Firefox and Thunderbird Ready for the Enterprise? Check.

I love email and its habit of giving random gifts seemingly out of nowhere. Last night one such gift was inserted into my overflowing inbox: Santo (Seneca ITT) mailed to see if I'd mind him posting a link on one of his pages to our students' Mozilla project list.

I was thrilled to read the rest of Santo's mail and see this link to Seneca's ITT Internet FAQ for employees, faculty, and students. Here's how that document begins:

ITT is recommending and will support the following products for Internet-based applications:

  • Mozilla Firefox 2.0 web browser (or latest production version)
  • Mozilla Thunderbird 2.0 e-mail client (or latest production version)
    We all love to poke at our IT departments for some of the choices they make, wondering why on earth they could have done what they did. In this case I can do nothing but applaud these guys for making a well thought-out and reasoned choice. What led to this decision?
    Question 3: Why was Firefox and Thunderbird chosen?

Answer: Firefox and Thunderbird were chosen for a number of reasons outlined below:

  • Several web standards have been enhanced or newly created since the old Netscape browser suite was made available. With new technologies such as dynamic HTML and improvements in things such as cascading style sheets, a newer browser was required to support these standards. Firefox has very good support on a number of emerging web standards and continually evolves to include new ones.
  • Both Firefox and Thunderbird are open source and supported by a large number of developers who continually enhance it to support emerging web standards and to add new features.
  • Both Firefox and Thunderbird support a number of operating system platforms so that it can be used on any personal computer that runs Windows, Mac OS X or Linux.
  • Both Firefox and Thunderbird support add-ons that allow other developers to create additional functionality for them.
  • Seneca College is also proud to be involved in several Mozilla projects. Have a look at for more information.
    Open standards support, large and active development community, cross-platform, in-house knowledge of technologies and development process--pragmatic decision making that proves these products make sense for an organization like ours.

What does it mean for Canada's largest college to switch to Firefox and Thunderbird across the organization? It means that 100,000 students (our programming students are a small fraction of this) will be exposed to the open web as part of their education. Thousands of professors, admin staff, and other employees will use it too, from HR to payroll to the president's office. The secret we've long known in the School of Computer Studies will finally be told across the entire organization: these products are world-class and ready for any desktop environment, large or small.

I've written on this topic before, and I was recently interviewed by ComputerWorld Canada about my thoughts on Firefox in the enterprise. Reading ITT's reasons for making the switch is telling, and I hear echoes of the same points I've made in the past:

  1. IE isn't cross-platform, and we aren't a Windows-only shop (I'm writing this on a Mac, for example)
  2. Microsoft's updates to IE have historically broken our enterprise web apps--we don't appreciate the down time and lack of regard for what matters internally
  3. IE doesn't properly support web standards that we care about
  4. Security UI in IE is confusing for users, leading to problems getting it right across the organization
  5. Outlook has been compromised in terms of security at various points in the past
  6. Outlook doesn't deal well with standards approaches to things like address books, which we also care about
    Organizations on the scale of Seneca can't afford to follow Microsoft's release cycle any more. The lack of transparency, disregard for standards, and approach to security make it an impractical choice for large organizations. I've argued in the past that enterprises with dedicated development and ITT shops should pause before choosing to use a product over which they have no control or input: Seneca's ITT developers have learned how the Mozilla development technologies and processes work (I know because I've taught some of them myself), and can now participate and work for changes that matter to them.

If you're a university, bank, or some other large organization dependent on the web, why on earth would you not choose a product where you can get involved, fix the bugs that irritate your users, customize for your use cases, and understand the risks you're exposing your users/clients to on a daily basis? Betting your entire business on the whim of one company--a company with whom no one has a two way dialog--is a lot riskier than investing in getting your developers connected to a community and technology base like Mozilla's.

It's one thing to install Firefox on your brother's laptop and claim that it wasn't hard (it isn't). It's quite another thing for an ITT department servicing as many users as ours to make that same decision.

I'm proud to be a part of an organization that gets it. Thanks for your mail, Santo. Chris and I are just wrapping up another successful term of our Mozilla development courses, which I'll blog about next week when I've completed my marking. I can't wait for January and the chance to get even more students involved in shaping the open web. There are 100K new users that we can help.

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