Firefox in the Enterprise: Part 2 – Benefits

Before I get started with this post, I wanted to let people know that I am working with representatives of other companies to form an Enterprise Working Group for Firefox. The goal of this group will be to work together to document enterprise requirements and either create extensions or submit patches to Firefox to meet these requirements. We hope that anyone interested in Firefox in the enterprise will join us. We’ll be having our first meeting in the next few weeks.

In my previous post I talked about obstacles to the enterprise adoption of Firefox, but it wouldn’t be fair to talk about obstacles without talking about the benefits. We all know the benefits to Firefox users, like tabbed browsing and pop up blocking, so this post is going to focus on enterprise specific benefits. Obviously there are many more benefits beyond what I’m covering here. I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments on this post.

Extensions

Extensions are a great way to add genuine business value to Firefox. Within IBM, for example, we have extensions like Koala that can be used to automate business processes, or extensions like Tommy! which take our corporate directory to the next level by integrating other services like blogs. We have an extension available that uses the Firefox password manger to enable single sign on to IBM domains. And of course we have the CCK to produce IBM customized versions of Firefox. We have also seen Greasemonkey used to add business value. For instance, one of our support teams uses a Greasemonkey script to prefill fields in a web application that would normally have to be done with every problem report. The result can be seen in real time savings for support calls.

And these are just few. I haven’t even mentioned some of the other extensions that add IBM specific toolbars or enhance our ability to search our corporate directory. So what does this mean for your business? There are probably areas where a simple Firefox extension or Greasemonkey script could greatly enhance the experience of your employees. It’s definitely something to keep in mind.

Customization

I really can’t say enough about the customizablity of Firefox. Because most of the user interface code is written in JavaScript and can be modified via extensions, I have been able to do some extensive customization. I’ve had schools approach me about things ranging from removing history or bookmarks to disabling access to preferences. I have been able to accomplish all of this through the use of extensions. If you have specific needs around browser customization, whether it be locking down the browser, or perhaps a kiosk, Firefox can be customized to meet that need.

Web Development

My experience has shown that Firefox has become the web development platform, even for organizations that use Internet Explorer internally. The extensions available for Firefox, like the Venkman JavaScript Debugger, the DOM Inspector, Firebug, and the Web Developer extension make web development much easier on Firefox. And there are even more extensions to benefit the web developer.

Open Source

There are some Firefox benefits specifically because it is open source. You can replace the existing update infrastructure with your own so updates are served from your servers. If you have questions, you can access developers directly. When you open a bug, you can keep up with the status and even choose to fix it yourself. You have access to the source code for debugging problems. You can build your own browser with patches that you want if it comes to that.

Open Standards

By using Firefox, you are encouraging the use of open standards and protocols, and helping to keep the web open.

Summary

That’s all I have for now. I know I’ve only scratched the surface here. Please comment as to additional enterprise benefits. And stay tuned for more info on the Enterprise Working Group.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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7 thoughts on “Firefox in the Enterprise: Part 2 – Benefits

  1. Enterprise Working Group is a great idea, it would be good if it covered also Thunderbird, given the importance that a mail client has in corporate enviroments and also the lack of attention and resources it lacks, especially compared to Firefox

  2. Some big strengths are cross-platform support, many companies have mixed environments; localization for companies with big int’l presence; and a simple UI that again is cross-platform. The last part helps with training and documentation. Firefox is a cleaner surface for web apps. An example of how bad IE’s UI is, try and open a new file in IE 7? There’s no file menu in the default UI for IE 7.

    There are a ton of other product benefits. The biggest one that enterprises care about is security. It’s also a selling point for getting IT groups to at least get Firefox on user’s machines i.e. if IE gets compromised at least you’re not totally hosed. The second big product benefit is product speed — both as an application and as a platform. You’re just able to do things faster in Firefox doing day to day stuff (due to tabbed browsing, the search bar, find feature, good pop-up blocker), and applications should run snappier in Firefox.

  3. Cross platform is another big benefit, but I disagree with your “UI helps with training and documentation.” The UI is changing with every version of Firefox, so having a cross platform UI is moot if I have to retrain every year (which I do).

    Selling Firefox as a backup in case something goes wrong with IE is great, but that’s not a security statement. I would never go to an enterprise and claim that Firefox is more secure. that’s just asking for trouble.

    The speed thing is relative. I think it’s faster, but I don’t use IE anymore, so I wouldn’t know. People are faster at things they are used to. and IE 7 has all the benefits you mentioned.

  4. I didn’t say Firefox is more secure but Mozilla does have a better track record for security fixes and I believe a better security process than Microsoft.

    I don’t know why the UI keeps changing from version to version. It’s kind of aggravating. There’s still room for improvement but many things should be left alone and most is, it’s not like a complete UI overhaul every version. But version to version UI updates aren’t nearly as drastic as what the IE team did with IE 7. That was way too much.

    Agreed with people are faster at things they are used to. There’s also features within Firefox to remove steps in tasks and does speed things along.

  5. Mike,

    I’ve been dealing with a lot of organisations for almost 2 and a half years regarding Firefox in the enterprise, because of my projects FirefoxADM (which recently got an upsurge of interest despite being slightly dormant because it featured in some US Windows IT Professional magazine) and the Firefox Group Policy Extension. So, I’d be really interested to put my input and any help I can into this group if I could and you wanted me to. Email me.

    The main reasons I have found that people want to deploy Firefox is that their users want it because that is what they use at home and the organisation wishes to roll it out and control it. In the big organisations, it is the controlling part that is tantamount, they usually have MSI repackagers or some other formal automated method of getting that application onto user’s workstations. Having an MSI is important, as long as (a) it is regarded as official and can be downloaded from Mozilla.com and people can file bug reports in bugzilla where the feature is the MSI, and (b) the MSI comes out hopefully within hours of the main installer.

    Its important when talking about benefits to understand that even when organisations deploy Firefox, IE is still on the machine. Therefore, any comparison-to-IE benefits are pointless. I have come across only a couple of times when someone has contacted me regarding FirefoxADM where they saw it as a replacement to IE. The only one who was serious had a 5-figure number of machines and I had to talk him out of randomly removing DLLs which he thought were solely IE DLLs (its not a good idea!). Very few wish to move to an environment where,as opposed to relying solely on IE, they are relying solely on Firefox. In a way, people see relying solely on Firefox as its weakness – as there is no financial connection between Mozilla and that company, there is no method for companies to stamp their feet and get things changed if a change to the latest version of Firefox hoses their web applications.

    I disagree that Firefox is more secure than IE and disagree that Mozilla have a better security process than Microsoft. However, one major thing I have pushed and have felt that people respond to is that something like FirefoxADM and existing IE Administrative Templates allows people to stay connected to the internet even when there is a zero-day on one of the browsers. For example, if IE has an unfixable zero-dayer, set all the proxies to point to 127.0.0.1 and then you can announce people can still use Firefox to browse the web until the patch has been released. Also, it allows you to turn off the likes of javascript in Firefox if an issue occurs in it or, similarly, set Firefox’s proxies to localhost, if a zero-dayer happens to Firefox. This is the sort of solution that turns “roll out to anyone who requests it” into “roll out to the whole organisation”.

    As I say, I have dealt with a large number of people over the past couple of years with Firefox in the enterprise and hopefully could add some insight if required.