Firefox Portable: Circumvent IE6 in corporations

Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 is the extremely antiquated web browser that up till today still manages to ascertain a significant chunk of browser usage share. Even though this browser is incompatible with a plethora of modern-day web applications and is holding the Internet back as a whole, a lot of big corporations still use it as their primary web browser.

IE6 is truly entrenched in corporate life and will most likely remain to uphold this position for quite some time to come. At least for now, many companies still use Windows XP with IE6 on most of their workstations, because they are convinced it is a proven technology. Additionally, it has been around for so long that every experienced IT-professional is comfortable with the management tools that come along with it.

Additionally, many in-house, custom-made software and web applications for corporations was built explicitly for IE6 and haven’t been brought up to date to be more web standards compliant and all-round more contemporary.

Thus, IE6’s usage continues to make up a significant chunk of the overall share. In most cases, the employees who still use IE6 in such companies are forced to do so because computers in such environments are extremely locked down. It is often the case that nothing additional can be installed to these systems. IT guys usually have their reasons [as stated above] to keep maintaining ancient software like IE6, but in this case it’s time for everyone to move on. Perhaps they will make the jump to Windows 7 when it reaches the SP1 milestone somewhere next year. Let’s hope so.

Install Firefox 3.5 without ‘installing’ it

Yes, you read that right and it’s actually very simple to accomplish. To achieve this, I grabbed the portable version of Firefox at portableapps.com/apps/internet/firefox_portable. Portable Apps is a suite of software retrofitted to run directly from a  USB thumbdrive. They don’t require installation at all: simply run the executable to extracts its contents to a folder of your choosing.

Naturally, portable apps don’t necessarily have to run from a USB key. They can just as well be run from an arbitrary directory on your Windows desktop. And I decided to go for that route, since many corporations are now also disabling the use of outside thumbdrives because they carry in computer viruses and worms.

While Portable Apps can be downloaded as a suite consisting of numerous applications, you can also pick and choose. And thank the heavens, Firefox is in the suite and is being kept current on par with Mozilla’s release schedule.

Note: Be sure to unpack the portable app to a location on the computer’s hard drive, avoid placing it on corporate network location because it will slow Firefox down. Moreover, extracting it locally has the benefit of IT-personnel not being able to peek inside its contents. You can easily permanently delete Portable Firefox’ folder without leaving traces on the corporate network – this way – too.

A quick how to

  1. Grab the latest portable release of Firefox at http://portableapps.com/apps/internet/firefox_portable.
  2. Run the .paf-file you just downloaded and specify the path for decompression.
  3. Navigate into the folder you just specified and run the Firefox executable.

In a corporate environment it may interesting to delve into Firefox’ preference panes to make sure Firefox doesn’t keep track of your browsing history. You can easily set it to ‘Never’, so it will operate in ‘Private Browsing Mode’ permanently, evidently wiping your tracks as you go and as you quit your browsing session. Don’t forget to check this option if you want to prevent your boss from finding out you have been wasting precious office-time on Facebook or YouTube.

Note: Many corporations intercept your traffic on its way out. If this is the case in your company, private browsing will not obscure your traffic data.

Getting Firefox to work behind a corporate firewall

Corporations usually have airtight IT-infrastructure in place, enforced by exceptionally stringent firewall policies. Internet Explorer 6 will usually be pre-configured to play nicely with the aforementioned setup, but Firefox most likely won’t be. It is oftentimes easy to do, however, so don’t despair (just yet).

Frequently, corporate workstations are behind a proxy-server, which is set up in one of the settings screens in IE6. A proxy-server is a server within the company’s IT infrastructure that intercepts every workstation’s internet traffic on the way out (and in) and consequentially relays all traffic. Companies primarily do this so they can monitor and control their employees’ traffic, possibly even blocking certain sites or services, or prioritizing traffic in favor of internal sites and servers.

All you need to do, in most cases, is enter this proxy server’s address into Firefox’ connection settings and you’re off. In a nutshell:

  1. Fire up good old IE6
  2. Go to ‘Tools’ > ‘Internet Options’ > Tab: ‘Connections’
  3. In the section ‘Local Area Network (LAN) Settings’ click the button ‘LAN Settings’
  4. In the section ‘Proxy Server’, make note of or copy to the clipboard the information listed there.
    The address-field is usually filled out with something similar to ‘proxy.companyname.com’ and the port number is usually 80.
  5. Next, open Firefox
  6. Go to ‘Tools’ > ‘Options’ > Icon: ‘Advanced’ > Tab: ‘Network’
  7. In the section ‘Connections’ click the button ‘Settings’
  8. Select the radio button ‘Manual configuration’
  9. Fill out the fields ‘HTTP Proxy’ and ‘Port’
  10. Most of the time you need to check the box ‘Use this proxy for all protocols’ to use the same proxy for all web protocols outside of regular protocols like SSL-enabled (secure) sites.

To find out whether you should tick the box in step 10 you can click the ‘Advanced’-button in the IE6’s ‘LAN Settings’ window. This isn’t usually necessary, but in case you need those settings, they’re right there.

Note: You can make an extra attempt eavesdrop-proof your connections to the outside world by using SSL. Make sure you use secure connections (SSL) whenever you can. Sites that contain your sensitive/personal information usually offer this ability. Make sure you make use of it by prefixing your URLs with https:// instead of the usual http://. Some sites will automatically switch you over to https if you don’t explicitly ask them to. Others only go secure for the log-on process, after which everything else is transmitted in the clear. Beware.

For example:

These few steps should do the trick. The full Internet will once more be at your disposal :-).

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s