Firefox is already used by about 10 percent of IBM's staff, or about 30,000 people. Starting Friday, IBM workers can download the browser from internal servers and get support from the company's help desk staff.
IBM's commitment to Firefox is among its most prominent votes of confidence from a large corporation. Based on development work by the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation, Firefox has been downloaded by more than 50 million people since it. Internet Explorer still dominates the overall market by far, though, with in the single digits.
For IBM, the move is a significant step in lessening dependence on a product from rival Microsoft.
By supporting Firefox internally, IBM is also furthering its commitment to open-source products based on industry standards, said Brian Truskowski, chief information officer at IBM.
"This is a real good example of walking the talk when it comes it comes to open standards and open source," Truskowski said.
Because Firefox is based on industry standards--as opposed to proprietary technology--IBM has some "comfort" that it will interoperate well with third-party products, Truskowski said. By contrast, Microsoft's Internet Explorer uses some proprietary technology, such as ActiveX for running programs within a browser.
"What I will avoid is anything that is proprietary in nature," Truskowski said.
The company is training its help-desk staff on Firefox and certifying that internal applications will work with the browser, he said.
Truskowski expects that Firefox will ultimately end up costing IBM less than IE because the company can use open-source additions to Firefox. "I hope in making a small investment up front, I can leverage that innovation going forward," he said.
Stacy Quandt, an analyst at the Robert Frances Group, said that IBM's endorsement of Firefox internally aligns with the company's strategy of backing open-source products based on standards. It may also give other companies reason to "pay attention to" Firefox and see it as an alternative to Internet Explorer.