Category Archives: Firefox

Mozilla unveils search tool tweaks in next week’s Firefox 34

New tools will accompany change from Google to Yahoo as default search engine for U.S. customers

Along with its impending switch to Yahoo as the default search engine for Firefox, Mozilla will also change how users conduct searches in the browser, the company said Tuesday.

Searches done in the next version of Firefox will display not only a list of suggested searches that narrow the results, but will show buttons for search engines other than the default, said Philipp Sackl, a lead designer of Firefox, in a blog post yesterday.

“These buttons allow you to find your search term directly on a specific site quickly and easily,” Sackl wrote.

For example, a search for “US Grant” started in Firefox’s default search engine can be switched to Wikipedia for results there by clicking a button.

Mozilla has implemented the changes in the beta of Firefox 34, which is scheduled for promotion to the finished, polished build next week. In the beta, Firefox 34 shows search-switch buttons for all available providers, including Bing, DuckDuckGo, Twitter and Wikipedia. Users can also add additional search engines.

Other browsers, such as Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari, lack similar tools, although Safari does offer a short list of suggested searches when a string is typed into its address bar.

Mozilla will introduce the search tweaks next week when it ships the production version of Firefox 34, currently slated for a Dec. 1 release. At the same time, Mozilla will also introduce Yahoo as the default search engine in the U.S.

“Under a new five-year strategic partnership … Yahoo Search will become the default search experience for Firefox in the U.S.,” Mozilla CEO Chris Beard said last week.

Beard’s description implied that Mozilla will automatically change the default search engine within Firefox from the earlier Google to Yahoo for all U.S. customers. But in the beta of Firefox 34 the previous default — Google — remained in place.

Mozilla may face resistance from existing users if it changes the search engine to Yahoo without their permission when Firefox updates itself next week. Firefox users will be able to change the default to another provider, including back to Google, however.

Mozilla did not immediately reply to questions about how it will handle the change from Google to Yahoo within Firefox.

Firefox, unlike its browser rivals, will continue to use separate search and address bars rather than unify them into one field where users can type not only URLs but also search strings. Safari, Chrome and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) all offer a unified address-search bar.

“That has been looked at several times, but there are difficult privacy problems to overcome if you also want to provide search suggestions,” said Gervase Markham of Mozilla in an answer Wednesday to a user’s comment appended to Sackl’s post. “If someone is typing a URL, they don’t necessarily want their default search engine to know where they are going. And yet, if you want to provide search suggestions well, you have to send every keystroke in a unified box to the search provider.”


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Internet Explorer only? IE doubt it

Fewer businesses standardizing browser use on Internet Explorer, but the practice isn’t gone yet.

Just as Internet users in general have defected in huge numbers from Microsoft Internet Explorer over the past several years, the business world, as well, is becoming less dependent on the venerable browser.

Companies that used to mandate the use of IE for access to web resources are beginning to embrace a far more heterodox attitude toward web browsers. While it hasn’t gone away, the experience of having to use IE 6 to access some legacy in-house web app is becoming less common.

“Things have changed a lot in the last three years, and I think a lot of it has to do with the emergence of the modern web and the popularity of mobile. They have made it very different for companies to truly standardize on a browser,” says Gartner Research analyst David Mitchell Smith.

One example of the changing face of business browser use is SquareTwo Financial, a Denver-based financial services company that works primarily in distressed asset management. The firm’s 280 employees handle both consumer and commercial business, buying and selling debt, and a franchise program means that there are upwards of 1,500 more people working at SquareTwo affiliates. According to CTO Chris Reigrut, the company takes in roughly $280 million in annual revenue.

“In addition to buying and selling debt, we also provide a software-as-a-service platform that our franchises (and we) use to actually negotiate and litigate the debt,” he tells Network World.

Square Two hasn’t needed to standardize, he says, because keeping their offerings diverse is part of the idea – the company’s various online resources all have differing requirements.

“We do distribute Firefox on Windows systems – however, Safari and IE are both frequently used. Our internal wiki is only officially supported on Firefox and Safari. Our SaaS ‘client’ is a pre-packaged Firefox install so that it looks more like a traditional thick-client application. Most of our employees use their browser for a couple of internal systems, as well as several external services (i.e. HR, training, etc),” says Reigrut (who, like the other IT pros quoted in this story is a member of the CIO Executive Council Pathways program for leadership development).

The Microsoft faithful, however, are still out there. Many businesses have chosen to remain standardized on IE, for several reasons. SickKids, a children’s research hospital in Toronto, sticks with Microsoft’s browser mostly for the ease of applying updates.

“We have more than 7,000 end-point devices. Most of those devices are Windows workstations and Internet Explorer is included as part of the Microsoft Windows operating system. As such, this makes it easier and integrates well with our solution to manage and deploy upgrades, patches and hotfixes to the OS including IE,” says implementations director Peter Parsan.

“Internet Explorer is more than a browser, it is the foundation for Internet functionality in Windows,” he adds.

The complexity of managing an ecosystem with more than 100 types of software – running the gamut from productivity applications to clinical programs – requires a heavily controlled approach, according to Parsan.

Smith agrees that IE still has its advantages for business users that want just such a strictly regimented technology infrastructure.

“If you want a managed, traditional IT environment … really, your only option is Internet Explorer,” he says, adding that both Firefox and Chrome lag behind IE in terms of effective centralized management tools.

Some companies, however, have gone a different way – standardizing not on IE, but on a competing browser.

Elliot Tally, senior director of enterprise apps for electronics manufacturer Sanmina, says his company’s employees are highly dependent on browsers for business-critical activities. Everything from ERP to document control (which he notes is “big for a manufacturing company”) to the supply chain is run from a web app.

Tally says Sanmina made the move to standardize on Chrome in 2009, in part because of a simultaneous switch to Gmail and Google Apps from IE and Microsoft products.

“It made sense to go with the browser created and supported by the company that created the apps we rely on. Also, Chrome installs in user space so it doesn’t require admin privileges to auto-update,” he says. “It also silently auto-updates, as opposed to Firefox, which requires a fresh install to update versions, or IE, which is similar. Chrome, over the last year or so, has supported web standards better than any other browser, and (until recently) has offered significantly better performance.”

Plainly, broad diversity exists both in the actual browsers used by workers and the approaches businesses have taken in managing their use.

That diversity, says Smith, is the reason Gartner has been advising clients against standardization from the outset.

“Standardize on standards, not browsers,” he urges. “That was a controversial position for 10 years. People really didn’t agree with it, they didn’t listen to it, and they paid the price.”

Microsoft, as well, has had to pay a price.

“[Standardization] hurts Microsoft’s reputation as an innovator; as a forward-thinker,” he says. “When people’s impression of using Microsoft technology – whether it’s a browser, whether it’s an operating system – is something that is two or three versions old, because they’re dealing with it through what enterprises want.”

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Top 5 cities for big data jobs

San Francisco tops Modis list, followed by McLean, Va., Boston, St. Louis and Toronto

Corporate data stores are growing exponentially, nearly every tech vendor is positioning their products to help handle the influx of data, and IT departments are scrambling to find the right people to collect, analyze and interpret data in a way that’s meaningful to the business. On the employment front, the big data deluge is creating a hiring boom across North America. Modis, an IT staffing firm, identified five cities in particular where big data is driving job growth.

San Francisco tops the Modis list, followed by McLean, Va., Boston, St. Louis and Toronto. The roles that companies in these cities are fighting to fill include data scientist, data analyst, business intelligence professional and data modeling/data modeler.

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Business intelligence and data analysis have been core enterprise disciplines for a long time, but they’re becoming more important to businesses as data volumes rise, says Laura Kelley, a Modis vice president in Houston. “We’re in a new era in terms of how large the databases are, the amount of data we’re collecting, and how we’re using it. It’s much more strategic than it’s ever been.”

Big data professionals can be particularly difficult to find since many roles require a complicated blend of business, analytic, statistical and computer skills — which is not something a candidate acquires overnight. In addition, “clients are looking for people with a certain level of experience, who have worked in a big data environment. There aren’t a lot of them in the market,” Kelley says.


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Looking at recruiting trends across its offices, Modis finds there’s not one industry that’s doing the most big-data hiring. Rather, the cities have in common a concentration of large enterprises across myriad industries.

San Francisco, for instance, is home to large companies in the retail, insurance, healthcare, and e-commerce sectors.

McLean, Va., has both a strong commercial sector and government presence. “There are many data center operations in this area, both commercial and government related, that require talent to support the high volume of that data,” Modis explains in its report. “In addition, there is no larger consumer of IT products and services in the world than the US federal government.”

Banking and bio/pharmaceutical industries helped put Boston on the big data hiring map. “Both industries deal with large amounts of data that are detailed and complex in nature. That data then needs to be analyzed and placed in reports, dashboards and spreadsheets by data scientist and analysts,” Modis writes.

In St. Louis, universities and healthcare companies lead the big data hiring boom, followed by pharmaceutical and bioresearch firms that need to fill data analyst and scientist roles.

Lastly, in Toronto, financial institutions are fueling a need for business intelligence pros who can help organizations get a more precise and complete picture of the business and customers, Modis finds.

In the big picture, companies often have to compromise and prioritize their wish list — technical expertise, industry experience or quantitative statistical analysis skills, for experience — to find available big-data candidates.

“What is this person going to be doing? Do you need the technical skills? Or is the quantitative/statistical expertise more important? Is this person going to be doing data modeling or making business decisions?” Kelley says. “In an ideal world, companies want all of it. But it’s not an ideal world.”

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Is Microsoft Firefox’s last, great hope?

Mozilla has faced considerable criticism for its decision to release a customized version of Firefox in which the default search engine and home page is Microsoft’s Bing. But if Mozilla is going to survive, that’s exactly what it needs to do, because with declining market share and a potential rift with Google, Microsoft may be Mozilla’s last, best hope.

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The version of Firefox, called Firefox with Bing is based on Firefox 7.1. Neither Microsoft nor Mozillas is commenting on the financial terms of the deal, but you can be sure that Microsoft is paying Mozilla a pretty penny.

The non-profit Mozilla Foundation receives almost all of its revenue from contracts with search providers — 98% of all of its revenue in 2010 came that way, according to Computerworld. And most of that money comes from Google. Computerworld says that in 2008, 88% of search provider revenue for Mozilla came from Google.

That heavy reliance on Google represents a serious problem for Mozilla, potentially a near-fatal one. Mozilla’s three-year contract with Google expires next month. Given that Google competes against Firefox with its Chrome browser, the renewal of that contract is not a sure thing. And even if it does get renewed, Google will likely play hardball on the financial terms.

Google needs Firefox less than ever before, because Chrome is fast gaining on Firefox, and it’s only a matter of time before it becomes the world’s number two browser. Back in September, 2010, Firefox’s market share was 23.69%, and Chrome’s was 8.24% according to Net Applications. By September of 2011, Firefox’s market share had dipped to 22.48%, and Chrome’s had jumped to 16.2%, says Net Applications.

There are even worse problems for Firefox ahead, having to do with mobile. Google’s Chrome-like browser is the default for Android phones, Apple’s Safari is the default for iOS devices, and Internet Explorer is the default for Windows Phone 7. Few people bother to download an alternative browser on their mobile devices, which leaves Firefox out in the cold for the next great wave of browser growth.

So where does this leave Firefox? Between the proverbial rock and a hard place. This deal with Microsoft was the right move for Mozilla. It’ll likely lead to a solid revenue stream. And it may give Mozilla some leverage in the contract renewal talk with Google. So Mozilla deserves no criticism — it was only doing what it needs in order to try and keep Firefox a popular browser.