Why Firefox’s new numbering is a problem

Mozilla recently released Firefox 5, (quietly) announcing that this represented the end of life (EOL) for Firefox 4. The problem is that Firefox 4 was released less than a two months ago.

This has led to an ongoing discussion about the effects that the new release schedule is having on corporate users – first from Daniel Glazman then from Mike Kaply. The storm of comments that has arisen resulted in both of them writing several follow-up posts, so if you’re interested in this topic do continue further into their blogs and comments (especially Mike’s site, as that seems to have been the target of more comments).

One of the most common responses I’ve seen is that Firefox 5 only adds a few relatively minor features, so it’s just like a 4.1 update really. But it’s the fact that it only contains minor changes which is a big part of the problem.

With a 4.1, 4.2 numbering system it’s usually a fair bet that the changes between versions are small. Jump to 5.0 and you would expect some more major changes, possibly affecting the UI in a way that will need you to retrain your staff. But when every version bump might only contain small changes, or might have massive changes it’s very difficult to plan ahead. And when there’s no distinction between a security release and one that adds significant UI changes, corporations have to treat every release as a major one.

If Mozilla really want to carry on with six-weekly releases then that’s up to them – but at least provide occasional islands of stability that will see security updates for (say) 18 months. Not everyone wants to live in the constant churn of the upgrade cycle – and that includes some ordinary users as well as corporations. For these people an annual “blessed” release would be a blessed relief!