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Firefox 3.5.7 fix could 'goose' browser upgrades

Mozilla expects that the latest Firefox tweak will lead more people to upgrade. Also: that first Firefox 3.6 release candidate could arrive Friday.

Mozilla released Firefox 3.5.7 and 3.0.17 on Tuesday to fix a common crash problem and the lack of a prominent suggestion to upgrade.

Firefox is supposed to prominently tell people when a major upgrade is available, but Mozilla was puzzled by recent data suggesting that fewer-than-expected people actually installed the new version, according to a bug report.

"What's happening is that users who do not leave their browser open for 12 hours...will never see the major update dialog, only a little notification slider," Mike Beltzner, Mozilla's director of Firefox, said in a December comment.

He wasn't happy that the earlier process didn't work as he'd expected, but saw a silver lining to the change: "We need to fix this immediately on all branches. Added bonus: we're about to goose our Firefox 3.5 numbers!"

The programmers also fixed a high-priority problem that was causing Firefox to crash. Both changes also were made in the 3.0.17 update, Mozilla said.

Mozilla is trying to move to a faster Firefox release cycle, but it's not easy. Mozilla released a fifth Firefox 3.6 beta in December, but missed its deadline to release the final version of Firefox 3.6 in 2009.

After 3.6, Mozilla had been planning to move its next attentions to a range of significant changes for Firefox 3.7, but now is considering a quick fix to Firefox 3.6 called Lorentz that would more quickly build in a significant feature that separates the running of plug-ins, notably Adobe Systems' near-ubiquitous Flash, into a separate computing process. Mozilla expects the change to make the browser less crash-prone, since crashing Flash applications at present bring down the whole browser.

Mike Shaver, Mozilla's vice president of engineering, wouldn't commit to the Lorentz plan in an interview Monday, but expressed some enthusiasm: "I'm in favor of getting Flash-crash immunity to users ASAP," he said.

Firefox 3.5.7 can be downloaded for Windows and Mac from CNET Download.com.

Update at 7:51 a.m. PST: The first Firefox 3.6 release candidate--the version that means the final version may be ready or nearly ready--could arrive this week.

"Just wanted to follow up to let everyone know that after months of development, we've started...Firefox 3.6 Release Candidate builds. We're pretty excited," Beltzner said Tuesday in a mailing list posting.

In meeting notes also published Tuesday, Mozilla said it is "hoping to ship [the release candidate] to our beta audience on Friday of this week." Mozilla has rounded up 800,000 testers so far for the Firefox 3.6 beta.