Enterprise and Firefox: Where Are We?

December 6, 2007

A wee while back, I mentioned that I had gotten involved in an effort called the Firefox Enterprise Working Group.  So, any news to report?

To be honest, despite the valiant efforts of Mike Kaply, things have somewhat stuttered.  The first conference call was very well attended (although I haven’t seen actual numbers) and the debate lively.  Unfortunately, the numbers seemed to dwindle severely over the next 2 or 3 calls before I managed to attend one where I was the only person on the call!  In retrospect, I am unsure whether the conference call idea is so useful – its great for having a lively debate and for sorting out misunderstandings immediately, but a conference call in office hours on the West Coast of the USA is always going to lead to very unsociable times for the conference call from everywhere from mainland Europe to Australasia.  Even though the call was at 10am PDT, that was 6pm for me in the UK and 7/8pm for mainland Europe.  Obviously, for people in Asia, its seriously into the night time for the call.  I can understand why Michael chose the conference call as the “venue” for the Group but maybe some other communications method might be better for the interchange of ideas from here on in (such as the Firefox Enterprise Wiki or a mailing list).

It was interesting listening to how others have created solutions for Firefox.  Everyone seems to have taken slightly different angles on how to go.  However, I remain convinced that the #1 and #2 priorities should be Group Policy support and an MSI installer.  An example of a different view was TeamA, a pseudonym for what I believe to be a major US Bank, who were major proponents of a tool called Mission Control for controlling settings which harks back to Netscape days.  I previously blogged about this.  Whilst it had advantages over Group Policy such as, significantly, it works cross platform, and can control settings over the web, for me it had disadvantages such as the fact that Group Policy is a technology people know and is the technology used in probably 98% of scenarios, Group Policy is used for other related tools such as reporting and audit tools, and thirdly, it would involve the systems administrator putting in place new infrastructure just to control one application.

That latter issue is something that concerns me about the current approach of some and seemingly the one Mozilla Corp prefers.  Want to control settings?  Set up a Mission Control server.  Want to control extensions?  Deploy your own Firefox Extensions server.  Want to control updates?  Deploy your own Firefox Updates server.  Etc etc etc.  If there is one thing that my experience of FirefoxADM has told me, it is that there are two types of Systems Administrator who really needs a very high level of control over systems:  those at the very high end of resources in the likes of Banks and huge corporations, and those at the very low end of resources such as an IT guy for a bunch of schools.  Setting up a load of servers to control one application is just not a possibility for the latter – the mountain is not going to move to Mohammed.

Anyway, in the New Year, I really want to have another look at all the projects I have done, including the much-untouched FirefoxADM, mainly because, despite being not updated and generally unloved for the past 2 and a bit years, it is still working for people and being downloaded and deployed out there more than ever!

Hopefully 2008 will be the year of Firefox in the Enterprise.  Well, can hope.

2 Responses to “Enterprise and Firefox: Where Are We?”

  1. CGirardy Says:

    Thanks for these information.
    I also don’t understand why this need is not really taken care of by the Firefox Group.
    I’m still using your FirefoxADM and I’m thankful for this.
    I would really love to help you in anyway possible because right now, I still have some needs that are not satisfied. I’m not a developer but I can be a good test platform with about 250 computers.
    See you

  2. Jan Ivar Beddari Says:

    Hi there, I’ve been following your posts and the working group closely. Its a bit sad to see that this important initiative is loosing pace once again. My situation is much like your own and I very much agree that a fully supported, patchable msi installer and group policy support is what keeps Firefox from being widely adopted in the enterprise.

    It would make it very easy to implement Firefox for SMBs. Right now one can not be bothered because of the overhead. The installer is easy to fix imo, WiX could be integrated with the Firefox build-system. I already use WiX for my own Firefox msis and can build patches, different configs etc.

    Policy support is harder but not impossible as you already have a proof of concept of 🙂

    I join you in wishing the best for Firefox in the enterprise for 2008.

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