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Sami 03-27-2006 11:30 PM

Firefox versus Internet Explorer in a Corporate Network
Two years ago I blogged about a similar subject. I discussed the advantages of Internet Explorer (IE) over Mozilla and other web browsers in a corporate environment. I concluded that IE is by far the better choice. Recently we deployed about 250 new computers and so I considered this question again. Now, Firefox is the main rival of IE. The decision was not so easy this time, but IE won again in the end.

I am using Firefox myself for a quite while and I really like this web browser. However, when it comes to the question of switching to a new web browser in a corporate network, other arguments have to be considered.

Let's discuss them step by step:

1. IE is a part of the operating system

This basically means that the administrators don't have much further work after Windows is installed. If you have hundreds or even thousands computers to manage, this is already a very big advantage of the IE. You need some good arguments for deploying an extra browser, if there is already one installed on your machines. Some nice plugins are certainly not enough. One often-mentioned argument is security. I don't want to discuss this issue here, but if you are really convinced that Firefox is more secure than IE, this might be such an argument.

2. Roaming Profiles

I mention this point here because I discussed it in my German blog two years ago. Firefox, like IE, does store its user-settings, bookmarks, etc., in the user profile, which means that one can now work with roaming profiles. Thus, users can logon on different machines in the network and will always find their own bookmarks. This is a major improvement compared to the rivals of IE two years ago.

3. Central Management

Probably the most significant advantage of IE is that you can centrally manage it using Group Policies. You always want to configure all applications as homogenous as possible in a big network. Sometimes it is necessary to change the settings of all web browsers in your company. For example you might want to change the start page of all browsers or enable/disable certain functions or add new bookmarks, etc.

There is an Open Source Project called Firefox ADM working on this feature for Firefox. They started a year ago and reached version 0.4 now. As long as there is no version 1.0, I would be cautious in using this feature in a productive environment. I had a quick look at the ADM files. It has fewer possibilities in comparison to IE, that's my first impression. I plan to have a closer look at Firefox ADM again in the near future and will post my findings in my weblog.

4. Patch Management

I have already mentioned the security issue before. We all know that not only Microsoft programmers but also Open Source coders make mistakes. No web browser will ever exist without security holes. Some Firefox advocates say that security patches are supplied at faster pace than in IE. It is a difficult question to answer, and I don't want to discuss this topic here.

However, when it comes to security in a corporate network, the main question should be how fast and how easy you can patch all your computers. The larger your network is, the more important this point gets. Firefox has an integrated update mechanism which is quite useful for private users, but doesn't help much in a corporate environment. Because of security issues, normal users are usually not allowed to install software on their computers which also means that they can't install patches.

If you are a Windows administrator, you probably know that Microsoft offers a free patch management solution. WSUS (Windows Software Update Services) certainly is a great tool. Of course, you can patch IE using WSUS. There are third party patch management solutions which also support Firefox though. If you are already using such a program, patch management might not be something that troubles you too much when you have to decide which web browser to use in your network. However, if you are also using WSUS, patching IE might be less time consuming than patching Firefox with a third party solution. At least, this is true for patch management solutions I've seen.

5. Many applications are dependent on the IE

There are many desktop applications which use the rendering engine of IE to display HTML files. There also server-based applications which need an IE and won't work with just another browser. With the success of Firefox at least the latter's argument doesn't hold much anymore since many webmasters don't want to lock out this large clientele.

However, there are still many desktop apps which are IE dependent. Some of them aren't dependent on the rendering engine of IE, but integrate themselves in the user interface of IE. Adobe Arcobat is such an application for example. Even if you don't have one of them in your company now, you'll never know if this might not change in the future. The point is that if you need IE anyway, why you should deploy and support another browser in your network?


The advantages of the IE are mainly founded in its tight integration with Windows. Firefox has to run on other operating systems, too. Hence, all features should work on all systems not only on Windows boxes. That's why I'm not expecting too many improvements in this field in the near future. Although projects like Firefox ADM show that better integration is doable and that some Open Source programmers recognized this problem.

All in all, I'm still a Firefox fan, but wouldn't recommend it for corporate use in larger networks. There are exceptions of course: If all your desktops use Linux or Mac OS. But if you have Windows desktops, the only reason I could think of, is that you really need a certain feature of Firefox which you is not available in IE.

Michael Pietroforte is working as a system administrator for more than 15 years. For several years he is now leading an IT department. He also published articles on several computer journals. His weblog discusses useful tools for Windows and Linux system administrators.

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