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Mozilla Firefox Corporate Rollout Mini-HOWTO

Note: this document began its life referring to “Mozilla Firebird” at the time of my first documented rollout in 2003: the name of the browser has now changed, and the process I used has been updated. Therefore, this document supercedes the old Firebird one.

This document is made available under the Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike license, which means that anyone can base other work upon it, as long as those derived works are also made available under the same license.

What follows is the procedure I have been following while rolling out Mozilla Firefox at my workplace. I make no claims that these notes are complete or even accurate, or that the procedure will Work For You. Let me know if that’s the case, though, and I’ll be happy to make corrections/additions or suggestions.

Abstract

I decided that it was a good idea to rollout Mozilla Firefox at my workplace, and took a look around on the ‘net for a “corporate rollout HOWTO guide” or something similar and found nothing. That’s why I wrote this document. Hope you find it helpful.

Basics

Environment

The rollout was to take place in the following environment:

  • Sixty desktop PCs running Windows 98;
  • Each user logs into a local Netware server, on which they have a certain amount of stored space – their ‘home network drive’;
  • There are other network drives which are read-only to end-users;
  • Existing users have Internet Explorer ‘favorites’ to migrate to Mozilla Firefox;
  • There is a departmental web proxy which should be used.
Objectives

I started off with the following objectives:

  1. Make Mozilla Firefox the default web browser on every desktop;
  2. Roving Mozilla Firefox profiles (allows each user to see ‘their’ profile – bookmarks etc. – regardless of which PC they are using). The profile will be stored on each user’s home network drive. This is a big change over Internet Explorer, where the preferences and settings are generally tied to each physical machine;
  3. Mozilla binaries should be on network drive where they can be easily updated with new releases/patches/plugins – the read-only network drive;
  4. Each user should start with a default profile which has reasonably sane defaults, but ensuring that the browser disk cache is not stored on the network (defeating the object of a fast disk cache).
Software

I chose to rollout an official current Mozilla Firefox, version 1.0.4, simply because it is the most recent milestone and more likely to be stable than a random nightly build. The installation on to a network drive should make upgrading to more recent versions, to which all users will automatically benefit, more straightforward.

Initial investigations

During the initial Mozilla Firebird rollout two years ago, objective (3) quickly had to be abandoned, which was a shame, simply for performance reasons. The network was not terribly fast and the server in question had only a 10Mb network card installed. However, after the purchase of a new fileserver with a 1Gb NIC, and all desktops having 100Mb connections, the Mozilla binaries were installed on to the network.

Pre-flight checklist

Pre-configuration of workstation/user directories

Prior to the rollout, the network login script was modified to create two directories: c:\cache on the local PC and h:\windows\mozilla (drive H: is the home network drive for each user). The cache directory should not be part of the user’s network profile, but needs to be referenced from that profile, and so should have a consistent location on each desktop PC’s hard drive.

Create network installation and generic profile

Using a test machine, run the full installation (see below) purely in order to (a) put the installation binaries on to the network drive and (b) create a standard profile – name it as user ‘default’. This will be the profile that each user starts with. Choose the settings carefully, ensuring no ‘user-specific’ information is included. Running Firefox with the ‘-p’ option will allow a profile directory to be chosen: make a single profile pointing to h:\windows\mozilla. This will mean that the installation on the network will default to looking in this directory for a user profile for all instances that call this network-installed firefox executable.

Plugins can now be installed to the network installation directories – I recommend following the instructions at the Plugins and Mozilla Firefox (Windows) page. In our case, Flash and Java should be sufficient.

In this case, the important things to check in the generic profile were that the proxy server settings were included, a sensible home page given and that the cache directory was specified using

user_pref(“browser.cache.disk.parent_directory”, “C:\\cache”);

in the file prefs.js inside the profile. This is necessary to ensure that the browser’s disk cache was not stored on the network.

Installation

Workstation setup

Actual installations were carried out as follows:

  • Install simple desktop shortcut to Firefox network executable;
  • Start Firefox, it will import the Internet Explorer ‘favorites’;
Optional installation items

Under Windows 98, there is a continuing bug where the taskbar icons are the default Windows icon, which looks ugly (this problem doesn’t happen with Windows 2000 or Windows XP as far as I know – see Bugzilla bug 171349 for details). If you want to fix this under Windows 98, the only workaround is to find some suitable icons and put them in a directory chrome\icons\default in the Mozilla Firefox network installation directory. You can get the icons from here.

Summary

The above procedure seems to work quite nicely, gives each user a decent starting profile, but with flexibility for personalisation.