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I'm a web developer responsible for an intranet. I develop using Firefox, but the IT guys here plan to use only Internet Explorer on the network going forwards.

This is because IE can be installed / configured from an MSI file, but Firefox doesn't provide an MSI. According to the admins, this means that remote administration of Firefox (e.g. managing updates, configuring NTLM authentication) is much harder.

From a developer's point of view, Firefox is a far superior browser, so if we were to use any browser as the company's default, I'd rather it was Firefox.

Tool me up! In the absence of an MSI file, what options are there for remote administration of Firefox? Are the same things possible, but done differently? Or do my admins have a point?

Speak slowly! I'm only a developer...

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dumb question i know, but have you tried "firefox msi" in google ?.... like frontmotion.com/Firefox/download_firefox.htm –  Sirex Nov 22 '10 at 12:05

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

No doubt that it's a better browser to use and to develop for from me, but that's only a small part of what makes a good platform in the workplace. Your admins don't so much have "a" point as they do a whole zoo full of points and a large family group of baby little pointlings all waiting to grow up into points themselves.

We discussed Firefox's suitability here in the past as it happens, and the long and the short of it is that while there are a few things you can do with it, it's not suited to enterprise deployment and management in many ways, making the cost of deploying it and managing on Windows desktops it much higher than that of deploying IE, and the attitudes of the Firefox developers seem to range from total disinterest in making the product more "enterprise friendly" to active hostility towards the idea.

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Agreed. As a small(ish) company sysadmin, I've taken the route of allowing people to choose, but that comes with ensuring we make the latest copies available and alert people when they need to upgrade. It's a lot of extra work that really doesn't scale well in bigger companies. IE is still the only browser whose configuration and behaviour can not only be centralised, but enforced. Arguing your case on a features basis probably won't get you anywhere. –  SmallClanger Nov 22 '10 at 11:59
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Damn! That's not the truth I wanted! –  David Nov 22 '10 at 13:15
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There are adm/admx available to manage Firefox via GPO, but I doubt that they allow the granularity of control over FF that IE has built-in. Besides, since your SysAds are against the idea (you are, after all, making more work for them...), they're probably less than willing to take the effort to support a solution that they don't want... –  gWaldo Nov 22 '10 at 13:23
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I can't upvote this enough. We have Firefox as a corporate standard, and while I love it, I loathe it in equal amounts with regards to enterprise compatibility. You can't manage or enforce anything centrally, and keeping the damn thing up to date is a nightmare of its own. I love Firefox, I really do - but I'm really pushing hard to get rid of it as the standard browser. Internet Explorer has so much more flexibility with Group Policy and updates with WSUS. –  Ben Pilbrow Nov 22 '10 at 13:30
    
Wow people can really see the light here and it's great to see. Also, consider that IE9 is coming down the pike in the short to mid-term and it has radically better standards compliance and developer features. Better as in better than current and earlier versions of IE but also better than current versions of Firefox even. –  JGurtz Nov 22 '10 at 17:35

There is a project that provides MSI files of Firefox:

Firefox MSI Packages

However, you can achieve near the same result with group policy and startup scripts. You can assign a script to each PC as a startup script that will install/upgrade Firefox (or any non-MSI package for that matter). When it reboots, it runs the script and installs it. Typically you would want to check the version on firefox.exe to see if it needs upgraded and if not move on without installing again. You can even make a computer group and assign the script to the group to do a targeted deployment. It does lack the management of AD deployed software, but you can work around most of it. For example, if you wanted to remove Firefox later, you would use the same method to publish a script that would uninstall it.

Example of how to install silently in a script:

Set Installation = WshShell.Exec("\\server\share\firefox-installer.exe /S /INI=""\\server\share\customizations.ini""")

Do While Installation.Status = 0
    WScript.Sleep 5000
Loop

When installing, you will want to use any switches to make it silent since there won't be a user there to interact with it. As far as managing the customizations, you have the option of making custom group policy templates. There are also several resources available online that already have a few of these:

Firefox ADM

Additionally you can use a custom ini when installing to set defaults. This is the method I use personally. I like to let users choose when possible. They aren't going to be likely to change anything that is required for functionality (your authentication/proxy settings for example) so it's generally safe to trust them.

Installer:Command Line Arguments

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I know my admins use startup scripts to manage the NTLM authentication side of things in Firefox, but they find it a PITA. I'd REALLY like to see some comments on this post, to see what others think. –  David Nov 22 '10 at 13:30
    
@David - all these are a valid point as far as they go, but (as you can see if you read all the discussion in the question I linked to) they're a bodge rather than a true fix. There's a cost to using Firefox as your corporate browser standard... I'm not knocking it as a browser (I use it myself) but as a well behaved "LAN citizen" it is somewhat lacking. This is something I watch closely myself. Believe me, I would love to be able to roll it out on "my" LAN. –  RobM Nov 22 '10 at 13:41
    
It's okay, I think I'm starting to see what you mean. Plus I loved your zoo analogy. It made me understand something network admin related. –  David Nov 22 '10 at 15:06

The admins do have a point regarding manageability, although I don't see how the lack of an msi file for Firefox has anything to do with configuring it's authentication methods. That being said there are a number of application packaging tools available that can wrap the Firefox installer in an msi and provide for highly customized installs.

http://www.windowsnetworking.com/articles_tutorials/MSI-Packaging-Tools.html

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The focus I've given MSIs is just a reflection of my ignorance about managing software across a network. –  David Nov 22 '10 at 13:40

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