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I will soon be taking over responsibility for managing the software on all student computer lab machines at the university where I work. Firefox updates have tended to prove particularly irritating since it presents a tab with information about the update upon each user's first launch after update, and often also has various notification bars at the top (e.g. "Do you want to send us anonymous usage information..."). Since the computers are on DeepFreeze, and since students often use many different computers throughout the semester anyway, Firefox is effectively launching for the first time every time someone launches it.

I know that one solution is to log in, open Firefox, then copy the profile I've logged in with to the default profile template, but given that each lab is configured differently, and particularly given that I'm dealing with at least four different operating systems/versions (currently Windows XP and 7, OS X 10.6 and 10.7), I'd have to repeat this process on every lab for every update. Is there a faster way of doing this so that I can provide the students with up-to-date software without them having to close a bunch of nag screens every time they launch?

While I'm on the subject (and I can spin this off into a separate question if need be), does anyone have a good way of handling extensions in a similar environment? Some departments have specific extensions that they want, and extensions in general do need to be updated, particularly to ensure compatibility with newer versions of Firefox.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Maybe this will not solve your problem but, if I were you, I would give a look at Firefox ESR releases:

Mozilla will offer an Extended Support Release (ESR) based on an official release of Firefox for desktop for use by organizations including schools, universities, businesses and others who need extended support for mass deployments

and

Releases will be maintained for approximately one year

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It still gets updates, but only for "high-risk/high impact security vulnerabilities" –  charlesbridge Feb 1 '13 at 19:37
    
This does seem like a good way to avoid having to deal with imaging or moving default profiles in the middle of the semester. –  Arramol Feb 2 '13 at 0:25

We turn off updates entirely for everything except anti-virus and the stock Windows Updates on Frozen workstations, to avoid having applications download and then re-download the same data over and over every time a machine is restarted.

From here, what we used to do was go around every few months and thaw a set of machines manually, and update any known apps. This may include any of the following: Firefox, Chrome, Java, Acrobat Reader, iTunes, QuickTime, etc. We'd then fix the default profile once after those updates to clean up any nag messages like what you're seeing.

What we do now every few months instead is thaw one machine and apply and all the changes we want. This may include more than just updates. Then we use sysprep + CloneZilla to create an image of the hard drive that we will then use to rebuild other machines.

Because this leaves us with an image file that we can use to quickly restore the state of a computer as needed, as well as few other factors (Windows 7's UAC feature, better security at the network level, no admin rights for students), we are considering removing DeepFreeze all-together, and in fact have a trial in a small lab going this semester to see if it causes any problems.

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