Mozilla, the group behind the Firefox Web browser, has finally gotten a clue that business users don't like constant updates. On the Mozilla wiki page, Mozilla admits to what many of us have known for a long time: Firefox's recent rapid-fire release schedule was way too fast for corporate and institutional users. On the page, Mozilla states:
The shift to a new release process has been difficult for organizations that deploy Firefox to their users in a managed environment. We've heard 2 primary concerns:
1. The release schedule doesn't allow sufficient time for the organizations and their vendors to certify new releases of the products.
2. The associated end-of-life policy exposes them to considerable security risk if they remain on a non-current version past Firefox 3.6.
These groups-which include small & medium business, enterprise, academic, and government-want to continue to offer Mozilla products to their users, but they need a version of Firefox that gives them a longer support tail than what we currently offer.
In addition to not meeting these business needs, Mozilla hasn't been able to maintain Firefox's quality. While Firefox 9.01 is an excellent browser, the very first version of the 9.x release constantly crashed and had to be immediately replaced. This isn't what anyone wants from a Web browser.
So, Mozilla proposes that the:
Extended Support Release (ESR) based on an official release of Desktop Firefox. Releases will be initially maintained for nine release cycles (currently 54 weeks, which is close to the target of 52 weeks the proposal is attempting to hit), with point releases coinciding with regular Firefox releases.
To permit organizations sufficient time for testing and certification, the ESR will have a two cycle (12 week) overlap between the time of a new release and the end-of-life of the previous release. This will allow organizations who control updates (e.g. have disabled automated updates) to Firefox to qualify and test against Aurora and Beta builds for twelve weeks leading up to the ESR, and an additional 12 weeks to certify and transition to a new ESR. Organizations that rely on Firefox's built-in updater may be limited to a transition period of 6 weeks, dependent upon how the ESR releases are maintained.
Mozilla is talking about this like it's still a proposal, but their plans read like it's already on track and they'll be putting it into effect almost immediately. The first ESR version will be Firefox 10, which is due to be released on January 31st.
The ESR versions of Firefox "will use the same version number as the version of Firefox it is based upon (e.g. if the ESR is based off of Firefox 10, the ESR version will also be 10)." Mozilla will backport critical and high security fixes. These fixes will be issued as "point releases." For example, the first security fix of Firefox ESR would be 10.0.1, the next, 10.0.2, and so on.
Will it work? I was very encouraged by Firefox 9.01's quality and it certainly doesn't hurt that Mozilla's new Google contract will provide Mozilla with plenty of funds to improve Firefox. Still, Chrome now has more users than Firefox and Chrome's quality has been outstanding. Still, this is a step in the right direction. Had Mozilla continued to flood business users with not ready for prime time releases, I know Firefox would have continued its decline.
Now, I think Firefox has a chance to become the number two browser again. Or, who knows, maybe it will be Chrome, Firefox and then Internet Explorer. Hey! It could happen!