Firefox Quantum for Enterprise – faster, safer… beta

What does Mozilla's beta program for Firefox Quantum for Enterprise really offer?
27 March 2018

The animal featured in the Firefox logo is a red panda. Source: Shutterstock

Mozilla has announced the opening of its beta program for Firefox Quantum for Enterprise. The Enterprise version is essentially the same as the standard version of the open source browser, but with several alterations explicitly made for its use in large organizations.

Firefox Quantum for Enterprise allows configuration of settings and internet access levels, which allows systems administrators to pre-configure installations of the browser. Sitewide proxies can be set by default, content filters put in place, or add-ons either limited or banned altogether.

On Windows installs, administrators create Firefox policies using Windows Group Policy. Alternatively (or on Mac OS and Linux), a JSON document can be included in the Mozilla install directory which sets rules.

Firefox Quantum purports to run more quickly than other browsers and use less memory. The former is partly achieved by the programming language Rust, used to create and run in parts of the browser. Rust can utilize multiple processors and was used to develop Stylo, the multithread CSS rendering engine in Quantum. Programming languages such as C++ predate the ubiquity of multi-processor systems and are difficult to natively configure to multithread across multiple processors.

On its launch in November 2017, Mozilla claimed that CSS rendering, in particular, sped up by a factor equivalent to the number of cores in the client browser; four processor cores rendered CSS four times faster than a single core chip, for instance.

Firefox Quantum’s speed is further improved, it is claimed, by concentrating processing on foremost browser tabs, rather than on materials loading in the background. Additionally, content loads as a priority over design elements, such as website logos and “messages from our sponsor.”

While the platform’s purported speed and lower memory requirements may be attractive at first glance, many enterprises determine browser choice by legacy applications’ requirements. In short, older business-critical applications often only run on older browsers. Upgrading browsers can break business continuity, therefore.

The open source nature of the Mozilla Foundation’s products may be attractive to some as a concept, however, and the company has indeed not suffered from the privacy scandals which have dogged some of its competitors. Firefox use remains in a very firm second place on desktops, despite these factors:

In a press release put out on Quantum’s release, the organization said:

Out of respect for privacy, Firefox does not track user activity to target advertising as other browsers do. To further protect privacy, administrators and users can turn on Tracking Protection, which disables many invisible scripts that follow users from site to site. Tracking Protection also makes browsing the web significantly faster – cutting page load times in half on many sites. To help ensure security, Firefox Quantum sandboxes web page content, creating a boundary that protects your computer’s files and hardware from malicious websites.

Many users will be aware of Firefox ESR (extended support release) designed for use in organizations like schools and colleges. Quantum for Enterprise is mostly an extension of ESR, with Mozilla’s Policy Engine baked in.

The beta nature of the release will not threaten Google’s domination of the browser market (for now); woe betides any adventurous systems administrator who installs a new browser without due diligence. And a quick way of any sysadmin shortening their career would be the installation of a browser in beta.