Mozilla defends 'rapid release' of Firefox versions

Some enterprises are finding the rapid pace of browser change disconcerting, Mozilla's chair acknowledges

The release of a version of the Firefox browser every six weeks is found to be disconcerting, and at times potentially unmanageable by enterprises, the chair of Mozilla Foundation, which maintains the browser, said in a blog post on Thursday.

The compatibility of add-ons with new versions is also another issue, said Mitchell Baker, chair of the nonprofit organization.

[ After a user backlash, Mozilla agreed not to ditch Firefox version numbers. | InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard says don't blink: Firefox 6 is out now. | Get your websites up to speed with HTML5 today using the techniques in InfoWorld's HTML5 Deep Dive PDF how-to report. | Learn how to secure your Web browsers in InfoWorld's "Web Browser Security Deep Dive" PDF guide. ]

But quicker releases of new versions ensure that new capabilities are not delayed for nearly a year before they can be delivered to people, Baker said.

Mozilla recently adopted a "rapid release process" that it said would allow a new release of Firefox every six weeks.

"Before Mozilla instituted the rapid release process, we would sometimes have new capabilities ready for nearly a year before we could deliver them to people," Baker said. Web developers would have to wait that year to be able to make their applications better, she added.

A browser is the delivery vehicle for the Internet, and the Internet moves very quickly, Baker said. But if the browser is to be the interface for the Internet, it has to be more like the Internet. That means delivering capabilities when they are ready, through a rapid release process, she said.

There is however work to be done to make the rapid release process smoother and hopefully more useful to more of the user base, Baker said.

Users have however been asking for a middle ground between frequent releases of versions, and the delay in addition of new capabilities by almost a year. Kees Grinwis, commenting on Baker's blog post, for example, suggested a long time support (LTS) version of Firefox.

Mozilla could release an LTS version as a major release, say Firefox 7, and then release the versions between the LTS versions as 7.x versions, said Aashish Arora in his comment. "Make consumer installations silently auto update in the background while disabling auto update for enterprises," Arora added.

Others are dismissive. Users are finding that broken add-ons, and UI (user interface) changes are making Firefox difficult to use, commented Dan. "All of these people are turning their attention to alternatives," he added.

Mozilla acknowledged in June that a key challenge for enterprises is that they need to certify their websites, apps and add-ons each time Firefox is updated. "This can take weeks or months. Security is also paramount, enterprises need access to a version that includes all known security fixes," it said in a blog post.

Mozilla said it was exploring solutions that balance these needs, with active discussion in the community. The foundation however made clear that its focus was on consumers. "The Mozilla Community has focused our efforts on the needs of the individual user, and prioritized the product roadmap and features accordingly. However, as is the case with many technologies, loyal Firefox users and their IT departments have sought to bring Firefox into their places of work," it said.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's email address is john_ribeiro@idg.com.

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