Once thought a product of ages past, the browser wars have been reignited in full flame with the release of Mozilla Firefox. Organizations tired of Internet Explorer for one reason or another now have a new, free contender to help them achieve their business goals while reducing their exposure to the latest Windows exploit. You've probably already read about the multitude of reasons that organizations are moving to Firefox, or at least installing it as a side-by-side alternative to Internet Explorer. Now, maybe you're considering it for inclusion on your organization's standard desktop and you realize then just sending instructions out to hundreds of users probably won't quote cut it when it comes to a proper installation and configuration of Firefox. In this article, you'll learn how to manage that all important initial installation of Firefox across your company's desktops.
First off, as you might expect, there are decent group policy administrative templates for Internet Explorer that aren't easily available for the competing product. Second, since these tools are hard to come by at best, you need a deployment package that can provide a baseline installation containing your company's settings.
Finally, while Firefox is eminently customizable, custom settings are not stored in the Windows registry where they can be more easily used for Group Policy purposes. Instead, Firefox's settings are stored in user profile directories, making it more challenging to roll the product out for multi-user installations with preset, customizable settings.
In this article, you'll learn how to deploy Firefox to your Windows desktop using a customized installer. From this installer, you can simply use the deployment method you use for most software on your desktops. To work properly, your users need, at a minimum, rights to be able to create their own profile directories on their desktops.
FFDeploy is a free solution that assists in the deployment of Firefox. At the end of the FFDeploy process, you should have a working deployment with a distributable version of Firefox that includes any extensions you might want to roll out to your users.
To get started with FFDeploy, you need a few things:
- FFDeploy.zip, available from firefox.dbltree.com
- The latest version of Firefox downloaded from www.mozilla.org.
- A staging computer on which you can manually deploy and configure Firefox to your liking. I recommend using a clean system for this purpose so that you don't accidentally contaminate your Firefox rollout with something unanticipated. The staging computer could also be something as simple as Windows XP installed under VMware.
First, unpack the contents of FFDeploy.zip to some location on your staging computer. For this example, I've chosen to extract FFDeploy to C:\ffdeploy, as shown in Figure A.
|Extract the contents of ffdeploy.zip to your staging system|
Next, install Firefox as you would on any other computer and configure any options you want to make available to your users. Further, if there are certain extensions you want to make available to your users, install those as well.
On the initial startup, Firefox will ask you if you want to import your IE favorites, history, and passwords. This is an important consideration for your users, most of whom probably don't want to lose, at the very least, their favorites. For this part of the exercise, you can choose to either convert your IE information, or start over with Firefox. Since this is the staging computer only, I've opted to not convert my IE favorites to Firefox. Later, though, I'll tell FFDeploy that, when it's installed on a user's computer, to convert that users favorites to Firefox bookmarks.
|I've opted to not import any IE information|
Among some of the things I normally do with Firefox, and that I'd want to push out to my users:
- Set the homepage to that of my company, or another site like Google or TechProGuild. (Tools | Options | General | Home Page )
- Change privacy settings to match my company's policies. For example, maybe your company doesn't believe in allowing users to store passwords from sites they visit. You can change this behavior at Tools | Options | General | Privacy.
- Set the location for downloaded files. By default, all files are downloaded to the user's desktop. Change this at Tools | Options | General | Downloads.
- Install the IEview Firefox extension, which allows users to right-click a page and select "View This Page in IE". This is particularly useful when your users try to use a site that doesn't play nice with Firefox. Find this at http://ieview.mozdev.org/.
- Install the OpenDownload extension for Firefox which enables Firefox to load a downloaded file directly into the native application. Find this at http://home.comcast.net/~ifrit/FFDeploy.zip.
- You might have a whole list of other things to do in your environment. These are just a few suggestions.
With Firefox configured the way you want it for your environment, exit Firefox and then run the FFDeploy.vbs script from the directory into which you extracted FFDeploy. For this example, that's C:\ffdeploy\ffdeploy.vbs.
Tip: If you have difficulty running the FFDeploy.vbs script, download the EXE version of the utility from http://home.comcast.net/~ifrit/FFDeploy.exe. For this article, I was receiving error messages while running the scripted (VBS) utility, but the EXE version ran fine. You'll get a screen like the one shown in Figure C.
|Make sure Firefox is closed before you continue|
Click the Build button. The utility asks you to locate the directory in which Firefox is installed. I have Firefox installed in C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox.
|Locate your Firefox installation folder|
After the builder script gathers information it needs to perform its task and copies Firefox and your settings to a deployment area, it pops up a message asking if you want to automatically import the user's IE favorites into Firefox upon first execution. This is particularly useful if you want to provide a seamless transition to the new browser for your users. For this example, I've selected Yes.
|Would you like to import your user's favorites when they install Firefox?|
Next, you're presented with another choice. Would you like to create a self-extracting EXE file with everything you've done thus far? This EXE file will contain Firefox along with your customizations and extensions as well as scripts necessary to create user profiles upon deployment to a new machine. I've opted to create this EXE file as a part of my sample deployment.
The final question you're asked relates to the user profile creation process. The question asks if you want a user profile created automatically once the Firefox extraction is complete. The catch: If you answer yes, you need to run the extraction process as the user who will ultimately use Firefox. If your users don't have rights to create profiles, this won't work. Also, if you plan to push Firefox to your users using something like SMS or ZENWorks, answer No here. The account used to push the product shouldn't be the one you use to create the profile. For this example, I've opted to automatically create profiles.
|Would you like to create a profile immediately after extraction is complete?|
Deployment—use your normal tool
For this example, since I opted to create a self-extracting EXE file with Firefox, I have a file named Firefox_Deployment.exe on the desktop of the machine I used to create the deployment package. I also have a folder named Firefox_Deployment that includes all of the files in the package. Using either selection, I can push Firefox out to my users. For example, with the self-extracting EXE, I can create a login script entry that installs Firefox automatically, complete with all of the settings needed for my organization. Or, I can use SMS, ZenWorks or Active Directory to install this self-extracting EXE file.
Regardless of how you go about pushing the EXE file, when you run the file on a system without Firefox, shortcuts show up in the quick launch bar and on the desktop, and a Firefox entry is created on the Start menu. Further, upon launching Firefox, the page you specified as the default home page comes up. To further verify that my settings "took", here's a view of Tools | Extensions.
|Firefox installed extensions after deployment|
Taking the pain out of deployment
One of the biggest objections people have raised about Firefox ultimately putting a severe dent in Internet Explorer's market share has been the difficulty it is to deploy Firefox throughout an organization. By deploying Firefox using FFDeploy to build a deployment package and then performing the actual deployment with the tool you normally use for your deployments, you can easily get Firefox onto user desktops and have some semblance of control over how the product is configured for your users.