A key Mozilla executive thumbs his nose at business users who use Firefox.
A Mozilla executive has incurred the wrath of IT professionals with a somewhat callous comment made about Firefox and its focus on the enterprise.
The comment was in response to a blog posting by Firefox specialist and consultant Mike Kaply. Kaply was justifiably lamenting Firefox’s rapid release scheduling and its negative impact on businesses. Case in point: Firefox 4 was only released in March. Now, three months later Firefox 5.0 is out in stable release. Hence, Mozilla has ceased supporting Firefox 4.
Kaply points out that this breakneck update schedule may “work for the average user” but “it doesn’t fly in [a] corporate environment, especially places like banks”. “Expecting a company to go through a full deployment cycle of their web browser every six week is simply ludicrous.”
Others apparently are in agreement, as his post is now at 60-something comments and counting. Particularly vociferous posts are being made by IT people who support thousands of clients running Firefox:
“I have 500,000 corporate users on Firefox 3.6. We just completing a test cycle of Firefox 4 on many thousands of internal business web applications,” one said.
The same poster addresses his concerns over the end of support: “By the time I validate Firefox 5, what guarantee would I have that Firefox 5 won’t go EOL when Firefox 6 is released?”
However, what really stoked the flame on that blog was Mozilla executive Asa Dotzler’s response to Kaply:
“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,” Dotzler continued. “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.”
Dotzler’s comment is both sneering and contemptuous of the businesses that have deployed Firefox in their organizations. And, sometimes, at their own peril, may I add. While Firefox is a wonderful browser with its own unique set of features, the frequent updating, occasional lack of good documentation, extension breaking whenever a new update comes out – it all makes it a dicey choice of browser for businesses.
Telling businesses that they are not “a focus” nor should be for Firefox developers is also potential profit suicide. Yes, Firefox makes a profit and a hefty one, with lucrative deals made with search engine companies. Mozilla raked in $104 million in profit in 2009, largely though a deal with Google.
Yet, Chrome has recently stalled Firefox adoption. Many are speculating how a potential decline in Firefox adoption could affect Mozilla’s revenue. Especially because the advertising deal Mozilla has made with Google is slated to end this year. As Mozilla seeks to renew that deal with Google and shop for other advertising partners, a significant decline in the Firefox browser market could hurt Mozilla’s chances of securing ad deals. According to Net Applications, Firefox has dropped from a 24.3 percent to a 21.9 percent market share from May 2010 to May 2011. During the same period, Google Chrome rose dramatically from 7 percent to 12.5 percent.”
Dotzler’s comment is also counter to what Mozilla and others in the open source community have been telling businesses for years: give open source a try. Yet, businesses have been reluctant to adopt open source en masse and this cavalier attitude shown by Dotzler proves why.
Business IT has had a healthy fear of open source, due to a perception of lack of support, issues surrounding licensing and other reasons. It’s fine if you upgrade your home machine fervently with each new Firefox or Linux distro update. In a business, every update, especially major upgrades, must be tested to ensure they don’t break anything in production environments. This is particularly critical in businesses that have custom, in-house, web-based applications.
Many businesses using Firefox use extensions for business processes. What happens when a mission-critical extension doesn’t work, and Mozilla does not support that version of Firefox anymore? It’s a risk most business IT execs won’t and can’t take.
I hardly believe Dotler’s comments are representative of most of the open source community, nor of Mozilla’s. We’ve reached out to Mozilla for comment and will update this post accordingly. However, now is certainly not the time for anyone at Mozilla to dismiss the enterprise, especially with Firefox’s slowing adaption rate.
Update: Kev Needham, Channel Manager at Mozilla has responsed to a request for comment:
“The Web and Web browsers continue to evolve rapidly. Mozilla’s focus is on providing users with the best Web experience possible, and Firefox needs to evolve at the pace the Web’s users and developers expect. By releasing small, focused updates more often, we are able to deliver improved security and stability even as we introduce new features, which is better for our users, and for the Web.”
“We recognize that this shift may not be compatible with a large organization’s IT Policy and understand that it is challenging to organizations that have effort-intensive certification polices. However, our development process is geared toward delivering products that support the Web as it is today, while innovating and building future Web capabilities. Tying Firefox product development to an organizational process we do not control would make it difficult for us to continue to innovate for our users and the betterment of the Web.”