Moving to Firefox as a corporate policy… a soapbox rant

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Strongback Consulting

I have recently had the great displeasure of using a time and expense application that works only in Internet Explorer 6. The company is Infinite Computer Solutions, and I don’t mind using their name because of the frustrations this application has given me and the time its taken from me. The application is so bad both the CSS and the JavaScript only works in IE. My wife has a Mac and handles all our invoicing for Strongback Consulting. The other night she was doing invoicing and could not submit time against this application. She tried Safari and Firefox. Both had the same effect. Only in IE could she actually submit time, and even the the JavaScript calendar pop ups were so quirky that you had to click the calendar icon, and quickly hover over the calendar popup before it disappeared. Text input was disabled so you could only use the calendar picker. It has to be the worst web application I’ve ever seen. The only thing it was missing were animated gifs. And thus I am on my soap box. Hear me roar.

The problem behind this is really, is a lazy-ass corporate culture. Most organizations have a policy of what web browser will be supported within the company environment. Some allow users to install additional software and subsequently Mozilla Firefox makes its way into the network even though it is not supported. Others lock down such capability and stick the user with only Internet Explorer. Some are so risk averse that they have not even upgraded their user base to IE 7, which has been out since October 2006. It is ironic to play risk averse, when the security vulnerabilities of IE6 are so well documented. Forcing your development staff to continue to develop for IE6 also ties your applications to aging standards (or lack thereof), and in some cases, hacks that are not forward compatible with IE7 much less Firefox, Opera or Safari.

Why would an organization adopt something other than IE? The only explanation is laziness. If you are a Microsoft shop you can manage browser updates from a centralized location and therefore control the user desktop. IE usually wins out because of perceived ease of management. What is not often asked or evaluated are the security risks of staying with the IE code stream. Here are a few:

  1. Having a browser so tightly integrated with your OS, gives the browser security access that other browsers simply cannot get to.
  2. ActiveX scripts, which are still sometimes developed, have more functionality and more access to the underlying operating system. Hackers/virus writers target such vulnerabilities. No other browser supports ActiveX
  3. IE 6 is broken and has been since it was released. It does not come close to passing the Acid2 test (and neither does IE7). IE 6 just plain sucks.
  4. Coding for IE6 traps you into several bad habits in CSS, that simply break the UI in later versions of IE and don’t work at all in other browsers.
  5. IE does not support all of the Cascading Style Sheet standards. Google the “broken box model”. Check out this site in IE6, then firefox/Safari/Opera. Same HTML and same CSS, but the advanced browsers display a richer interface.
  6. Most developers work in Firefox. Firefox has oodles of developer extensions that make it much easier to develop with. With firefox you can see your nicely formatted code in various shaded colors. With IE, you get notepad when you do a ‘view source’.
  7. IE is losing market share, as the pie chart shows. These numbers were taken from Hitlist today. IE6 has less than 25% market share. Notice how Safari is climbing toward 10%?
  8. Your applications should be cross-browser compatible even if its on an intranet. Yes, if it is on an Intranet. No excuses. This increases the likelyhood that your application will not have to be re-written if you upgrade browsers, change operating systems, or change browser standards. It also gets your developers in the habit of doing cross-browser apps for your customers.
  9. Let’s talk about the opportunity cost. Firefox (and Opera and Safari) offers new features that are not availabile in IE. Safari and Opera represent new market segments you may not be able to target with just an IE mentality. Some users have Macs. There is no longer an IE for Mac.
  10. Productivity cost lost. When IE hangs up in the OS, the whole system is affected. When Firefox is hung, you can kill it from the Task Manager without bringing down your whole PC. Think of the intranet applications you could do that would improve employee morale and overall productivity. Firefox’s developer tools make it much easier to write and debug web apps.

Many of the same organizations that parrot the TCO line, also have Microsoft SMS, from which they could also roll out Firefox and all of its updates accordingly. Actually, Firefox is pretty good about letting you know when it needs updating and really, you only need SMS for the initial roll out. Front Motion has an MSI version of the Firefox installer to make it even easier to deploy it.

There is no excuse for staying on IE 6. I dare anyone to come up with a valid reason. Oh… your apps don’t work on IE7? Did you learn your lesson about cross browser compatibility? Post your replies here, if you dare. You are a damn lazy fool if you are still hanging on to IE6, and do not deserve to be in IT if you are. Be sure to leave your email so we know how to track you down. As the graph above shows, IE6 now has less than 25% market share, and that number is decreasing every day. In fact it has dropped from 32% in January to 25% in August. At the current rate, it will be below 20%, possibly at 18% by January 2009, which would be below that of Firefox. Firefox has an install base of between 18-47% depending upon which survey you read (W3Schools.com has another chart but a similar trend).

So why Firefox and not any of the others? Here are a few of my reasons:

  1. Firefox is stable.
  2. It has lots add-ons that are not available on other browsers. See my previous posts for the ones I use.
  3. It runs on nearly every OS (Windows NT/2000/XP/Vista, Mac, Linux, AIX, Solaris, OpenSolaris, BSD).
  4. It renders HTML/CSS the same on every platform (flash and java applets are a different issue).
  5. It has the next largest marketshare.
  6. Any developer worth their salt already uses it (if not at work, then at home).
  7. Its free.
  8. Its secure. Much more so that Safari or IE. Opera may actually be more secure.
  9. It is CSS compliant, and supports some CSS3 selectors and features (a standard which is has not been finalized as of yet).
  10. Its fast. Firefox 3 is curently rated the fastest browser on any platform.

Ok Enough of my soap box. Now go deploy it corporate wide, or defend your policy here and for all the world to shame you if you dare!

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