Firefox Support Cycle Draws Criticism From System Administrators

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On June 17th of 2008, three years and less than two weeks ago, Mozilla Corporation released the 3.0 version of the Firefox web browser; a promising and steadily growing web browser than many people, myself included, thought would finally take a stab at the dominance held by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.  I remember the day well because I, a die-hard Firefox 2 user, sat at my desk constantly refreshing the download page in anticipation of the Firefox 3 release.  Through a thread on Digg (the fact that Digg was still popular at the time probably gives you a better feel for how long ago this was) I found a link to a copy of the setup executable for the then legendary web browser.  Admittedly, I was probably a bit crazy to have been obsessively wasting my time trying to get my hands on the 3.0 release, but I know for a fact that I wasn’t alone.  People from around the world were just as eager as I was to get their hands on the latest offerings as well.

What’s my point?  Just over three years ago, the release of a new Firefox version was a big deal; the last major release (2.0) having been released about a year and a half earlier in October of 2006.  But earlier this year, Mozilla introduced a new release cycle that put the release of Firefox 7 on the calendar by the end of 2011. While many have viewed this move as invaluable in competing with the constant releases of Google’s Chrome web browser, the rapid paced release cycle of the software has begun to cause concerns with network and system administrators.

You see, on March 23rd of this year Mozilla released Firefox 4.  Being as how it had been about three years since the release of Firefox 3, the timing of the Firefox 4 release wasn’t too sudden.  In fact, I would even go as far as arguing that it was overdue.  But just a week ago on June 21st – a mere two months and twenty-nine days later – Mozilla released Firefox 5.  While many didn’t see this as a big deal, Mozilla’s decision to immediately discontinue support for Firefox 4 has managed to put a handful of people at edge.

Less than three months before the release of Firefox 5, Mozilla was touting Firefox 4 as the latest and greatest.  But when Firefox 5 hit mirrors across the world, Firefox 4 immediately became outdated.  And we’re not just talking about a lack of new features here.  Mozilla literally discontinued stability and security patches for the infant web browser.  For you and me, this simply means that we have to update our Firefox installations in order to receive support.  But for those in the corporate environment, this is simply unacceptable.

This said, most IT departments in medium and large businesses have to review software, even trusted and well-known projects such as Firefox, before they opt to deploy them on workstations.  And of course, deploying on workstations can become quite a task depending on the size of the organization.  With this in mind, Firefox’s new release and support cycle can easily become a living nightmare for tech departments around the globe.  Worse yet, if companies (or individuals, for that matter) don’t deploy and install updates they’ll become vulnerable to stability issues and security woes that shouldn’t be unaddressed.

To rub salt on the wounds of enterprise users and administrators, a recent PC Magazine article has quoted Asa Dotzler (a Mozilla executive) as saying that “enterprise has never been (and I’ll argue, shouldn’t be) a focus” for the Mozilla Firefox project.

Now, I understand that Mozilla is working to develop and innovate the Firefox web browser in order to make it a better option for folks around the world.  However, Mozilla shouldn’t be focusing on making their web browser the latest and greatest at the expense of stability and security.

To an extent, I can understand where Dotzler is coming from.  Consumer end-users really are the largest group out there, and the project should indeed be focused on such users.  At the same time, though, I don’t think Mozilla should be turning the could shoulder to anyone.  Really, how hard would it be to make certain Firefox releases “LTS” or “Long Term Support” versions that system administrators could install knowing exactly how long they would be supported down the road?  I mean, Ubuntu seems to do it pretty well with their release structure that suits both consumers and businesses.  So why can’t Mozilla?

As sad as it may be, I think that it’s a simply matter of lack of care.  A real shame, if you ask me.





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