State Dept. to Clinton: Please let us use Firefox

The Department of State wants to use the Mozilla browser, but support costs may get in the way. Is Firefox easier and more cost-effective to support than IE?

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

Despite the rise of open source within the federal government, Mozilla's Firefox has yet to gain an official nod from the Department of State, at least according to a recent question-and-answer session that Secretary Hillary Clinton and Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy hosted last week, with an ironic back-and-forth on Firefox kicked off by government employee Jim Finkle:

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.)

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.)

Kennedy: The answer is, at the moment, it's an expense question. We can --

Finkle: It's free. (Laughter.)

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.

Under Secretary Kennedy makes a good point: deploying Firefox isn't free, in terms of administration. But then, nothing is, including Internet Explorer. The real question is whether Firefox is easier and more cost-effective to support than IE. Mozilla has made some recent moves to make it such. We'll see if the government is listening.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.