Microsoft should rejoice --- Firefox throws in the towel on the enterprise

Microsoft's battle against Firefox for the enterprise appears to be over --- as made clear by a series of boneheaded decisions and statements, Firefox appears to have abandoned the enterprise.

The first bad decision was Firefox's rapid-release program, in which a new version of Firefox is released about every six weeks. Consumers may be happy with such quick revisions, but they're anathema to enterprises. Above all, enterprises crave stability over new features --- ensuring that enterprise apps work is a lot more important than getting the latest new widget.

Al Hilwa, an analyst with IDC, explained it to Computerworld this way:

"A major version change is a big signal to the enterprise that there's something drastically different, and a signal that [IT] needs to do its due diligence. People in the enterprise are in the habit of evaluating every bit before they put it on workstations."

Enterprises simply can't afford to do that work every six weeks. 

If that wasn't bad enough, Mozilla also decided to drop security support for Firefox 4, and is considering dropping it from Firefox 3.6 as well.

Consultant Michael Kaply, who customizes Firefox for clients, complains on his blog that Firefox's moves are "really a bad idea." He argues:

Companies simply can't turn around major browser updates in six weeks (and each one of these is a major update). With security releases, there was a reasonable expectation that web applications wouldn't break as a result of changes. With these releases, there is no such expectation. So a full test cycle needs to be run with every release. By the time this cycle is completed and the browser is piloted and deployed, another version of Firefox would already be released so they'd already be behind. And in the mean time, all of their browsers will be insecure, because all security updates are rolled into the major versions.

Then came the clearest statement yet that Mozilla appears to be abandoing the enterprise. Firefox evangelist Asa Dotzler essentially wrote on Kaply's post that Mozilla doesn't care about corporate users:

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.

He then added:

A minute spent making a corporate user happy can better be spent making many regular users happy. I'd much rather Mozilla spending its limited resources looking out for the billions of users that don’t have enterprise support systems already taking care of them.

Don't think that Dotzler is a rogue making statements that contrast with Mozilla policy, because it's clearly the direction Mozilla has decided to take. Kev Needham, Mozilla's channel manager told Computerworld in an email:

"We recognize that this shift may not be compatible with a large organization's IT policy and understand that it is challenging to organizations that have effort-intensive certification polices [But] tying Firefox product development to an organizational process we do not control would make it difficult for us to continue to innovate for our users and the betterment of the Web."

All this is the best news for Internet Explorer that Microsoft has had in quite some time. Ultimately, Microsoft cares more about enterprise IE use than overall market share, because use of IE ties corporations more closely to other Microsoft apps. So Firefox abandoning corporations means that Microsoft only has Chrome to fight in the enterprise --- and Chrome has a similar rapid development cycle as does Firefox. Mozilla's latest moves make IE's future in the enterprise look a whole lot brighter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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