Matt Asay has an interesting post regarding the adoption of Firefox in the enterprise. According to a recent Forrester study, Firefox has garnered an 18% market share in that space in the US with an even larger share in Europe.

Matt postulates that one of the drivers for adoption of Firefox is better performance.

While he cites an evaluation of improved memory consumption as evidence of better performance, I'm willing to assert that it goes beyond simply memory consumption and into the realm of rendering speed and time to retrieve content. For example, modern browsers render content as it is retrieved, known as progressive rendering, except in the case of Internet Explorer and table objects. IE will wait for the entire table object to be retrieved before rendering it to the page, which can cause IE to appear to be “slow” when opening a web page.

Unfortunately - at least it's unfortunate to the many nearly rabid supporters of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) as the primary mechanism for specifying the layout of a page - a large number of sites today still use table objects to position content. These means that because of the limitations imposed by IE on rendering and table objects that a proponderous of sites available are going to appear to load more slowly in IE than they will when viewed in Firefox.

There's something more, though, hidden beneath the covers that, when paired with the Web 2.0 paradigm, may be driving adoption of Firefox as well. This "something" is the limitations imposed on the number of connections that can opened to any given host. Internet Explorer restricts browsers from opening more than 2 connections per host, while Firefox is more relaxed - allowing up to 8 connections per host. Furthermore, while increasing this limitation in both browsers is possible it is more difficult to do so for IE than it is for Firefox. The former requires a registry entry change while the latter requires simply a modification of a text-based configuration file.

The Web 2.0 Connection

So what does this have to do with Web 2.0? After all, enterprise use of Firefox would more likely be driven by some need inside the enterprise - not outside. And it certainly isn't Facebook or MySpace or LinkedIn that's driving adoption by enterprise users.

Some of the earliest adopters of Web 2.0 technology in terms of connectivity and interactivity were packaged application vendors such as those offering CRM (Customer Relationship Management), ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), and BI (Business Intelligence) suites. These companies saw the benefits of web-based interfaces long before it became "standard" practice, and with the advent of technologies like AJAX and ASP.NET they quickly moved to utilize such programmatic techniques in order to maintain their competitive edge and provide users with a more interactive application, i.e. more desktop like.

But with those changes came challenges, mostly in the form of performance due to an increase in the number of requests being generated by said applications. And as Web 2.0 and its enabling technologies continued to gain adoption, so too have packaged application vendors continued to expand upon them to improve their applications - often at the price of generating more connections as well as requests.

With the limitations imposed on the browser by IE, this increase in requests by the browser can cause a backlog that results in increased delay as all requests are attempting to use just 2 connections while Firefox users see less of an imposed delay because by default it allows up to 8 connections per host.

Now I'm not suggesting that users are flocking to Firefox because they understand the technical limitations and inner workings of applications and Web 2.0 technologies. But if they've compared the performance of one of these applications running in Firefox versus running in IE, well, it's likely they've figured out that Firefox probably works a bit faster than IE. And when it comes to web-based applications everyone wants two things: for the application to work, and for the application to be fast.

As Matt suggests, word of mouth does the rest. If one employee mentions that Application A runs faster in Firefox, it's likely others will hear about it and subsequently download - and use - FIrefox. And because they don't really understand - or care - why Firefox is faster, they'll likely try it at home and tell their friends about their discovery.

All because a little Web 2.0 snuck into the enterprise before it even had a name.  

For information on how F5 can solve this problem, check out this whitepaper or read more about BIG-IP WebAccelerator's MultiConnect feature.

Imbibing: Water