Firefox, the lightweight, open-source Web browser from Mozilla, includes good features in its preview release, but it still needs more work in its installation routines before it can be used in large business deployments.
First, Firefox is not subject to the seemingly endless security woes that IE is subject to. It is true that, especially in these post-XP SP2 days, you can improve IE’s security. But even so, you can improve it only so much before it starts losing functionality.
Worse still, Microsoft has recently confessed that, contrary to what the folks in Redmond said earlier, it will not be porting XP SP2 security fixes to earlier versions of IE after all. So, if your users still must use earlier versions of IE, they shortly will be facing greater security risks than ever, and Microsoft will not protect them.
It’s not that Firefox or its more full-featured big brother, Mozilla, are perfect when it comes to security. Neither is. But both have fewer problems and, when they’re found, they tend to be fixed more quickly than in IE’s security-hole-of-the week club.
But Firefox will not work with all Web sites. On the other hand, fully secured IE also tends not to work with those same sites.
These sites tend to be ones that use interactive ASPs (Active Server Pages) for data entry or login routines. If your company uses Web pages producing these kinds of problems for browsers, it’s time to clean up your server-side programs and not insist that users use unsafe browsers.
Firefox brings more than just improved security to your users. It also has several useful features that IE has yet to match.
To my way of thinking, the most important of these are Firefox’s Tabbed Browsing and Live Bookmarks.
With Tabbed Browsing, a feature found in other Web browsers such as Opera, Web pages are loaded in “tabs” within the same browser window. This makes it very easy to switch back and forth among multiple Web pages.
Besides simply freeing up desktop space, Tabbed Browsing speeds up many common browsing jobs such as switching from commonly used “home” pages or comparing data from multiple search pages. Personally, I use it to speed up switching between the pages where I spend 80 percent of my time: eWEEK.com, The Channel Insider, Google and My Yahoo.
Live Bookmarks turns Firefox into an RSS (really simple syndication) feed viewer. I had been waiting for someone to make this move. Standalone RSS readers struck me as a software line with a very limited life span, and Firefox and Mozilla are the first browsers that I know of—but I suspect far from the last—to simply incorporate RSS and Weblog viewing within their capabilities.
With the Live Bookmarks feature, your users can simply click on an RSS button, if the Web site makes it available, at the bottom of the browser window, and the RSS is added to the bookmark list. No fuss. No muss.
I wish I could say the same, though, for installing Firefox. While I’ve found replacing Internet Explorer with Firefox to be surprisingly easy, curiously, I found upgrading from earlier versions of Firefox (0.91 and 0.93) to the Preview Edition on Windows to be extremely troublesome. I have not, however, encountered any serious problems with upgrading Firefox on Linux systems.
The bottom line is that for your Windows users, you should make a copy of your profile, %APPDATA%/mozilla/firefox on XP and 2000 systems or C:\Windows\Profiles\username\Application Data\ on 98 and ME systems. After that, you should uninstall the earlier version of Firefox and then install the fresh copy.
If you can’t run Firefox afterward, you’ll probably find a solution for your problem in the MozillaZine article “Firefox Won’t Start Up.”
You may also find that you’ll need to reinstall helper applications such as Acrobat and Flash on updated systems. In addition, many older Firefox extensions, small helper applications, won’t work with the newest Firefox.
Frankly, upgrading Firefox is, at this point, far more trouble than it should be for a program that’s almost golden.
At this point, I cannot recommend deploying Firefox upgrades into any but the smallest of businesses. The amount of individual tweaking makes it just too much trouble.
Once the Mozilla Foundation has its installation routines cleaned up—hopefully in the next version—you’ll be able to automate mass deployments and upgrades with programs such as Novell’s ZENworks on both Linux and Windows desktops.
You can, of course, roll your own mass deployment tool. One such effort that’s an interesting work in progress for Windows systems is the FFDeploy tool.
Come the day that Firefox’s installation problems are cleaned up, it will be my first choice for business Windows and Linux desktops. Unfortunately, that day is not today.