Mozilla’s Corporate Policy Could Harm Firefox Uptake


Will concerns over Mozilla’s Firefox enterprise policy affect the browser’s adoption rate among corporations, asks Nicholas Kolakowski

Mozilla’s probably had better months.

The organisation’s troubles started with the release of Firefox 5, which arrived a mere three months after Firefox 4 first entered the marketplace. For your average user, downloading and installing a new browser is a quick and relatively trouble-free exercise. However, large enterprises almost immediately began expressing worries about Mozilla’s speeded-up cadence of browser releases.

“I have 500,000 corporate users on Firefox 3.6,” read a much-circulated comment by IBM’s John Walicki on a 21 June blog posting by Firefox developer and consultant Michael Kaply. “I’m now in the terrible position of choosing to deploy a Firefox 4 release with potentially unpatched vulnerabilities, reset the test cycle for thousands of internal apps to validate Firefox 5 or stay on a patched Firefox 3.6.x.”

Then Asa Dotzler, community coordinator for various Mozilla projects, wrote a response on Kaply’s blog that’s caused Mozilla substantial headaches ever since. “Enterprise has never been (and I’ll argue, shouldn’t be) a focus of ours,” read his 23 June comment. “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.”

Microsoft swoops in

Microsoft was quick to leap at Mozilla’s opening, with an executive very publicly asking Walicki to consider jumping back to Internet Explorer. “Although I’m in no position to question a competitor’s approach to customer and engagement and support,” Ari Bixhorn, director of Internet Explorer, wrote in a 23 June posting on his blog, “I did want to take the opportunity to clarify the Internet Explorer team’s commitment to, and support for, our corporate customers.”

Mozilla’s damage control extended into this week, as a variety of executives stepped forward to defend the organisation’s approach to the enterprise.

“One aspect is that Mozilla is mostly not composed of enterprise IT staff,” Mike Shaver, vice president of Mozilla’s technical strategy, wrote in a 28 June posting on his blog. “This means that we rely on prospective deployers to tell us what their specific needs are, and hopefully contribute help in meeting them.”

He went on to portray the relationship between Mozilla and the enterprise as somewhat less than transparent.

“We’ve tried on a few occasions to collect this information — what sets of features would lead to which deployments with what user impact? — but have had a lot of trouble getting that information into our product planning in a usable way,” he wrote. “A surprising (to me) number of institutions will not talk on the record about what they need, which makes it pretty hard for them to join a community conversation about what is worth investing in.”

That same day, Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs tweeted: “Enterprises are built of people, and Mozilla is fundamentally about people. We support Firefox users wherever they are.”

Firefox market share stalling?

Will Mozilla’s current issues affect Firefox’s market share? It’s certainly too soon to tell whether the imbroglio will make IT administrators more hesitant to deploy Firefox within their organisations (although Microsoft likely hopes so). However, recent trends suggest that Firefox’s overall market share is stalling — in which case, the last thing it needs are additional headwinds, from businesses or consumers.

According to Net Applications, Firefox’s browser market share for June stood at 21.67 percent, compared to Internet Explorer at 53.68 percent, Chrome at 13.11 percent, Safari at 7.48 percent and Opera at 1.73 percent. Internet Explorer has seen its share decline significantly over the past 10 months — in August 2010, it stood at 60.48 percent — while Firefox has declined slightly over 1 point during the same period. Meanwhile, both Chrome and Safari have logged gains.

In other words, Firefox finds itself squeezed between a still-dominant Internet Explorer and a collection of growing upstarts. In that sort of situation, your best recourse is to continue gaining enough market share to keep the wolves away from the door — and one of the best ways to gain rapid market share is to enlist large companies to your cause. But after this week, how many companies will reconsider their Firefox plans?

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