Analyst strikes down Firefox 'hype'

Browser rush more like a walk

The early release this week of the Mozilla Firefox 2.0 Web browser is another shot in the arm for the open source IE competitor but one industry analyst is less optimistic about Firefox's ability to compete with Microsoft.

Research director at Brisbane-based IT research firm Longhaus, Sam Higgins, said there is "a bit of a skewed view of things" when discussing the role of the browser.

Higgins said even with the 2.0 release he doesn't think the browser will be top of mind for IT managers because while it is embedded in Windows Microsoft is "still strong".

"We have to be realistic," he said. "Firefox has been successful but will the open source community pick up the baton when Vista comes out or is that asking too much?"

Higgins said Web browsers are very much driven by user preference and there is still "that fundamental motivation issue" standing in Firefox's way.

"Am I really worried about which browser I have or the latest video on YouTube" he said, adding browser choice is "not an issue" that impacts on business in any way.

When asked about security, Higgins said it is a concern but it needs to have a proper cost benefit analysis done and is dependant on the organization's protection strategy.

"Do I want to spend time installing something else? At the end of the day the product with the biggest market share is the most exposed," he said. "Most of the people running Firefox are IT savvy and their systems will be well patched and managed."

This concept of adding third-party software to the standard Microsoft operating environment will keep Firefox off the wider enterprise desktop, Higgins says.

"You are going to be installing patches for your desktop any way but do I really want to be rolling out patches for Firefox as well?" He said. "Most people are running the Microsoft suite so do they want to introduce another discipline?"

Higgins said arguments pertaining to reducing risk by installing Firefox are "lax" and IT managers may be "swapping one problem for another".

That said, Higgins recommends IT managers don't ignore the browser market, particularly when users can install the software under the radar.

"Another example is IM - you can disable MSN messenger but staff can download Google Talk and install it," he said. "So you need to understand and believe there is a business case for Firefox and do the numbers. I doubt office workers are likely to install it on their home PC."

If IT managers are not careful, Higgins says, organizations can undermine their own policies.

"At a corporate desktop level there is the risk of an unknown proportion of mixed browsers," he said. "Organizations that I come across are running a mix but do the IT staff know they are running it? Even if you decide not to have it you can't ignore it."

Higgins also expressed doubts over the attractiveness of Firefox's XML User Interface Language (XUL) as an application development environment.

"Firefox will have the same issues as Flash and the Java applet platform - is the support for that programming model common? Corporates won't spend a lot of time investing in something that's only available on one platform," he said. "With a different API and plug-in strategy than IE, you would want to be really confident as a developer you are going to get take-up."

With the Windows upgrade cycle being roughly five years, Higgins believes it is not a big window for a competitor to steal market share.

"It's a big ask to say to people to turn around innovation on top of a commodity within five years and that's impressive about Firefox in itself," he said.

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Rodney Gedda

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