Mozilla seeks the enterprise love

Corporate IT departments won't be ignored

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After pretty much ticking off enterprise users and opening the door for products like Internet Explorer to safeguard corporate browsing security, the Mozilla Foundation has doubled back and reached out to corporate IT departments who have been increasingly frustrated with Mozilla Firefox's rapid-release cycle.

Earlier this week, the Founndation announced the reactivation of the Mozilla Enterprise User Working Group (MEUWG), a group that will "discuss the challenges, ideas and best practices for deploying Firefox in the enterprise."

One of the areas that will be examined will be Firefox's rapid-release cycle, which has become a serious point of contention for IT departments, who can't test and deploy new versions of Firefox fast enough. In order to encourage particpation, the monthly calls for the group will be private, and any public minutes will scrub who said what during the phone meetings.

The issue came to a head last month, during an online discussion on Firefox developer Mike Kaply's blog lamenting the rapid release cycle as extremely difficult for businesses to use:

"As person involved in the corporate deployment of Firefox, I think it's 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."

What attracted the attention of the media were the comments in Kaply's follow-up blog entry from Firefox Product Manager Asa Dotzler, who basically threw corporate users under a bus:

"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."

Since then, Mozilla has been scrambling to figure out how to re-connect with enterprise users, who were more than a little upset with Dotzler's remarks, and wondering why they shouldn't drop Firefox use altogether. This new Working Group is a step in that reconciliation process.

When I look at the language of the new Working Group's wiki page, however, I don't entirely get the sense that Mozilla seems to have their hearts in reconcilation. Here's a line from the Motivation section of the page:

"The Mozilla Enterprise User Working group is a place for enterprise developers and Firefox developers to discuss the challenges, ideas and best practices for deploying Firefox in the enterprise. It will also be a channel for getting information about Mozilla plans as well as a place to ask questions and get the latest news as well as the thinking behind the decisions we make."

I don't know if this is old language from the previous incarnation of the MEUWG, which was active for a while in 2007, or something that the Mozilla team missed, because that last sentence doesn't strike me as having an air of collaboration. It's more of a "hey, we'll let you know what we're doing."

That may not be enough, because the problem isn't what the Mozilla team is producing in new versions of Firefox, but how fast the new versions are coming out. No amount of warning will make a difference.

It's not completely off the mark. There's a lot of language in the Objectives section that promotes a more collaborative environment. I was especially intriqued by the language around open standards, which I believe will ultimately render the whole issue of rapid deployments moot. Get the content standardized, and you can add all the browser features you want.

Ultimately, the re-started MEUWG should get some renewed connections between the Firefox and the IT departments that deploy the browser and each side should get a better picture of their respective goals. User-developer communication is never a bad thing.

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