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Mozilla chair defends rapid-release Firefox

Businesses and add-on developers have had trouble keeping up with Firefox's new six-week update cycle. But its advantages outweigh the pain, Mitchell Baker says.

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The Firefox rapid-release program has caused some corporate indigestion, but Mozilla Chair Mitchell Baker believes it's worth it.

She acknowledged that companies can have problems with the approach, in which new browser versions arrive every six weeks, but those problems are secondary compared to the alternative of holding up new features for a year, Baker said in a blog post today:

A browser is the delivery vehicle for the Internet. And the Internet moves very, very quickly. Philosophically, I do not believe a product that moves at the speed of traditional desktop software can be effective at enabling an Internet where things happen in real time. If we want the browser to be the interface for the Internet, we need to make it more like the Internet. That means delivering capabilities when they are ready. That means a rapid release process. If we don't do something like this the browser becomes a limiting factor in what the Internet can do.

She pointed to two areas where the rapid-release process causes problems: add-ons that need to maintain compatibility, and businesses that sometimes don't have time to test new software and update their own applications for the new browser.

"We need to be creative and try to find practical ways of alleviating these difficulties if we can," Baker said.

Mozilla already has begun that process with a more active enterprise Firefox support effort to accommodate business users' needs.

"I know that's not a perfect answer, and it's not a promise that we can meet everyone's needs perfectly," Baker said. "Despite this, I believe the rapid release process is the right direction."

A lot of businesses will doubtless disagree, but if Mozilla can iron out incompatibilities from one version of Firefox to the next--something the new Jetpack add-on system helps with--then that will go a long way to resolving concerns. And if Mozilla can always point to Google Chrome, which led the way with a six-week update cycle and which has climbed to something like half the usage share of Firefox. Opera is moving faster, too.

Microsoft promises long-term support for its browsers--IE9 will be supported until 2020, for example--but many with public-facing Web sites can't just ignore the large numbers of people who use newer browsers. Standards ease the problem, and browser makers shouldering responsibility for better compatibility checking will help more, but fundamentally, constant change is fact of life on the Web.