Mozilla's Anti-enterprise Support Policy Likely to Boost Windows Internet Explorer's Business

Mozilla's change in its Firefox delivery schedule and support plans is likely hurting business users -- and Microsoft is using this as an opportunity to talk up the benefits of switching to Internet Explorer.Because, Mozilla recently released version 5 of its Firefox browser, three months after it shipped Firefox 4. The company is planning updates […]

Mozilla's change in its Firefox delivery schedule and support plans is likely hurting business users -- and Microsoft is using this as an opportunity to talk up the benefits of switching to Internet Explorer.

Because, Mozilla recently released version 5 of its Firefox browser, three months after it shipped Firefox 4. The company is planning updates every six weeks and -- more importantly -- dropping support for older versions when the new ones come out.

This works great for consumers, who can easily and happily upgrade their browser to the newest version but, it doesn't work out so well for the enterprise sector. Corporate clients need and want stability because of the time and costs involved with deploying a major browser update.

Firefox especially. It's old news that Mozilla doesn't have a manageable install version (a .MSI file) and they're not interested in creating one. This alone makes deployment and patching much harder than with IE, whose updates come out automatically through WSUS and other patch management systems.

To fuel this, Mozilla's Asa Dotzler announced as much to the public: Enterprise has never been (and I'll argue, shouldn't be) a focus of ours.

Google've gone to some effort to accommodate the needs of business, such as by providing a .MSI version and creating group policies that allow admins to control installation and updating. They're minimal settings; IE has extensive group policy support that allows administrators, for example, to control home pages and security settings. But at least there's something there.

But where both Firefox and Chrome fail enterprises is in the simple frequency with which they update their products.

Mike Kaply, a business consultant who specializes in customizing Firefox for enterprises, wrote:

"As person involved in the corporate deployment of Firefox, I think (the rapid release cycle) a really bad idea. Companies simply can't turn around major browser updates in six weeks (and each one of these is a major update). With security releases, there was a reasonable expectation that web applications wouldn't break as a result of changes. With these releases, there is no such expectation. So a full test cycle needs to be run with every release. By the time this cycle is completed and the browser is piloted and deployed, another version of Firefox would already be released so they'd already be behind. And in the mean time, all of their browsers will be insecure, because all security updates are rolled into the major versions."

Dotzler responded to Kaply's blog posts:

Mike, you do realize that we get about 2 million Firefox downloads per day from regular user types, right? Your "big numbers" here are really just a drop in the bucket, fractions of fractions of a percent of our user base. Enterprise has never been (and I'll argue, shouldn't be) a focus of ours. Until we run out of people who don't have sysadmins and enterprise deployment teams looking out for them, I can't imagine why we'd focus at all on the kinds of environments you care so much about.

Years ago, we didn't have the resources. Today, I argue, we shouldn't care even if we do have the resources because of the cost benefit trade. A minute spent making a corporate user happy can better be spent making many regular users happy. I'd much rather Mozilla spending its limited resources looking out for the billions of users that don't have enterprise support systems already taking care of them.

And Microsoft executives are taking advantage of Mozilla's hostile attitude to lure corporate customers to IE. Ari Bixhorn, an IE Director, posted on his personal blog this week that he'd like to see companies that need support guarantees to consider IE 8/9 (and presumably 10). From Bixhorn's post, addressed to one business user frustrated by Mozilla's new policies:

I think I speak for everyone on the IE team when I say we'd like the opportunity to win back your business. We've got a great solution for corporate customers with both IE8 and IE9 (more info on our IE9 solution can be found here), and believe we could help you address the challenges you're currently facing.

Bixhorn noted that Microsoft has committed to support each version of Internet Explorer as long as the latest version of Windows that it runs on is supported. "For example, Windows 7 Enterprise is supported through January 2020. IE9 will therefore also be supported through January 2020," Bixhorn blogged.

They've committed to support IE6 into April of 2014, part of their commitment to support XP till then. They're, at the same time, conducting a campaign to persuade people not to use IE6. In the time before IE6 gets offed, Microsoft's likely to release IE10 and maybe IE11.

Why does Microsoft have such incredibly long support cycles? Because enterprises demand them. They want stability and predictability so that they can plan. It's the exact opposite of the strategy chosen by Google and, especially, Mozilla.