IE still top dog over Firefox in corporate browser kennel

Deployment, management issues keep open-source browser leashed at many companies

With a new CEO on board and a major update of its Firefox Web browser expected this year, Mozilla Corp. hopes to reinvigorate its campaign to pull users away from Microsoft Corp.'s still-dominant Internet Explorer software.

But Mountain View, Calif.-based Mozilla continues to expend little energy on wooing IT managers to formally adopt Firefox for deployment within their organizations, according to analysts and users of the open-source browser.

In the past, Firefox faced two main obstacles that limited its adoption by corporate users: its immaturity, and its incompatibility with corporate Web applications and intranets that relied on Microsoft technologies such as ActiveX.

Now nearly three-and-a-half years old and nearing the release of Version 3, Firefox no longer can be accused of being callow. And while many IE-only apps remain, plenty of others have been overhauled to support Firefox as well, according to Rafael Ebron, general manager of Browser Garage LLC, a Web consulting firm in Mountain View.

However, other obstacles to broader adoption have emerged. Mozilla thus far has neglected to develop tools to help IT departments deploy and manage Firefox, and it doesn't offer paid technical support services to risk-averse corporate users.

"The enterprise is looking for a neck to choke, and that is absolutely what is missing from Firefox," said Ebron, a former product manager for Firefox and its predecessor, Netscape Navigator. "If you have a problem with IE and you are a big enough customer to Microsoft, [CEO] Steve Ballmer is going to come out and talk to you. That isn't there yet from Mozilla. It isn't their focus."

Mozilla claims that Firefox has more than 125 million users. And according to market researchers, the open-source browser has made some steady, albeit relatively small, inroads against IE on usage.

For example, Net Applications Inc.,  an Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based company that tracks visitors to about 40,000 Web sites, said Firefox held a 17% share of browser usage in December, compared with 76% for IE.

Similarly, Janco Associates Inc. in Park City, Utah, currently gives Firefox a 16% usage share among visitors to 17 business-to-business Web sites that it monitors. Janco puts IE's share at 67% while giving 9% to Netscape and 3% to Google Desktop. (Netscape is credited with only a minuscule market share by Net Applications, which doesn't include Google Desktop in its rankings.)

Firefox's market share has increased from 14% since last January, while IE's share has eroded by two percentage points, according to Janco. But Firefox's gains have mostly come from workers installing the browser on their own, without IT's blessing, noted Janco CEO Victor Janulaitis.

"Users are frustrated with Microsoft's product, and more people are starting to experiment in enterprises with Firefox," he said.

Firefox may gain more users following AOL LLC's Dec. 28 announcement that it will discontinue Netscape Navigator -- and its recommendation that users switch to Mozilla's browser.

But Mozilla's laissez-faire attitude toward corporate users can lead to awkward situations, such as the one at a leading vendor of Web-based software. The company's CIO, who asked not to be identified, said it is a longtime Microsoft shop that has standardized on IE as its browser of choice.

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