At my last organization, we included Mozilla Firefox in images for deployment to all the computers for the sake of having an alternative browser since Firefox 2. Before I left, there were already talks about removing Firefox and discontinuing support for it as an IT department. It increased overhead and problems with user support (another thing to cause issues, teach users, and ensure it’s backed up) while not proving to be that worthwhile as pre-launch update checks confused users and made new computers seem slow. I was even able to develop a method for deploying Firefox 3 to the entire organization but the method didn’t work for long outside of that window.
When Firefox 5 was released 3 months after Firefox 4 and Mozilla stated that Firefox 6 and 7 are also coming out this year, it signaled a problem to many IT staff responsible enterprise organizations. How do you ensure your computers are up to date? How do you deploy new packages? How do I test to ensure the browser still works with all of our necessary company websites/software? While Google has provided .msi files to deploy Chrome and .Adm/.Admx files to manage through group policy in active directory environments through its Google Chrome for Business program, Mozilla has been mostly resistant to making their software easier to deploy. While I was developing my method of developing Firefox 3, I did a lot of research on the web and saw there was plenty of demand for an easily deployable Firefox.
At the end of June, Mozilla blogged an article titled Firefox in the Enterprise that acknowledged Mozilla’s prioritization to the individual but explained that they were looking for a solution that balanced the needs of individuals and enterprises. On Tuesday, Mozilla blogged an update to the topic in which they re-establish their Mozilla Enterprise User Working Group. The working group is “a place for enterprise developers, IT staff and Firefox developers to discuss the challenges, ideas and best practices for deploying Firefox in the enterprise.”
Unfortunately for Mozilla’s public image, it seems to be sending mixed messages. Mike Kaply, a consultant that specializes in customizing and deploying Firefox, blogged a month ago on the Firefox Rapid Release Process. Comments on that article gained momentum as more people chimed in. The capital example seems to be:
I have 500,000 corporate users on Firefox 3.6. We’re just completing a test cycle of Firefox 4 on many thousands of internal business web applications. Many hundreds of application owners and their test teams have participated.
The Firefox 4 EOL is a kick in the stomach. I’m now in the terrible position of choosing to deploy a Firefox 4 release with potentially unpatched vulnerabilities, reset the test cycle for thousands of internal apps to validate Firefox 5 or stay on a patched Firefox 3.6.x.
This feedback seemed to be enough to warrant another blog post, Understanding the Corporate Impact, as the feather in the proverbial cap of Kaply’s argument. It went on to further the discussion until a Firefox developer, Asa Dotzler, chimed in:
Mike, you do realize that we get about 2 million Firefox downloads per day from regular user types, right? Your “big numbers” here are really just a drop in the bucket, fractions of fractions of a percent of our user base.
Enterprise has never been (and I’ll argue, shouldn’t be) a focus of ours. Until we run out of people who don’t have sysadmins and enterprise deployment teams looking out for them, I can’t imagine why we’d focus at all on the kinds of environments you care so much about.
This strong opinion only added more fuel to the fire as the attitude turned a lot of IT professionals and corporate users felt betrayed and anxious of “the impending train wreck”.
Mozilla then confirmed this stance as the policy of the organization, not just a single developer to The Register. Microsoft IE director Ari Bixhorn jumped on the chance to promote Internet Explorer 9 as an enterprise-friendly browser and that Microsoft knows how to support the enterprise in a blog post of his own, John Walicki: We Have a Solution to Your Firefox Deployment Problem. He also pointed other corporate users to a previous Windows Team Blog post The Nine Reasons Why IE9 is the Best Browser for Business Customers.
Is Mozilla’s Enterprise Working Group enough to win corporations back when the attitude behind the facade is as unconcerned as it is snarky? Was there enough change in Firefox 5 to warrant the major version upgrade that it couldn’t be Firefox 4.5? Will Mozilla be able to keep up the race with Chrome when competing with version numbers alone?
For myself, as an IT Professional, I will be recommending Google Chrome for Business as the alternative browser, not Firefox. Even as an individual, I find myself using Chrome more and Firefox less. Talking with colleagues and friends, this seems to be the common trend with main complaints being Firefox’s performance seeming stagnant and Adobe Flash updates being done automagically in Chrome.