Can Firefox 3.5 wean universities off their IE addiction?

Can Firefox 3.5 wean universities off their IE addiction?

Summary: I considered some time ago as to why Internet Explorer had such a dominance over the market, even with the growing number of open-source users turning to Firefox. After I ended my rocky relationship with the controversial browser, Firefox continues to develop and grow ever stronger.

TOPICS: Browser, Microsoft

I considered some time ago as to why Internet Explorer had such a dominance over the market, even with the growing number of open-source users turning to Firefox. After I ended my rocky relationship with the controversial browser, Firefox continues to develop and grow ever stronger. With the release of the latest version, Firefox 3.5, I now question whether universities and other workplaces can wean themselves off their Internet Explorer dependency.

I wrote:

"The reason is updating and security. Updating Internet Explorer is far simpler for university departments which control the IT systems, because it can be updated using Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) with little effort. Updating Firefox or other browsers isn’t as easy due to the lack of installation files (apparently)."

In my experience, there is no particular other reason as to why Internet Explorer is default, and you'll find many computers offer Firefox in the Start menu. But what's actually new in Firefox 3.5 and what should we start looking out for?

Aesthetically very little has changed on the face of things. The interface still looks, feels and reacts as it should do and as it previously has done. Add-ons have caused some people problems with a number of additional features which can be installed don't seem to be compatible with this version. However, as Firefox is a growing force in the browser war, developers of these add-ons will no doubt be updating their programs relatively soon.

Personally, I had almost no problems. There was one add-on which wasn't compatible, but out of the eight that I had, this isn't too bad.

HTML 5 standards are part of Firefox 3.5's release which adds storage facilities to web applications to enable them to work offline. With web applications, such as GMail or WordPress, being common in usage on the web nowadays, the need to keep these applications going whilst an Internet connection isn't present can be vital to productivity.

Privacy controls have been "snatched" from Internet Explorer, competing almost with their InPrivate mode, with a new feature which prevents history from being recorded and cookies from being added, ensuring you can surf in anonymity. I do hope though, people aren't too naive to believe that they can truly browse in anonymity...

TraceMonkey runs JavaScript with better efficiency and speed, enabling web applications to run faster than before. Originally appear in version 3.1, TraceMonkey, even with its strange name will enable the overall experience of rich HTML based applications to run faster than before.

Even with these new features in consideration - can universities wean themselves off Internet Explorer in favour of alternative browsers? I think not. The reason I feel to be the kicker is the bi-perspective of the public facing view and the behind-the-scenes view, in that the network administrators would prefer an easier life to that of the user getting the full experience they want. If the mentality of, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is itself broken, perhaps the shift in browser dominance will shift quite dramatically.

Topics: Browser, Microsoft

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  • Don't feel too bad

    I have a handful of users who have to connect to a web app at one of our State offices that absolutely requires IE6. I have tried it with IE7, IE8, and FF, with no success.

    In January of 2008 I talked to their IT people about this issue, and was told that they had no plans before the middle of 2009 to even consider upgrading. Now, we are in the middle of 2009 and, guess what, they still require IE6.
  • Global browser upgrade campaign

    Now that HTML5 is rolling out, there really should be a global awareness campaign, to get consumers, businesses, governments, universities, etc. to upgrade their browsers. This would make it easier for web developers to confidently implement web sites that leverage these new capabilities.

    Perhaps global governments could launch such a campaign (e.g. with internet, newspaper, magazine, TV, etc. ads). I suspect most internet users don't even realize the drag they are creating on internet technology, by using out-of-date browsers.
  • One advantage IE has in AD organizations

    IE will automatically pass my current AD credentials to my intranet sites giving me a seamless experience. I'm not sure if any other browser can do that.
    • I *wish* we had that

      Oh the amount of websites on our intranet where we have to type in our username *again* and password *again* - whatever technology you're using to allow seamless credential management I wish we had it!
    • FF and domain credentials to intranet sites...

      Actually it can be done but it's not simple and it isn't a native solution.

      The next thing FF should... what was the word that Zack used? Oh yes "snatched". The next thing FF should "snatch" from IE is "Enable Integrated Windows Authentication" and "Bypass proxy server for local addresses". Those two things would make FF work just like IE in a domain scenario.

      In FF you would type in about:config and in this category:


      add the intranet sites by name. Example: ?server1,,server2?

      The only problem you may have is if you want to do intranet *and* internet browsing, if you have a proxy that you manually set, it may cause the intranet sites to not be available because the proxy is trying to push you out to the internet.

      If your proxy is configurable to deal with bypassing for local addresses, then you should be fine.
      • Thanks for the info!

        [i]In FF you would type in about:config and in this category:


        Sweet! Thanks for that, it was very helpful. I did try it with out extranet site and it didn't work but that's okay, the above takes me 99% of the way there.

        [i]The only problem you may have is if you want to do intranet *and* internet browsing, if you have a proxy that you manually set, it may cause the intranet sites to not be available because the proxy is trying to push you out to the internet.[/i]

        Hmm, when you manually configure your proxy in Firefox, there is a text entry field called "No proxy for" and it allows you to enter a comma delimited list of servers. I don't see why entering the server names here AND in the network-automatic-ntlm-auth.trusted-uris wouldn't work?
  • Internet Explorer has such domination

    Because too many lazy software developers make their applications only compatible with IE 6/7/8. If they would STOP doing that and if corporations would get on the software makers cases when they do that.

    Frankly, any software program should NOT link itself to a browser on a system. If it needs a browser, it should make it's own or support ALL browsers out there.
  • RE: Can Firefox 3.5 wean universities off their IE addiction?

    I think Mozilla should make a server component of some sort that can either work in conjunction with Windows Server to update it's own browser or start an initiative where developers can be garnered to work collaboratively on a project where Mozilla on the desktop could be maintained from the server side.
  • Group Policy is a big part of it

    Get the community on making an MSI and plugging into group policy, I know there have been projects out there that did just that but they were always a major version behind and most of the projects I watched died after the release of Firefox 3.

    IE & the addiction
    1) The installation is an MSI, making deployment via group policy a snap using IEAK or making a transform, or letting Windows Update handle it.

    2) Group policy and Group policy preferences make it easy to standardize or customized based on location or user.

    3) Favorites/Bookmarks can be redirected without using offline files or roaming profiles. Moving from machine to machine and keeping your favorites without the overhead of offline files/roaming profiles is nice.

    I like Firefox but the above items make IE tough to beat for getting a basic browser out there and keeping it updated. This is really only an issue on machines where users don't have administrator rights, otherwise they can download whatever they like, much like the rest of us.

    • ????

      1) So random/automatic installations is good?? Browsers should not be used to auto-install anything. If anything this "feature" is nothing but a security bug.

      2) Any decent IT person (and people with common sense) knows that this has nothing to do with the browser.

      3) Given that IE can't do this right now ... and in Win roaming profiles don't always work (I should know ... I have to deal with the problem on the daily basis because I work on multiple shared computers), I have no clue why you are complaining about this. My favorite part is when the roaming profile gets corrupted during login and it has to be partially wiped clean to login somewhere else. That 1/2 day of wasted time.

      • RE: ???

        1) It's not random, anyone that has a domain and maintains updates has WSUS so they control Windows Updates not Microsoft.

        2) Wrong, if you have site based or ou based policies you can simply incorporate policy/preference changes right there without having to resort to scripting. Please review group policy preferences and tell me why they aren't useful.

        3) Don't need roaming profiles, please re-read. You just need to redirect the favorites folder to their network home directory.
    • You're right about GP

      GP, thinking about it, does have some sway in it. The ability to change some of the wider settings in IE incredibly quickly are astonishing, so I reckon you're onto something.
      • I use for AD Firefox deployment...

        It gives me a Firefox msi for installation and updates and group policy for some configuration settings. Unfortunately, it always lags behind the current version. (I just got notice of 3.0.11 availability today.)

        It's a bit of a kludge, but it's better than nothing at all.

        Indeed, Firefox could double its share in enterprise deployments if Mozilla delivered an msi and basic group policy templates themselves.
      • Naturally!

        I can name (but won't) 5 big companies with 10.000++ PCs that will switch to FF the instance a working msi (for automatic deployment) and the GP settings are available.
        Of course together with the auto-updates disabled (currently being worked on) and these autoupdates made available as .msp - again for central/automatic deployment.

        My guess would be: have those features and universities will flock to FF! (I know the insides and the hassle trying to have a FF msi without the clog of the frontmotion .msi.)
      • And this is precisely why...

        ...Anti-Trust litigation against Microsoft is
        completely valid.

        Average users who "just wanna browse" are going
        to use what is closest to them when they turn
        on the machine. If it's a new machine right out
        of a retail box, that closest app is Internet
        Explorer. Nothing even remotely hints that
        there are alternatives and adding the Program
        Defaults to Control Panel was a masterful
        stroke of Snake Oil sales (aka: it did NOTHING
        but got the government off their backs).

        Enterprise users get a browser that is
        integrated so tightly to the operating system
        across all platforms of Windows that trying to
        use browser alternatives is either highly
        difficult or impossible. This puts them in a
        position where they are almost [i]forced[/i],
        economically, to use IE over any other
        competitor's browser.
        • Nothing of the sort...

          anyone can integrate their app into GP or AD and use kerberos authentication.

          Right now IE is the only browser with these valuable integrations, if you have an issue with it tell mozilla there is absolutely nothing stopping them from implementing this (or Vista Sandboxing/SELinux/Apparmor).
  • until mozilla...

    court IT Admins with easy to use low overhead tools to manage FireFox, IE shall reign supreme.

    - Sam
    • RE: until mozilla...

      My Firefox using friends are very likely to call me a [b]heretic[/b] and a [b]blasphemer[/b]; for saying this; but I feel that you are indeed correct.

      There are many organizations that require browsers to be locked down; and Firefox does not make that easy. Even the ability to globally install and manage addons to insure that certain addons can not be disabled leaves a lot to be desired.

      [b]Pardon me while i go wash my mouth out with soap for saying what I did about Internet Exploder.[/b]
      • We shouldn't judge

        Hey, it doesn't matter what browser you use. You use whatever browser you want! If I'm honest, I have so many tabs open in Firefox, sometimes I force-crash it (so it saves all the tabs across multiple windows) so I can open it up again as I left it next time I use it, and have a cheeky play of IE just to keep system resources down.
      • I love my firefox...

        but I'd never try to roll it out on a customer network regardless of enduser feature set, until they put enterprise needs in their roadmap.

        That hurts to say!

        - Sam