Firefox 3.6 upgrade or not?

Firefox 3.6 upgrade or not?

Summary: My most used extensions won't work with Firefox 3.6. No upgrade for me.

TOPICS: Browser

Firefox 3.6 has just been released (see the Mozilla website for more info). Since I use that browser on all of my systems, I thought I'd check into what I'd gain and what I'd lose if I upgraded.  Sure enough, nearly all of my extensions, extensions that allow me to edit posts for Virtually Speaking among other tasks, won't work with this new version.  I've found the same thing was true the last two or three times updates were issued by these folks.

I really don't care how much faster this new release is if I can't do the things that I need to accomplish.  So, I'll wait until the extensions are updated.

Before you download and install this update, it would be wise to check out what will work and what won't. If your most-used extensions are not yet available (and they may never be available unless the developers change them) you may not be happy after you install the new release.

Mozilla, you have a large enough installed base and a rather large portfolio of extensions and themes for your Web browser that you'd better start thinking about version-to-version compatibility.  Google, Microsoft and others want to take your installed base away from you. Why are you helping them?

Topic: Browser


Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. In his spare time, he's also the managing partner of Lux Sonus LLC, an investment firm.

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  • Extension developers are at fault

    Mozilla has a roadmap indicating when they plan to do future releases, they have nightly builds available, and they do public betas/release candidates - it is the extension developers that are slacking here. It's not like some companies (Apple with Snow Leopard) where they pretty much go surprise, we're releasing Firefox 3.6 tomorrow!

    Upgrades unfortunately can break things. This is also why IE 6 is still around - IE 7 and 8 even with compatibility modes break internal web apps, and some places don't have/aren't willing to devote the resources. Heck some of those apps were really written for IE 5.5, but weren't broken by IE 6.

    One reason the extension developers are not on top of this is because they have real full-time work, and their extension is a side thing - a hobby they do in their spare time. I don't think you can do anything in this type of situation.
    • I'm showing my age, but VMS is my metric

      VMS, a much more complex piece of software than Firefox, maintained backward compatibility for four or five generations of software. Why can't the folks at Mozilla do the same?

      I was able to use applications written for VMS V1 all the way through to VMS V5.

      This is just bad planning and execution on the part of the developers of Firefox. Don't blame it on the poor folks who chose to invest their time and effort to build useful addons.

      Dan K
      • Get real

        Firefox is in the business of making changes under the hood of their browser to make it safer, more stable and yield better performance for users. That includes improving the way addons work with the browser. It's their prerogative to improve their browser and if they can make addons more stable to use, then all power to them.

        This version of Firefox was actually released [b]much[/b] later than they originally planned. Yet the developers responsible for your addons apparently sat on their hands. What did they think all those betas and RCs were for?

        If you want to know why they made the changes read this instead of complaining.
      • Firefox isn't an OS.

        Well, Firefox isn't an operating system, and heaven help us if it starts blowing up to the size of a full OS.

        Backwards compatibility has its tradeoffs:

        -You can decide to let things stay still, in which case you limit how well you can keep up with new technology.

        -You can decide to provide backwards compatibility while keeping up with technology, in which case you keep bloating the size of your system as you have to keep a lot of the old "cruft" around, bloating the size of the browser and perhaps even slowing it down.

        -You can decide to throw away old stuff, which keeps things small but breaks things as you move ahead.

        There are tradeoffs no matter what way you look at it. In the case of a browser, people expect it to stay small, fast, and to keep up with current tech trends - which means that, to prevent code bloat, they have to sacrifice a bit of backwards compatibility.

        It's a tradeoff. Look at what Microsoft has done - lots of backwards compatibility, but the OS gobbles up large amounts of disk space. A **LOT** of that space is taken up by legacy code and legacy drivers. Backwards compatibility has its price.
        • And isn't Legacy code . . .

          one of MS's biggest problems right now?

          Let Mozilla change the code, backwards compatibility isn't the way to keep the browser secure . . .
          • Hence, addons break.

            . . . and that's exactly why addons break. Backwards compatibility isn't maintained, so they have to change their addons.
      • VMS vs. Firefox

        If I remember correctly, VMS was a proprietary product and you had to pay a nice amount to be able to use it (license & maintenance fee).

        Firefox is an open product, you don't pay for it and anybody can write extensions that you can use for free. The Firefox "central engineering group" has little or no control one those extension, and cannot be compared to the DEC central engineering group that controlled VMS.

        Even if the good old time of VMS had its good aspects, enjoy the new right that you have to use a good quality software that you don't need to pay... or move to another browser!
      • and is VMS... Safe?

        the main reason why extensions don't work on Firefox 3.6 is that Mozilla developers decided to restrict what an extension could do with Gecko.

        In short, they improve the browser's stability by preventing unstable extensions from bringing it down. They also reduce the risk of memory leaks and hangs that way.

        Microsoft's answer to 'IE6 backward compatibility' is a virtual PC image with Windows XP and IE 6; their answer to IE 7 backward compatibility (which isn't even complete: I know, I tried) is to bundle two rendering engines in IE 8 (and 3 in IE 9, etc.) and duplicate the whole Registry for the IE process in protected mode.

        Mozilla decided to prevent bad code from running, instead of making the sandbox larger. You are not forced into an upgrade, most if not all of your extensions will soon be upgraded...

        I'm sorry, but while I can get your point (on every Firefox update, ensure that your extensions are planned to work - that was already the case with 1.5), I really wonder why you're bitching about a major software maker deciding to distribute leaner and meaner instead of patches put on top of hacks and shims.

        On another hand, the MSDOS environment on WNT (a direct descendant to VMS) has, indeed, a kernel security vulnerability built in dating back 17 years.

        That's backward compatibility, all right.
        Mitch 74
        • Windows NT a direct descendant of VMS?

          The primary architect of Windows NT was David Cutler, who
          was also in charge of VMS development at DEC. The two
          operating systems share a number of basic architecture
          features, but that is all the similarity there is between the two

          Windows NT did not share a single line of code with VMS (if it
          did, DEC would have sued MS). I have too much respect for
          Cutler to think he would steal from DEC. If you'd ever used
          VMS, you'd know it's very, very different to VMS.

          To claim that bugs in Windows have their roots in VMS is an
          incredible leap of logic. Further, many of the good architectural
          features of VMS that made it into Windows (such as hardware
          abstraction and processor independence) have been largely
          removed by MS. That was so that legacy code would run and to
          boost the performance of ActiveX and games that were written
          to have direct access to hardware (and hence were a constant
          source of security threats).
          Fred Fredrickson
          • Architecturally, yes - just like UNIX and Linux

            I didn't say that bugs in VMS resulted into bugs in WNT; I said that 17 yo bugs in the MSDOS subsystem still existed now.

            I cited VMS because the article talked about it as the summum of backward compatibility; as WNT (the kernel) is based on the same design, and the vulnerability is at the kernel level, and said vulnerability existed for backward compatibility reasons, it just goes on to say that security should never ever be sacrificed over backward compatibility.

            I mean, if VMS 6.0 came out with a bug fix, dating back to VMS 1.0 and present up till 5.0, that prevents several of those apps to work, would you denounce VMS 6.0? Considering that VMS runs on highly sensitive machines, would you?

            So, not updating to Firefox 3.6 because several extensions don't work with it because 3.6 solved security concerns in 3.5 is Not Good (tm).
            Mitch 74
      • You are showng your

        a$$, not your age. Read the posts, dummy. Oh, wait a minute. You probably can't comprehend a straightforward explanation.

        What kind of hole did you come out of?

        Do you know [b]anything[/b] about developing/writing software?
      • That's just plain nuts

        You can't seriously expect Mozilla to worry about compatibility with tens of thousands of add-on programs! They'd still be wrestling with version 2.0 if they had to worry about backward compatibility.
        I'm much happier with having the browser being fast and secure, with well-implemented features. I lose a couple of add-ons with every upgrade, and eventually the developers patch them up -- if they don't, someone else will come up with a replacement. If the add-on is critical to you, it's no big deal - don't upgrade. Duh! Just STOP WHINING about how your FREE add-ons and your FREE browser aren't quite as spiffy as you'd like. Is it such a blow to your fragile ego that the guy in the next cubicle has the latest and greatest, and you don't?
  • I only use Noscript and Adblock

    No need for other plugins.

    And Firefox runs in a Linux 'sandbox': AppArmor

    on Ubuntu 9.10.
    D T Schmitz
    • That's nice but...

      What happens if a person has chosen to use Xinha so that html code can be easily edited? Every update to firefox seems to break addons like Xinha.

      There are other examples of really useful things that break each and every release.

      Why can't the developers evolve APIs rather than radically changing them all the time? We have examples of even more complex software evolving rather than disrupting end user environments.

      The Firefox developers could have certainly done the same if they had chosen that course.

      Dan K
      • Even "evolving" can break things.

        "Why can't the developers evolve APIs rather than radically changing them all the time?"

        Any change, no matter how small, has the potential to cause major bugs and major breaks.

        Writing software isn't like evolution as we normally think about it. It's actually a terrible metaphor for developing software. Even the smallest change to a piece of code can affect everything else.

        "The Firefox developers could have certainly done the same if they had chosen that course."

        They could, but if they did, they'd be moving at a glacial pace that doesn't keep up with the ever moving tech trends.
        • It's actually easier to write a new app than enhance an app

          D T Schmitz
          • Depends.

            Depends on the design. Some apps are designed to be easy to extend, and some aren't. Some apps are so complex that extending is far easier than recreating.

            Browsers tend to be in the "easier to extend than to write a new app" category. There are lots of protocols and languages to worry about with a browser - and to recreate all of those takes a lot of time and effort.
      • Don't disagree

        That's a quality of code issue, which is why I only use those plugins mentioned AND sandbox the app.

        Sandboxing any internet-facing apps should be the standard going forward as a matter of 'National Security'.
        D T Schmitz
      • Add-ons and security

        From what I have understood, the add-ons create a much larger attack surface, so Mozilla keeps changing the way they interface with the browser to make them safer to use.

        I'm really surprised you can't answer this question for yourself and this article is just trying to get more reads.
  • RE: Firefox 3.6 upgrade or not?

    I like it because I find out what extensions I really care about, and which are just barnacles. I leave behind a couple on each upgrade.