Readers respond to Firefox column

Michael Gartenberg's Jan. 24 column Business Must Be Cautious With Firefox generated the most reader mail that we've seen in a while. Here's some of what readers had to say.

Central premise undermined

With regard to your article "Business Must Be Cautious With Firefox," I need only point out one URL. It appears that Firefox can run ActiveX code with the help of the linked plug-in, which can be found readily by typing in "ActiveX plug-in" into Google, and hitting "I'm Feeling Lucky". This must undermine the article's central premise.

As ActiveX can be turned off when it isn't needed, or even run subject to security policy, this has to be an improvement upon the situation as it stands with Internet Explorer.

-- Tim Wesson

Just wait for the new Netscape version

As a business, we've started encouraging the use of Firefox and couldn't be happier. Of course, our users still have IE to use for the few applications we have that require it. There's no reason to be "cautious" about Firefox, since users can use Firefox for the majority of their surfing and fire up IE when using a (poorly written) application that requires it. (I say "poorly written" because as a developer, I know there are many other cross-platform, cross-browser technologies available that can do whatever ActiveX does. ... ActiveX is a crutch for many programmers. Personally I think it makes bad business sense to lock out many potential users. For example, we're a school district, and many of our teachers can't use some of our business productivity Web apps because they were made Windows/IE-centric.) But I digress. ...

When I purchased my first DVD player, I still had a library of VHS tapes, including many home movies. Still, I didn't "think twice about making the switch" because the newfangled DVD player lacked the ability to run VHS tapes. My solution? Keep the VCR and use both, as needed. Over time, the use of the VCR dwindled as I made certain any new movies I purchased or rented were in DVD format, and I eventually transferred my home movies to DVD. I still have the VCR, though, in case I need it in a pinch.

I'm curious to hear the arguments when the new version of Netscape comes out. I've used the beta version and can say that it is very promising. It has the ability to selectively use IE's rendering engine (whatever version you have installed on your machine) or the Gecko/Firefox engine. You can decide which engine to use on a per-site basis, so you can set up those sites/applications that require ActiveX to use IE's engine while maintaining better features, standards compliance and security for the rest.

You can see screenshots and a good preview here.

-- Tony Cervo
Webmaster, San Juan Unified School District

ActiveX is biggest problem

I'm in charge of IT for a 10-store retail chain in downtown Brooklyn, N.Y. Our point-of-sale application runs on Windows XP; the server is Windows Advanced Server, with SQL Server.

Our biggest problem -- by far -- is caused by ActiveX controls. If it were possible to run our applications without IE, using Firefox, Opera, Netscape or any other browser, I'd change in a second.

Encouraging your readers to stick with Microsoft's insecure, outdated browser is a disservice to the entire community. You would be much better advised to encourage Web developers to abandon proprietary, IE-based technology like ActiveX and use Java and other more universal technologies.

-- J.H.

Better security against malware

Fascinating article. It appears that the author doesn't understand that ActiveX is the problem. ActiveX = viruses, worms, trojans, malware. Why does your computer crash? Because you've visited a site with IE, and some piece of malware there messed with your registry, applications, data files, e-mail, etc. via ActiveX.

The number one reason why users switch to Firefox is for better security against malware. The number one security "feature" provided by Firefox: no ActiveX.

I'm surprised that a reputable publication like Computerworld would air such a dubious piece of "journalism."

-- Ronald P. Hughes, founder/CEO, VisiComp Inc.

How about a list of sites that don't work with Firefox?

I thought this was satire until I read the whole piece and could not find the "wink-wink."

100% bad advice! It is through MS IE and specifically the ActiveX feature that many spyware, Trojans and viruses enter corporate systems. The failure of MS to do anything significant to fix this is reason enough to abandon this product.

I have not had any problems opening up any of the business sites using Firefox. Can you give us a list of sites that (are unresponsive to changes in their customer base) that do not work with Firefox.

-- Dr. Ricardo Hernandez


Firefox doesn't lack ActiveX, it refuses ActiveX

"But business users need to think twice about making the switch from Internet Explorer, since Firefox lacks the ability to run Microsoft ActiveX code."

It's not "lacks" so much as "refuses." There is an ActiveX plug-in available for Firefox, but they wouldn't dare install it by default. It's been a source of security problems in IE from the start.

-- No name provided

Shortsighted, naive and even dangerous

You have got to be kidding.

ActiveX is the biggest contributor by far to the continued spread of viruses, spam, Trojans and spyware. The best thing that can be done on the Internet to eliminate these parasites on our productivity is to get rid of ActiveX.

I find your point of view shortsighted, naive and even dangerous.

-- William Graham

Key element to security breaches

One of the key elements to the security breaches fueled by Windows [Internet] Explorer is the very ActiveX component which Mr. Gartenberg insists should be in the browser.

While I am sure that the spam, virus and spybot community would agree to putting ActiveX into Firefox, the remainder and majority of those on the 'Net are happy to be free of that unsecured back door. Clearly this article is designed to FUD Firefox, and I am amazed that Computerworld would sully their reputation by allowing a hack article such as Mr. Gartenberg's to be published. Supporting this opening of systems as per Mr. Gartenberg's suggestions is irresponsible toward the future integrity of the 'Net and users' security.

-- Dave Page

Appalled by lack of preparation and investigation

As a senior systems analyst for a $3.5 billion corporation (and a 24-year veteran within the IT Industry), I'm very familiar with the topic broached by Mr. Gartenberg. While fully understanding the argument Mr. Gartenberg attempts to put forward, I must say that I was appalled by the lack of preparation and investigation suggested by this article.

While I would fully agree that a large number of corporations have heavily invested in ActiveX, Mr. Gartenberg fails to fully disclose that a large number of corporations have also been migrating away from ActiveX over the past two years. In large part, the security issues surrounding system space execution are forcing corporate America to rethink its e-business infrastructure ... with a key factor being the productivity losses associated with ActiveX.

As simply one example, the corporation I work for (and a number of others that immediately come to mind) has spent over $2 million in the past 18 months, recoding our entire e-business infrastructure to purposely exclude ActiveX components when and wherever possible.

In another example, a federal agency now takes the drastic measure of verifying ActiveX disabled on any system accessing its networks -- and will automatically quarantine any system with ActiveX running. ... I'm sorry to say our corporation is not far behind.

Our front end has been completely Java-based for the last six months; with both our architecture and security groups now vetoing any proposal that involves ActiveX. As one of our security analysts so eloquently suggested, "Until Microsoft can address the security issues inherent with ActiveX, it remains terra non grata."

I'm sure a number of your readers would appreciate a counterpoint article on this subject, and I submit for your consideration that several viewpoints (real-world industry, government, education, et al) might provide your readership a more balanced consideration of ActiveX.

-- Michael
(surname, address, corporate affiliation and e-mail withheld by request)
MBA (IntlComm), MSc (CompSci), ACP, CCIE, MCSE, OCP


How on earth did this article get past whatever editorial process you use? Business must be cautious because Firefox doesn't contain gaping security holes? It's laughable!

There is only one site I can think of that requires Internet Explorer, and thats Windows Update. Even there, I hear, there is an extension to Firefox to let you use it.

-- David Beaumont

Instead of FUD, how about a case study?

Do the words fear, uncertainty and doubt have any meaning to you? These three words are often abreviated as "FUD." FUD is what happens when a magazine company prints an article that doesn't have any factual basis, but hints at the "bad things" that could happen if one were to switch to another software product or hardware vendor.

I have rarely seen an article so full of FUD as the one entitled "Business Must Be Cautious With Firefox," by Michael Gartenberg. I am amazed that an otherwise reputable organization such as yours could be swayed into printing such an uniformed and uniformative article on your Web site. Indeed, this article could serve as an almost perfect example of FUD.

Instead of this garbage, how about a step-by-step case study of a company that did switch, and what the true costs were, so that other companies could make an informed decision about whether to switch? Or even a company that actually looked into switching and why they decided to stay with IE -- and do try to be factual here, because otherwise anyone who knows anything about Firefox and IE will just laugh at you.

How about warning companies about allowing new projects to be tied to IE, instead of made to work with open Web standards so that the company wouldn't be tying itself to a convicted monopolist? Maybe a company could have a decade-long plan to switch over all their internal applications to open standards so that in 10 years, they would be free to choose the operating system, the set of clients, middleware and the hardware that best suits them, instead of being locked into criminal organization whose only goal is to make money, no matter what the cost, no matter if they obey the law or not?

Personally, I switched to Mozilla, and now Firefox and Thunderbird, many years ago. It has always worked well for me and allowed me to ignore the problems I see constantly irritating my friends and family still running Windows, IE and Outlook.

One of the best things for me is that Firefox, Mozilla and OpenOffice all work seamlessly for me on Windows, Mac and Linux desktops, allowing me to have an almost similar experience on the platform of my choice.

Which of course is why companies like you and people like Michael are being paid by Microsoft in order to print what are basically lies, to help slow the bleeding of people converting over to Firefox. Because MS knows that if they can't lock people in, then there is no reason to keep running MS software. Windows, IE, Outlook and Office are not secure; Linux, Firefox, Thunderbird and OpenOffice are secure. Windows is still not stable; Linux can run for years without crashing. Windows implements its own standards whenever they feel like it, often to help leverage their illegal monopoly; Linux and Firefox are totally open and free and implement only open standards.

MS knows that once people are running Firefox, Thunderbird and OpenOffice on 30% to 40% of computers, then there is nothing stopping people from switching to Linux underneath those three applications with no problem. MS is very scared of this, and it's a shame, too, just when they were looking forward to locking everyone into Windows perminantly with their Digital Rights Management scheme.

Too bad, so sad.

-- Do not print my e-mail address or my name.

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