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7/8/2011
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Startup Eats Mozilla's Enterprise Lunch

Bespoke IO hopes to provide enterprises with the tools to manage Firefox deployments.

 Firefox 4 Is Faster, Cleaner, More Secure
Slideshow: Firefox 4 Is Faster, Cleaner, More Secure
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Mozilla's need for speed has strained its relationship with cautious IT managers. It's a need perhaps best explained by Mike Beltzner, who left his position as director of Firefox at Mozilla in April.

In a recent post to an online discussion group, Beltzner cited the acceleration of Web technology development after Firefox 3 shipped in mid-2008 as the reason Mozilla has opted to move faster.

"Mozilla, Google, and Apple all began aggressively developing Web technologies, and Web developers began using them more quickly," Beltzner wrote. "Of those three providers, only Mozilla spent time providing full security and stability support to older releases. It quickly became apparent that we were being squeezed for resources on both sides: We had to move faster to keep up a leadership position in new technology development, but also spend a great deal of time and energy on maintaining support for older releases. Our collaborators/competitors with many more resources than us did not accrue these costs."

Mozilla's new-found aggressiveness caught businesses by surprise. When the browser maker moved to a six-week release cycle following the release of Firefox 4 in March, few enterprise users of the software realized that support for Firefox 4 would end with the release of Firefox 5 in June.

The resulting outcry led Mozilla's VP of products Jay Sullivan and VP of technical strategy Mike Shaver to address enterprise concerns in online posts. But the gap between the needs of Mozilla and the needs of enterprise IT managers remains: The consumer market demands the bleeding edge while the enterprise market requires a safety razor.

Actually, it's more complex than that--there are plenty of businesses that manage to stay abreast of technology trends and not worry about the collapse of poorly coded Web applications--but it's the cautious side of the market that's making noise. And it's not a small market, however you slice it: Figures from last year suggest that around 20% of enterprise PCs have Firefox installed; this happens to be consistent with Firefox's overall global market share, which was 21.67% in June, according to NetApplications.

Bridging the gap between the need for innovation and the demand for stability represents an opportunity. Beltzner described the situation thus: "Ultimately the source is open, the code is free, and there's nothing stopping someone from eating our lunch in this space if indeed we are letting it sit and get cold on a plate."

Nibbling at Mozilla's business lunch is Bespoke IO, a Canadian start-up founded by Mike Hoye. It focuses on customization, configuration, and deployment of Mozilla's Firefox browser for enterprise customers. The company is currently conducting private beta testing of a service that provides IT departments with a way to manage enterprise-wide deployments of Firefox.

"BeSDS, short for our Bespoke Software Deployment Service, is a Web service that lets companies build custom versions of Firefox for internal deployment tailored to their specific needs," explained founder Mike Hoye in an email. "BeSDS lets network admins deploy Firefox with preloaded proxy settings, bundled add-ons, locked preferences, and a managed upgrade process. Our goal is to provide our customers with a stable, secure and standards-compliant platform for modern Web development and a painless migration path away from legacy intranet software."

While the timing of the Firefox-enterprise controversy has been fortuitous for Bespoke IO, Hoye noted that his four-person company has been working on its service last fall. He said it was understandable why Mozilla wasn't focused on meeting enterprise needs.

"Mozilla is as much an ideology as a company, and there are irreconcilable differences between their goals of user empowerment and advancing open Web technologies as compared to the locked-down, centrally-managed corporate desktop environment," he said. "So it was clear from the beginning that Mozilla wouldn't be the people to build what I was after, not for any technical reasons but because in some sense they couldn't build them and still be Mozilla at the end of the day. So I was confident starting out that there's a big need for these tools, but I was equally confident that if they were going to get made at all, we had to be ones making them."

According to Hoye, BeSDS generates an .MSI installer that works with Microsoft's SMS and SCCM management tools. This provides corporate IT departments with a way to configure, install, and manage Firefox in existing desktop environments.

To maintain Firefox data, Bespoke IO will be offering hosted sync services in a CICA5970 and SAS70-compliant data center, as well as on-premises rack-ready appliances.

The company, Hoye said, is currently gathering feedback from its beta testers and expects to provide more details shortly.

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