When a former Mozilla employee knocked the company's accelerated release schedule as having "killed Firefox's reputation," he got more than he bargained for.
Comments by Jono Xia in a July 5 post to his personal blog quickly spread across the Web, with headlines ranging from "Firefox Developer: 'Everyone Hates Firefox Updates'" to "Firefox: Can this Web browser be saved?" Most of those blogs and news stories focused on the fact that Xia, as an insider, was confirming what many frustrated Firefox users have said for over a year: Frequent updates are a pain.
But things got lost in translation, Xia said.
"My point is that software developers and users come from very different perspectives, and that software developers always see an update as a good thing," said Xia last week in an email reply to Computerworld questions. "We're biased, because we have an emotional attachment to our own work, towards thinking that the next update is going to be the greatest thing ever. I wish developers throughout the industry would recognize the cost that we inflict upon users because of our obsession with constant change."
But that's not what people heard or read, said Xia, who joined Mozilla in 2008, where he worked at Mozilla Labs until 2010, when he moved to the User Research team. Xia left Mozilla last month.
"That's what I was trying to say. Unfortunately that point seems to have gotten lost in the noise," said Xia. "I guess 'Firefox developer says Firefox suxxx' makes irresistible link bait -- but it's not true."
But Jono, whose surname was incorrectly identified as DiCarlo in most accounts -- he changed it to Xia in 2009 when he married -- had damned frequent updates by software in general, and by Firefox specifically.
"So many companies release updates which radically change the interface for no significant gain," he wrote in the July 5 post. "I've come to the extremely humbling realization that the single best thing most companies could do to improve usability is to stop changing the UI [user interface] so often. There's no UI better than one you already know, and no UI worse than one you thought you knew but now have to relearn."
Xia acknowledged that updates are necessary -- if for no other reason then to patch security vulnerabilities -- but criticized those that change the interface or add new features.
He also condemned Mozilla for its implementation of the new development tempo -- called "rapid release" by most -- that the company first deployed in June 2011 with Firefox 5.
"By doing rapid releases poorly, we just made Firefox look like an inferior version of Chrome," Xia said. "And by pushing a never-ending stream of updates on people who didn't want them, we drove a lot of those people to Chrome, exactly what we were trying to prevent."
When Mozilla introduced its new schedule in the spring of 2011, it denied it was copying Chrome, the Google browser that silently updates itself multiple times each month.
Xia called out add-on incompatibilities and an intrusive upgrade process as the two major problems with frequent Firefox updates, with Mozilla's refusal to allow users to easily opt out of the every-six-week changes as a close third.