IE still top dog over Firefox in corporate browser kennel

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

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Even so, all of the apps that the vendor sells or uses internally can run on multiple browsers. And demand for Firefox among its employees is so heavy — "Salesforce.com runs better in Firefox," one worker told the CIO — that the internal ratio of Firefox to IE usage currently is about 60:40.

The big downside is the difficulty of managing Firefox, especially in comparison to administering IE, according to the CIO. For example, he said that the IT department can patch IE via automated central updates. On the other hand, "we have to send an e-mail and have users manually download Firefox updates, which is not ideal," he said.

That won't change in Firefox 3. A Beta 2 release available now lacks features that IT managers typically want, such as the ability to automatically deploy multiple copies of Firefox through Windows Installer package files — better known as .MSI files, for the file extension they use.

The update also can't be patched from a central console, like IE can be through Microsoft's Windows Server Update Services. Nor can it be managed and secured via Active Directory, Microsoft's tool for setting group policies.

As a result, many IT staffs looking for help in rolling out or managing Firefox have resorted to using free third-party tools.

One, FirefoxADM, lets administrators centrally manage locked or default settings in Firefox via group policy settings in Active Directory. Another, called FrontMotion, offers basic .MSI installation packages for Firefox for free, and custom ones for a small fee.

FirefoxADM has been downloaded about 22,000 times, according to Mark Sammons, a senior computing officer at the University of Edinburgh, who created the tool and is using it to manage Firefox on 8,000 PCs at the Scottish school.

FrontMotion's installers has been downloaded nearly 131,000 times, said Eric Kuo, its developer. By day, Kuo works as an IT director at a medical company in Lubbock, Texas, that he asked not be identified.

Both FirefoxADM and FrontMotion are open-source products. But each is largely developed by a moonlighting individual. That has hurt FirefoxADM, in particular; Sammons acknowledges that he hasn't added any new features to the management tool in the past two years.

"I have no illusions as to what FirefoxADM is," he wrote in an e-mail. "I think it works well, but ultimately, it's a work-around for functionality that really needs to be built into Firefox itself."

An even bigger problem is that neither of the two tools has been formally tested and certified by Mozilla.

"It's absolute FUD to say that you can't administer Firefox well within an Active Directory environment with third-party tools," Ebron said, using the acronym for fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Nonetheless, both he and Kuo said that having Mozilla's official seal of approval would be a big plus to corporate users planning major deployments.

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