State Department undersecretary claims Firefox is not free

[INDENT][FINKLE]: Can you please let the staff use an alternative web browser called Firefox? I just – (applause) – I just moved to the State Department from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and was surprised that State doesn’t use this browser. It was approved for the entire intelligence community, so I don’t understand why State can’t use it. It’s a much safer program. Thank you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, apparently, there’s a lot of support for this suggestion. (Laughter.) I don’t know the answer. Pat, do you know the answer? (Laughter.)

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: The answer is at the moment, it’s an expense question. We can –

[FINKLE]: It’s free. (Laughter.)

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Nothing is free. (Laughter.) It’s a question of the resources to manage multiple systems. It is something we’re looking at… [/INDENT]

In the context of that quote, he’s right. Add a new app – even a good, free one – and you have support issues you have to manage, which does affect the cost of managing systems.

Yep. Changing browsers is NOT free, even if the program itself is (technically).

He’s right, nothing is free. A browser is pretty benign, but it’s analogous to the decision to run Windows rather than Linux. Linux is “free”, but only a Slashdot zealot would tell you that running it is free. When you’re dealing with large organizations with users of varying competence, any change comes at a price.

Well, I feel smarter than at the beginning at this thread.

I agree with you but I think your analogy is a little severe. There’s very, very little new knowledge needed to switch from Internet Explorer (which I guess our government is using, which sucks) to Firefox. Going from Windows to Linux is a bit more ridiculous.

But yeah, there’s a support issue here. I’d like to see the government running NoScript and AdBlock Plus, at least.

Well, sometimes software that is free at the end user level is not free at the enterprise level. So it wasn’t an entirely stupid thing to say they need to verify the cost.

Also, some internal apps might also be using Active X or might not be compatible with Firefox for one reason or another…so switching might entail replacement of those systems.

Especially in the government where IE6 legacy apps like the above are legion.

The cost is largely that legacy intranet apps don’t work with Firefox and there’s no money to upgrade them. I run into that situation ALL THE TIME.

I agree with the sentiments of most of the above.

Internal apps may have been developed with Explorer but not with Firefox. In an organisation I was in, IT pushed for a change for their favourite browser but quite a few of the apps broke (either in minor ways or total app failure) for some reason or other.

This. I’ve pushed for full support of the browser for years but internal devs live in the stone age. We still have shit only supported on IE 6. Seriously.

Oh I believe you. My company recently found itself confronted by some seriously angry customers because we casually threw out that we were dropping IE6 support from our main app at the end of 09. Some very very large companies are stuck in this IE6 trap with internal apps and can’t move on. Some told us point blank that they couldn’t move past IE6 for two more years, and if we moved on without them it would be without their business.

WTF is wrong with companies? The cost of keeping IE6 versus migrating to FF or IE 7/8 grows greater each day. Its just plain bad for everyone. Bite the bullet and hire some fucking programmers.


So here’s your problem. First off, in typical Microsoft fashion, Microsoft managed to break some things between Internet Explorer and Firefox for a while when building from .NET, which is what I certainly hope all these programs are built in. That implies to the people who manage budget for these projects that there’s a cost for testing and verification for internal apps in order to confirm cross-platform functionality. That’s not free, and if you’re doing your project management the way I hope they are, the incremental cost of enabling Firefox and all of the tons of testing, changes, and verification that would go with it to provide precisely no new identifiable benefit value just aren’t acceptable.

So it’s less about living in the stone age and more about the sad truth of business. Most IT departments maintain ostensible control over what goes on your computer. Telling your employees they have to use Internet Explorer is free. The benefit for transitioning to Firefox is…well, there isn’t one that you can’t capture more efficiently in other ways. Frankly, since I’m kind of having to wear that hat these days in addition to my developer one, it’s kind of irresponsible to spend a lot of developer time enabling compatibility when there’s no real, identifiable benefit. It’s one of those things I’d totally do in my free time if I had any. I’m at a smaller company, so the “accepted applications” list is close enough to where I sit for me to throw one of my little metal rolly ball things and knock him unconscious, so we have the added flexibility of not having to deal with the Infrastructure Department Head not wanting to cause his people a lot of trouble dealing with a bunch of idiot submegulloids who, all of a sudden, can’t work their hot new browser that they installed because they could.

It sucks, but it is unfortunately what it is. None of this would be a problem if Microsoft didn’t insist on breaking every single mother fucking standard they encounter (my latest bitch - they removed all but one markup tag from the pitiful Wiki functionality they dumped into Sharepoint), but since they do, and since lots of things were already built against Microsoft, they kind of win by default.

It would actually be better if stupid MS would actually write a browser that conforms to existing open standards. But noooooo, they have to put shit in their browsers so that everyone has to use their stuff you know? It’s all planned and I blame MS much more than I blame the companies.

good point

Brian, consider me one step removed from “Infrastructure Department Head.” I’d say most of us are all for supporting multiple browsers at this point, that’s not the issue so much. It’s getting to a point now that the issue with older apps is preventing upgrading anything, and it’s interfering with updates that no longer address security issues in a browser that old.

While I’m throwing a dart by saying our devs live in the stone age, I clearly recognize their problem is a real pain. They have to develop for every platform we have, they have very limited manpower (especially right now after layoffs,) and their priorities right now are around systems that are already critical in nature. This IE6 problem pales in comparison to some of that to be honest. Regardless … this is quickly going to become a very big issue for us anyway, we’re set to shift from XP to Win 7 worldwide all too soon. Our CIO has tasked every team with working together to get the issues solved.

Some users also make this a problem, refusing to work with testing on new browser platforms because they don’t want to change their work method. I swear, there are some folks out there who would continue to use terminal based applications happily for the rest of their very long work career. All I can say to that is WTF.

.NET has very little to do with any of this. The issue is really apps built pre-.NET… “Web” apps built primarily with client-side VBScript using ActiveX controls for data grids and such and layout hacks that only work in IE6 and below.

.NET’s interop with other browsers and even other platforms has been pretty good from the start. ASP.NET is all server-based technology and doesn’t care much what browser you’re using, Silverlight is cross-browser and cross-platform (to the Mac anyway).

And FWIW, while Microsoft has a lot to answer for in terms of trying to break the web and other standards in the past, they’ve actually been mostly pretty good in the post-IE6 era. Not perfect, of course, but not really any worse than any other large company.

Even if the only issue with moving to Firefox was the install, the amount of time and effort required to do that over an entity as large and widespread as the State Department would incur a fairly substantial cost that some might consider a waste given that they already have a working browser in place.

As mentioned above however, it’s most likely not that simple. Legacy apps built for IE6 are most likely holding them back.