In a little-discussed move, Mozilla is adopting automatic updating for the upcoming Firefox 4 browser. "For Firefox 4, minor updates will occur automatically," said Alex Faaborg, a principal designer on Firefox, in a Firefox developer forum discussion. "We'll only be using the major update dialog box for changes like 4 to 4.5 or 5."
The move takes a page from Google Chrome, which uses an automated updater that runs in the background. Chrome's auto-update strategy has meant that 97 percent of Chrome users are running the most up-to-date version of the browser [PDF] within three weeks of an update's release, a number Mozilla may be shooting for.
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Faaborg further noted that Mozilla gets a lot of user complaints that Firefox updates too often (users frequently confuse version updates with security patches). The solution: Installing security patches and other minor tweaks behind the scenes without user input or notification will cut down on those complaints, while also keeping browsers as current as possible.
Unlike Chrome, however, Firefox's auto-update mechanism can be turned off by users who would rather be able to manually control update installation. In this instance, "We will also be able to prompt the user if they haven't restarted in a very long time and there is a particularly bad security vulnerability that need[s]to be patched," said Faaborg. This is a concession to the fact that some users are uneasy about giving software companies free reign to install software on their PCs without explanation or even notification.
For now, the auto-update feature will only be available on Windows machines.