Firefox Releases Are Now Less of a Big Deal

By  |  Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 1:30 pm

As planned, Mozilla has launched Firefox 5, which considering the browser’s six-year history would seem to be big news.

Except, it’s not. Firefox 5 is actually the first update in a new, faster development cycle for Mozilla. From now on, new versions of Firefox will arrive every six weeks, meaning that 2011 will bring more Firefox updates than the entire six years prior.

In some ways, I like this approach, which is roughly the same way Google handles updates to Chrome. If a feature isn’t ready, Mozilla can simply hold it until the next version, which means less waiting for the features that are ready.

But the rapid release cycle introduces its own issues. It can result in some pretty dull updates, as evidenced by Firefox 5, in which CSS animation support and performance enhancements are among the biggest new features.

More importantly, I’m worried that these rapid updates will discourage dramatic user interface changes, like the difference between Firefox 3 and 4, or Internet Explorer 8 and 9. I don’t know for sure that this will happen, but I do know that after more than two years of rapid releases, Google Chrome pretty much looks the same as it always has.

So while rapid releases may allow Firefox to get better at a faster clip, it could make bold new changes harder to implement. Let’s hope the new development cycle doesn’t confine Mozilla to mere incremental improvements.



7 Comments For This Post

  1. Legcontrmundum Says:

    I don't think this release cycle will help Firefox at all unless they can provide the ease of Chrome's updating. With Chrome, if you are just a normal user, there is no need, whatsoever, to update chrome, because you will always have the latest version. There is no user interaction. If users need to update to a new firefox every 6 weeks then they will have issues.

  2. MJPollard Says:

    If these rapid releases prevent major changes in the UI, then GOOD. The biggest reason (not the only one, but the biggest one) why I don’t use Chrome is because of the terrible “minimalist” UI. The reason why I haven’t upgraded to Firefox 4 (now 5) is because it, like IE9, now slavishly imitates the terrible Chrome UI (against the objections of a sizable number of their users). Fortunately, FF can be returned to a sane UI through the use of options and add-ons, but there’s also the matter of incompatible add-ons (several of my indispensable ones don’t work in FF4 and haven’t been updated yet), a problem that’s going to be made even worse when FF’s major version number keeps getting bumped.

    FF is still my browser of choice, but now it’s only because the alternatives are worse (in my opinion).

  3. nick dafo Says:

    sometimes there is no need to change the UI too dramatically

  4. StilgarISCA Says:

    Ugh. I just convinced my wife to upgrade to v4 on Monday and now 5 is out? They shouldn't be shipping updates and dropping support for old versions until they get auto updating done. This is going to make security worse not better. I'm just going to try and get my wife to join me on Chrome.

  5. StilgarISCA Says:

    I just realized this article doesn't say so, but Mozilla has said they're no longer supporting FF4. Saw it on ComputerWorld's site.

  6. Mike Cerm Says:

    Seems a little extreme to me. Upgrading from 4 to 5 takes about 30 seconds. Unlike 4, there are no UI changes, it's not like she'd notice the change.

  7. Rob Says:

    Ratcheting the version numbers like this makes them meaningless. There’s no distinction between major and minor updates. Using major and minor version numbers is orthogonal to frequent releases. With the new Jetpack addons API, at least the frequent updates won’t cause grief (when all of my favorite extensions adopt it).