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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"It comes down to a perception of who owns the tools, not the tools themselves," Kuo said. He noted that preliminary talks with Mozilla about selling FrontMotion — a move he would welcome — went nowhere.

Mozilla has no plans to add tighter integration between Firefox and Active Directory, according to Chris Hofmann, the open-source vendor's director of special projects. He dismissed Active Directory as a "proprietary technology" that would hurt rather than help Firefox administrators.

"Multiple levels of permissions applied across different groups add a lot of complexity," he said. "If you look at the track record for that feature, it’s resulted in less security for IE."

But Hofmann, who oversees security and language localization development for Firefox in addition to helping run its enterprise-oriented efforts, acknowledged that users are clamoring for Mozilla to provide more enterprise tools. For example, on a public wiki maintained by Mozilla's Firefox Enterprise Working Group, .MSI installers and better tools for preferences management top a new-features wish list.

Automated installers are relatively easy to create, and such a tool "might come sooner" from Mozilla than one for Active Directory would, Hofmann said. But he added that Mozilla has no plans to acquire or certify third-party tools or to set up a paid support business for corporate users.

Despite the success that open-source vendors such as Red Hat Inc. and MySQL AB have had in getting corporate users to sign paid support contracts, Hofmann contended that companies are starting to favor DIY support approaches on open-source technologies. "There's a growing number of CIOs asking, 'What is the value of a support contract? What are we getting out of it?'" he said.

Mozilla's stance doesn't surprise Kuo, who claimed that the organization is dominated by developers who would be unlikely to find the idea of starting an IT support business sexy.

Kuo added that he doesn't think Mozilla will suddenly change its attitude and develop a browser deployment tool that could render FrontMotion obsolete. Mozilla "could create it themselves," he said. "But it's obviously not their priority."

Michael Kaply, a senior software engineer at IBM who describes himself as a "Firefox advocate," said that the open-source browser is currently being used by about 72,000 of the IT vendor's 360,000 employees.

IBM wrote its own Firefox deployment software, but it doesn't use any group policies to lock down or otherwise control the browser. "Our employees have full control of their machines," Kaply wrote in an e-mail.

The company still runs some Web applications that work only with IE. But it is building in Firefox support, Kaply said. For example, a travel reservation app was recently switched to a cross-browser design. "That was a big hurdle," he wrote.

However, in a posting on his personal blog last September, Kaply lamented that the number of participants on Firefox Enterprise Working Group conference calls had "dwindled." And in an earlier posting, he said that he thought most of the large companies that had adopted Firefox were using it "as a secondary browser" only.

Gregg Keizer contributed to this story.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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