Tip

Dumping MS Internet Explorer, choosing Mozilla

(Mozilla offers an attractive alternative for companies that are trying to break the Internet Explorer ties that bind them to Microsoft. That's why IT pros are asking Nigel McFarlane, SearchEnterpriseLinux.com's Mozilla expert, for tips on moving from the MS browser to Mozilla. Drilling down, they also want to know which version of Mozilla -- Firefox, Mozilla Application Suite or Thunderbird -- is the best choice for corporate usage.In this tip, McFarlane first outlines the perils and profits of an IE-to-Mozilla migration. Then, he describes which Mozilla fits the bill for specific tasks. -- Jan Stafford, Editor, SearchEnterpriseLinux.com)

At the surface level, moving to Mozilla from IE is simple: just install it and try it out. In practice, there are some migration issues. If you have power-users, then they may have collected a lot of personal information in Internet Explorer and Outlook. This information resides on their local drives. You need to be clear whether that information is unnecessary baggage worth dumping, or whether it genuinely assists their work practices. There are migration paths for most of this data, from bookmarks to e-mail, but those paths need a dry run for your particular case.

A constraint of Mozilla is that it doesn't have extensive centralized management yet. You have IMAP, LDAP, NLTM and security support, but not yet extensive centralization of user profiles. You can use a file server without any problem, but you need to check

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that your current arrangements naturally apply to Mozilla. If you're deep in the mindset of Microsoft Desktop Applications, then some of Mozilla's more obscure features may seem foreign at first.

On the plus side, there have been very few critical patches issued in Mozilla's history since 1.0 was released. You can pretty much forget about monitoring the news for Internet security flaws.

Another issue is any Website content you might maintain. If it's been created with Internet Explorer specifically in mind, then, not to put too fine a point on it, it may be awful. Such IE specific pages need to be reviewed to see if they need a little standards-oriented tidying up. The worst of them won't display at all in non-IE browsers. HTML 4.01 is the most conservative standard to aim for, and the least work. XHTML 1.0 is a nice future-proofing strategy that compliments migration to standards-compliant browsers like Mozilla (or, in fact, anything other than IE). Fortunately, both IE and Mozilla have "best guess" features that kick in for really poorly created pages. You can live with that if you don't yet want to migrate to Web standards. Such migration is inevitable, though.

Most of the above points, however, are technical. It's well established that the main cost of migration is re-training users. That's your number one issue. Perhaps soon there'll be a Mozilla version with exactly the same point-n-click workflows as Internet Explorer, but that will only happen if people like you recognize how important it is and hassle the Mozilla folk about it. Fortunately, existing browsers have quite a lot of overlap to start with. A toolbar button's much the same everywhere.

Choosing between Firefox, Mozilla Application Suite & Thunderbird

To most people, Mozilla is just a Web browser. Another misconception is that use of Mozilla, which is free and open source software, is entirely confined to Linux. Actually, Mozilla is available on many platforms, and within each platform it has its own style.

The Mozilla Application Suite is an interlinked set of applications: Browser, Emailer, News Reader, Chat, Web Page Editor and so on. The latest release is 1.6. You can find the same functionality in the standalone browser and e-mailer, except the menu options and file names are slightly different. The suite is a bundle of products; the others are single products. Firefox is a Web browser only, like Internet Explorer. Thunderbird is an e-mail and newsreader only, like Microsoft Outlook -- or like tin or elm.

The Mozilla Application Suite is a better solution when you are trying to solve a range of communication problems with one tool. Examples of product bundles that solve a range of problems are:

  • Microsoft Office (or Open Office) for business document creation;
  • Adobe Creative Suite for design tasks; and,
  • Mozilla Application Suite for textual (and hypertextual) communication needs.

Those are probably the big three solution bundles that are available with few strings attached. There are many others, of course, like Lotus Notes and various point-of-presence suites like the Sun ONE architecture and Oracle's Collaboration Suite. But most of those others require a commitment to server infrastructure as well.

If you are trying to solve a point problem, such as Web access, then Firefox or Thunderbird (which are nearly finished) might suit you. Because Firefox runs on nearly all desktop environments, you can standardise your internal uses of the Web with a single tool, even for those with Macintoshes, OS/2 machines and power users on UNIX or Linux. Firefox makes sense for end users, for the technical people that support them and for Web site managers who want to benefit from the efficiencies inherent in standards-compliant Web content.

The Mozilla Application Suite also runs on many platforms, but it is a slightly more complex environment for users.


Nigel McFarlane is a science and technology writer, analyst, and programmer. He is the author of several IT books, including the recently published "Rapid Application Development with Mozilla" from Prentice Hall PTR. He is also the author of many articles on Web, XML, JavaScript, and other technologies, and his work has appeared in many publications.



This was first published in April 2004

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