Obama’s State Department bans Firefox

Posted on July 21, 2009


I saw this around the Internet and I had to laugh.

In an open meeting at the State Department, an employee asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about installing the browser Firefox on their computers as an alternative to Internet Explorer (IE).

They got a very nice “probably not” answer. But in reading the transcript, which I have placed at the bottom of the post, I was thinking, “I will bet good money that they have no clue what Firefox does.”

Firefox is the second-most used browser on the Internet. Most “knowledgeable” computer users use it and consider it a vast upgrade over any edition of Internet Explorer. It has garnering by most estimates around 23% market share, versus between 60% and 70% for IE, which is by far the leader

The basic State Department answer was: It will cost money to change browsers. The obivous answer to that is: It’s free. And it is true. The download is free.

However, they are right that it would cost money to transition browser. Most large companies do not give employees the power to install programs on their computer. Why? To prevent virus, trojan horses, and to minimize security issues. Also, it stops employees who are not familar with computers from killing their computers. There are also websites that only work well with Internet Explorer.

So, as an IT person, I understand. Also, people could say two years from now that they want to use Google Chrome, Safari, or other free internet browsers.

I worked in a corporation which allowed the installation of Google Chrome only when it was demonstrated how much better it was at certain things than Internet Explorer.

So while it sounds silly, I do see the State Department’s point.

Today’s LinkPost will have links to free alternatives to Internet Explorer (all better and more secure).

A transcript of the exchange about Firefox is below. Here is the full transcript of the entire session:

MS. GREENBERG: Okay. Our next question comes from Jim Finkle:

Can you please let the staff use an alternative web browser called Firefox? I just – (applause) – I just moved to the State Department from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and was surprised that State doesn’t use this browser. It was approved for the entire intelligence community, so I don’t understand why State can’t use it. It’s a much safer program. Thank you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, apparently, there’s a lot of support for this suggestion. (Laughter.) I don’t know the answer. Pat, do you know
the answer? (Laughter.)

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: The answer is at the moment, it’s an expense question. We can —

QUESTION: It’s free. (Laughter.)

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Nothing is free. (Laughter.) It’s a question of the resources to manage multiple systems. It is something we’re looking at. And thanks to the Secretary, there is a significant increase in the 2010 budget request that’s pending for what is called the Capital Investment Fund, by which we fund our information technology operations. With the Secretary’s continuing pushing, we’re hoping to get that increase in the Capital Investment Fund. And with those additional resources, we will be able to add multiple programs to it.

Yes, you’re correct; it’s free, but it has to be administered, the patches have to be loaded. It may seem small, but when you’re running a worldwide operation and trying to push, as the Secretary rightly said, out FOBs and other devices, you’re caught in the terrible bind of triage of trying to get the most out that you can, but knowing you can’t do everything at once.

SECRETARY CLINTON: So we will try to move toward that. When the White House was putting together the stimulus package, we were able to get money that would be spent in the United States, which was the priority, for IT and upgrading our system and expanding its reach. And this is a very high priority for me, and we will continue to push the envelope on it. I mean, Pat is right that everything does come with some cost, but we will be looking to try to see if we can extend it as quickly as possible…help us save money on stuff that we shouldn’t be wasting money on, and give us the chance to manage our resources to do more things like Firefox, okay?

Posted in: Web Browsers