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Using Mozilla in enterprise IT environments

Think Mozilla is just a Web browser? Think again. In this tip, a Mozilla expert describes when and how Mozilla can be a boon to corporate IT environments.

To most people, Mozilla is just a Web browser. If the corporate IT professional thinks of Mozilla in this way, however, he or she could be missing out on a tool that's useful in many enterprise environments. Another misconception is that use of Mozilla, which is free and open source software, is entirely confined to Linux. Actually, Mozilla is available on many platforms, and within each platform it has its own style. In this tip, I'll provide some examples of when to use Mozilla in enterprise Windows and Linux environments.

There's no universal policy for software deployment, but there are a few good rules of thumb. Here are some basic examples that can help you decide if or when Mozilla technology is right for you.

In the case of Microsoft Windows, building up a box starts with Windows itself. On top of Windows, you add whatever software layers are required for that type of user. Such extra software must be added on merit: there must be a gap between what Windows offers and what the user needs. A simple example is installing Microsoft Word or Open Office. Windows already supplies NotePad and WordPad, so why add another word processor? Because it could be a better solution for the user's need.

If your users require any kind of Web access, the Mozilla Browser now beats Internet Explorer on merit across the board. IE is what you leave in place if the desktop just needs a NotePad level solution. The Mozilla Emailer also beats Microsoft Outlook, except when proprietory features of Exchange are tied to the user's work practices. Diary coordination via email is an example. Mozilla Calendar is the tool to watch for this kind of support, and it's coming soon.

Another argument for using Mozilla on Windows has to do with Web standards. Staying abreast of standards means moving slowly towards XHTML support. Plain HTML 4.01 is a somewhat aging standard now. Internet Explorer has poor support for XHTML. For one thing, it requires that the Internet or Intranet be polluted with incorrect MIME types when sending XHTML. Mozilla does a much cleaner job there.

In the Linux case, deploying Mozilla goes hand-in-hand with deploying Linux desktops (or virtual desktops like X-Terminals, VNC or Sun Ray boxes). In this situation, Mozilla is an obvious choice as the premier browser and e-mailer. It has had extensive usability testing and has reliable maintenance releases and support. Be aware that it uses the Gtk toolkit for Linux graphics, not KDE's Qt. The theme system of Mozilla is very flexible and can be made transparent to the Gtk theme engine. In that case, it supports a standardised Gtk desktop theme.

If you are considering application or tool development, then Mozilla is a new option to consider when seeking a useful platform. Mozilla should definitely be on your list for a closer look if extensive, object-oriented design (C++ or Java) seems like overkill, or you can see how W3C (XML) and IETF (RFC) standards would suit your project, or you have well-established Web skills in-house or if your project will have an extensive GUI.

Finally, if you have a mixture of platforms to look after, then Mozilla is also an obvious choice. The applications run the same across all platforms, and different incarnations of the platform itself guarantee standards support wherever they appear. That just makes life easier.

Nigel McFarlane is a science and technology writer, analyst, and programmer. He is the author of several IT books, including the recently published "Rapid Application Development with Mozilla" from Prentice Hall PTR. He is also the author of many articles on Web, XML, JavaScript, and other technologies, and his work has appeared in many publications.

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