Firefox Gets No Respect From PC Makers, Despite Popularity

And that doesn't appear to be changing any time soon.

Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Dell continue to pre-install Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser onto PCs, but -- save for the comparatively few Linux-based systems that Dell ships - - the OEMs continue to shun Firefox except in some custom-ordered configurations.

Firefox is developed under the open source model, where code writers and engineers collaborate on its advancement, new functionality and bug fixes. Under this model, Firefox has become a highly customizable user interface and has eaten into Microsoft's IE market share. Its advancement is overseen by Mozilla, a subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation. While Mozilla has taken part in some marketing efforts, largely in the consumer space, it has received virtually no support from OEMs and remains a non-player in the channel -- even as some observers see an opening for it in the enterprise.

While Mozilla brass admit they haven't engaged the commercial space as aggressively as the consumer, that hasn't stopped Firefox' growth in the enterprise.

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"We don't preload Firefox Web browser; however, large orders with specific preloads can be developed for customers," a Lenovo spokeswoman said, in response to questions from CMP Channel. "There's a lot that goes into preloaded software/applications, such as ensuring interoperability, and strategic partnerships also play a role."

An HP spokeswoman, in response to the same questions, said the company only pre-loads IE. "HP has not received customer requests for it. If a customer wants to use an alternative browser, Firefox and others are easily obtained via Web download," the spokeswoman said. A Dell spokesman noted that company includes Firefox in its PCs that are pre-loaded with the Ubuntu Linux operating system.

Last week, Mozilla announced a broad, new strategy to develop a version of Firefox for mobile browsing - - an announcement that drew raves from several players in the channel. But for now, despite its market share and enterprise potential, it remains untapped potential.

Solution providers and system builders, asked about Firefox, say browser support issues generally haven't come up in customer conversations. "We've loaded it in the past, on Linux machines," said John Samborski, vice president of Ace Computers, an Arlington Heights, Ill.-based system builder. He said enterprise customers who don't seek a browser out by name may simply be comfortable downloading it themselves.

But Firefox may yet become an issue in enterprise IT.

Despite the skimpy support among PC makers, some still see view Firefox as a growing market share threat and potential beneficiary of any software-as-a-service (SaaS) rollout.

In an August report for Forrester Research, analyst Thomas Mendel issued findings based on interviews with more than 50,000 users at more than 2,300 "very large enterprises." He found Firefox with staying power despite the efforts of Microsoft to improve its own technology.

"With the release of Internet Explorer 7.0 (IE7), Microsoft has closed the large feature gap between it and open source competitor Firefox," Mendel wrote. "But Firefox should not be underestimated: It has one of the strongest developer and add-on communities of any software project, and growth in the enterprise is expected to continue in the medium to long term."

Firefox was actually gaining market share, at 12.4 percent, in the most recent market share numbers used in the Forrester report. Microsoft, over a six-month span, saw overall market share for Internet Explorer dip.

But as much as PC makers have eschewed giving the market Firefox as an option, Mozilla hasn't exactly jumped at the enterprise opportunity, either.

"While they'd be thrilled if enterprises deployed Firefox, or if OEMs bundled it into hardware/software solutions, they don't have any direct relationships with resellers or OEMs," a Mozilla spokeswoman said. "Other than anecdotes on user adoption within the enterprise (someone who uses Firefox at home and downloads it at work), they haven't really had a foothold in the channel to date."