How can I switch all my company computers to Firefox?
February 11, 2010 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone have experience deploying and managing Firefox on a large number of computers (600+) in a corporate setting?

Google has been pretty vague on the topic. The only thing I've found so far is FrontMotion, which seems to offer a solution, but I wanted to know if anyone has used this method, or any other method, or has any other relevant experience moving away from IE in a corporate setting.

Should this even be attempted? What problems can I expect?

Any answers will be read thoroughly and appreciated.
posted by eleyna to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Assuming 600+ Windows based computers? Are they all running the same OS? Do they get installed from disk images? How do you setup new ones currently?
posted by wolfr at 4:09 PM on February 11, 2010

use xmarks to sync all the bookmarks between the machines.
posted by abbat at 4:10 PM on February 11, 2010

Response by poster: Windows-based computers, some on XP, some on 2000. They do get installed from disk images.
posted by eleyna at 4:29 PM on February 11, 2010

Response by poster: Disclaimer: I'm not the one who actually deploys the software on these systems, so I don't have specific info on how it's done currently, but I've been asked to research whether it would be advisable or even possible to remotely manage Firefox on a group of Windows machines.
posted by eleyna at 4:32 PM on February 11, 2010

Do you use any sort of management program (e.g. Altiris, LANDesk, BigFix, etc.)?

In any case, here are the installer command-line arguments.
posted by The Michael The at 4:35 PM on February 11, 2010

Best answer: Not 600+, but I netadmin a school with 100+ workstations and roughly 50 active Windows user accounts, and some of what I've learned may be applicable.

To deploy Firefox corporation-wide, you will need methods for:
  1. Silent installation of Firefox onto workstations.
  2. Silent installation of selected Firefox plugins onto workstations.
  3. Silent installation of selected Firefox extensions onto workstations.
  4. Silent installation of a default Firefox profile into Windows user profiles.
  5. Ongoing maintenance of Firefox preference settings (proxy, IE View IE-only sites list etc.)
At the school, I don't use Windows Software Update Service (because so much of what I need to roll out to my workstations doesn't come in .msi packages) and I don't use a huge amount of Group Policy (because many of the apps I manage are free and cross-platform and pay little heed to the registry). I use startup and shutdown scripts for software deployment, and logon and logoff scripts for user profile manipulation.

I'm happy to share my methods for all these things if you think they will be of use to you.

Was it worth doing? Absolutely yes. I first rolled Firefox out school-wide in 2006 after getting sick of spending half my day cleaning spyware off school computers. In the year Firefox became the school's default browser, I had to clean adware off four workstations only. In the three years since I removed the IE launcher shortcut from all school computers, I have not had to clean spyware or adware off any school computers.
posted by flabdablet at 4:36 PM on February 11, 2010

Ya, you're not going to do this without an external management application. The ones that The Michael The listed will all do what you need, although Altiris is probably massive overkill for just this. LanDesk or BigFix are both a bit lighter, and both very competent at this type of task.
posted by deadmessenger at 5:59 PM on February 11, 2010

Let me just say from a Firefox poweruser perspective: please do NOT go with a virtualized install. It's a total clusterfuck for the dude at the workstation when his job-essential, open-all-the-time, required software browser profile (and bookmarks, and PKI certs, and any customizations to about:config etc.) gets hosed every time you push an update. You will inspire hatred and waking fantasies of pitchforks and torches.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 6:51 PM on February 11, 2010

Have you considered portable firefox???

Install would be a breeze.
posted by jannw at 2:29 AM on February 12, 2010

Portable Firefox is no easier to roll out site-wide than regular Firefox, and it does squirrely things with the registry and occasionally fails to quit clean and it's a prick to install extensions and plugins into properly.

I'm in the process of documenting my present software deployment and update scripts (which is something I really should have attended to before now) and will be making the result, along with the scripts themselves, available shortly. Questions ranging from "why TF did you bother re-inventing this wheel?" to "what is that odd construct you've used there on line 115?" are welcome and I'll use them to help improve my documentation.
posted by flabdablet at 6:51 PM on February 14, 2010

Response by poster: I've been continuing to research this problem. Flabdablet, thank you... I'm very interested in your solution for #5. What kind of maintenance do you find yourself doing once you've gotten everything up & running?
posted by eleyna at 12:06 PM on February 18, 2010

There are a number of sites the school is required to use that won't work with Firefox because they're IE-only rubbish that uses ActiveX controls and related perversions. My standard Firefox install includes the IE View extension to deal with these. IE View can be set to launch IE automatically for selected URLs, and it keeps the list of URLs to treat this way as a Firefox user preference. I haven't found a workstation-wide way to enforce those preferences, so I do it per-user from the logon script.

Last year the Catholic Education Office changed the standard forms of subdomains allocated to schools, and that meant our proxy server settings had to change. Once again, this is a user preference in Firefox so that gets set from the logon script as well. This will come in handy again later this year as we're due to switch ISPs and I'm sure the proxy will change again.

Then there's forcing Firefox to be the default web browser on every logon. Users continue to find ingenious accidental ways to break this, and given that I can't completely disable IE, the logon script just makes Firefox the default every time it runs.

At IE sites, all of this kind of thing is usually done using Group Policy. The FrontMotion package you linked to earlier claims to let you do things that way for Firefox as well, but they want money for that and I'm a cheapskate so I just script it all.
posted by flabdablet at 6:28 PM on February 18, 2010

Manipulating Firefox preferences from a cmd script is actually surprisingly easy. Here's an excerpt from my current user update script (called from logon.bat):

set foxprof=%APPDATA%\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\stmary2.default
set pref=^>^>"%foxprof%\prefs.js" echo user_pref
%pref%("", false);
%pref%("browser.startup.homepage_override.mstone", "ignore");

The first line simply points the foxprof variable at the default Firefox user profile. The second line is trickier: it sets the pref variable to a command that appends the string user_pref to the prefs.js file inside the Firefox profile (note the use of the ^ escape character, which allows the >> redirection operator to become part of the variable value instead of having redirection uselessly applied to the set command itself).

From that point forward, you can modify Firefox preferences with lines like the third and fourth that simply append user_pref("something", something); to prefs.js in the default Firefox profile. This works cleanly because (a) Firefox isn't running when the logon script is (b) preferences are actually calls to a Javascript function named user_pref(), and if there are multiple occurrences of the same preference, calls occurring later in prefs.js will override those earlier (c) Firefox regenerates prefs.js at the end of every run, neatly eliminating any redundancies created by brute-force appending.

The particular preferences I'm setting here turn off search suggestion (with Firefox 3.6, this causes an irritating prompt for proxy username and password after every. single. character! typed into the search box if no proxy-requiring page has been loaded first) and turn off the "home page override milestone", which stops my users being annoyingly redirected to the Firefox update information page every time I push out an updated version. Both of these are discoveries I made after setting up the default profile, which is why they're in this script instead of simply being included in that profile from the outset.
posted by flabdablet at 8:00 PM on February 18, 2010

One more cmd versus Firefox idiosyncrasy is worth a mention. Take a look at this stanza:

set ielist="P:\Installers\StMary\IEView\always-in-ie.txt"
set sites=
for /f "usebackq delims=" %%L in (%ielist%) do @set sites=!sites! %%L
set sites="!sites:~1!"
%pref%("ieview.forceielist", %sites:\=\\%);

The for statement turns the site list in always-in-ie.txt, which contains one site name per line, into a space-prefixed list. set sites="!sites:~1!" removes the initial space (that's the :~1 part) and wraps quotes around the whole list. When the list is subsequently stuffed into a user preference, the expansion %sites:\=\\% is used instead of just plain %sites%. Firefox ends up interpreting the value as a Javascript string literal; \ is an escape character in Javascript string literals, and needs to be doubled to represent itself.
posted by flabdablet at 8:21 PM on February 18, 2010

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