait for the latest patch from Redmond.

Microsoft has responded by reforming the Explorer development team, and plugging a number of gaping holes in security – including the installation of a pop-up blocker. All well and good. But the next major developmental upgrade is not expected much before 1997 with the launch of the new version of Windows, codenamed Longhorn.

For banks, our advice is to ensure that your Web site remains in tune with developments in the fast-moving browser market. To be fair, most are now up-to-speed with the various flavours of Netscape; but Opera and Safari users are less well catered for. Both may only command a tiny slice of the market, but failing to adapt to new browser variants is akin to turning customers away from the branch simply because you don’t like the cut of their jib. That's not just impolite, it's also bad for business.

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