Is Firefox Ready for Prime Time in the Enterprise?

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Ask network manager Tom Gonzales about Firefox, an open-source browserdeveloped by the Mozilla Foundation, and he openly gushes about itsmyriad benefits.

Gonzales says he swears by Firefox at home, in the office and for most ofhis IT team. But ask him if he intends to roll it out to his users, andhe emphatically says ''no''.

Gonzales, senior network administrator at Colorado State Employees CreditUnion in Denver, Colo. is not convinced that Firefox is ready to displaceMicrosoft Internet Explorer in the enterprise.

''I use it heavily. I loved it immediately,'' he says. ''But it takes alittle more skill to use Firefox -- a little more knowledge totroubleshoot.''

Gonzales says there would be a learning curve for his 170 users and morethan 70,000 credit union members to get used to Firefox's features andextensions like tabbed pages, integrated Internet search tools andintegrated RSS feeds. ''It's not that tough, but it's hard to pushsomething new on someone when it's not their primary job. My users haveto be able to do their work and if I make it hard for them [by using adifferent browser], that's not good.''

Gonzales says Firefox would create help-desk headaches as many Web sitesare coded specifically for Internet Explorer.

''The primary reason that Firefox is not ready for prime time yet is thatpeople aren't preparing their Web sites for it,'' he says. Proprietaryfeatures like Microsoft's ActiveX controls don't work with Firefox,causing viewing problems.

Brian Schwartz, technology specialist at CDW Corp. in Vernon Hills, Ill.,says Gonzales is not alone in his hesitancy to adopt Firefox.

''We've asked IT managers what their biggest concerns are and quitespecifically they say they have too many number one priorities from[their executives],'' he says. ''IT managers want other people to prove[Firefox's] worth first. They prize stability and performance, and theirusers have very little patience to test out new things.''

He adds that IT managers are too busy to test the impact of Firefox ontheir networks and applications. ''If there is any question about whetherFirefox could impact application performance, it's probably not going tomake the list of items a large-scale IT organization would evaluate.''

The key, he says, is for Mozilla to show that Firefox offers somethingthat Internet Explorer doesn't. ''IT managers aren't looking to adopt newstuff if they don't have to,'' he says.

Jim Linn agrees. As IT director at the American Gas Association inWashington, D.C., Linn says he does not intend to roll out Firefox.

''Our standard has been Internet Explorer for better or worse,'' he says.''Although recent vulnerabilities have brought [Internet Explorer] intoquestion, we are staying the course.''

Linn says it's important for IT groups to choose a path.

''We see the need to stay standardized -- particularly on Microsoftsoftware. It all fits together neatly and works together well. Even formy personal use and my technicians, I am running Internet Explorer.''

An Uphill Battle

When Firefox debuted last year, proponents of the browser touted itssecurity compared to the vulnerability-laden Internet Explorer. But overthe past few weeks, scrutiny has picked up about Firefox's own