Business Must Be Cautious With Firefox

There has been a lot of buzz in the past few months over the arrival of Firefox, the open-source browser published by The Mozilla Foundation, and how Microsoft's Internet Explorer is starting to lose some of its share of the browser market to this new competitor. Out of the ashes of Netscape, Mozilla has built a solid browser that supports features such as tabbed views, Google for native searches and direct support for RSS feeds. But business users need to think twice about making the switch from Internet Explorer, since Firefox lacks the ability to run Microsoft ActiveX code.

This article generated the most reader mail that we've seen in a while. Here's some of what readers had to say.

When Microsoft integrated Internet Explorer tightly with its operating systems and allowed the browser to execute Windows code, it created a double-edged sword. On one hand, a new class of richer Web-based applications could be created, allowing for a far more interactive Web experience. Unfortunately, opportunities for hackers to exploit this feature and execute malicious code on users' machines have been abundant. The result has been a security nightmare for IT organizations, which must deal with an endless series of patches and fixes from Microsoft to preserve their online safety.

Firefox was released into a browser market that hadn't been very active or innovative since Netscape's decline. Lacking strong competition, Internet Explorer was no longer a strategic product for Microsoft, and few resources were devoted to it, other than those needed to fix bugs and security holes. This left the market open for the Mozilla team to create its user-friendly and secure browser.

The reception that Firefox has received from consumers and the press might tempt business users to switch browsers, but there are some good reasons not to. Many mission-critical applications have been built on Internet Explorer, and most organizations don't have the budget or resources to recode them. In addition, PCs' application loads need to be properly tested to ensure that nothing breaks with the addition of a different browser. In the near term, many business users will be better served by keeping Internet Explorer and installing security updates as they're released. If they aren't dependent on Internet Explorer technology, however, some end users could use Firefox for their daily Web surfing while reserving Internet Explorer use for sites that require it.

Despite the factors that should keep many business users from adopting Firefox at the expense of Internet Explorer, I believe this new browser is going to be a force for positive change in the industry. There's no doubt that Firefox resonates with end users. Microsoft's lack of ambition in driving browser development forward, combined with the multitude of security issues associated with Internet Explorer, fostered an environment where Firefox could flourish.

Although the 21st century browser wars don't have nearly as much at stake as the Netscape/IE skirmish -- that sort of intensity is reserved today for things like desktop search, where there's money to be made -- a more competitive browser market could be developing.

If Microsoft is spurred by Firefox's success to put more resources into Internet Explorer, it would help create a better experience for both businesses and consumers. That might even happen before Longhorn ships.

Michael Gartenberg is vice president and research director for the Personal Technology & Access and Custom Research groups at Jupiter Research in New York. Contact him at His weblog and RSS feed are at

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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