It was a sad day last Friday when I uninstalled Firefox from our terminal servers. At the same time, I upgraded from Internet Explorer 6 to IE 7, which fortunately has most of the spiffy features that we've all grown to love about Firefox (especially tabbed browsing). I had previously been happy to give students the choice of browsers and had even set the default to Firefox, since so many students and staff had adopted the IE alternative (often at my urging). However, our business applications teacher brought a significant problem with Firefox to my attention.
As part of our recent upgrades, we went ahead and rolled out Office 2007. The vast majority of students really like the new interface and even teachers are intrigued by the additional features and intuitive toolbars, although the learning curve is a bit scary for some of the teachers who have been using Office 2000 for the last 7 years. The one feature that our business teacher really likes, though, is the seamless integration of the Office suite with a vast library of templates online. Her Powerpoint students especially like the countless themes that they can download in a couple of clicks. Unfortunately (this is where we get to the Firefox tie-in), this kind of web integration requires ActiveX controls only compatible with Internet Explorer. When Firefox is the default browser, Office 2007 launches Firefox instead of IE to connect to Microsoft's repositories, preventing any attempts to snag files from Microsoft. Although you can simply change the default browser, it is all too easy for students and staff to change the default back to Firefox, again disabling the Microsoft hooks.
Of course, this is one more way that Microsoft makes non-Microsoft products really inconvenient and I just bought into it. However, Office 2007 and IE7 are solid enough products that I'm finding I can stomach the compromise. It also made my decision easier when I found that students were able to change their desktop backgrounds via Firefox, even though I had disabled this feature in Active Directory (the students were blocked from setting web images as their background in IE). I'm sure that there is some spiffy bit if AD magic that could lock this down, but there is something to be said for the very tight integration among all of the Microsoft products.
Doesn't mean we don't miss Firefox, though. If anyone has any security tips out there, please talk back below. And if anyone at Microsoft is listening, any chance we could make the really great features of Office 2007 that require a web interface browser-independent?