Mozilla plans to drop Mac OS X 10.4 support

Dropping support for Tiger means Firefox could be better optimized for newer Mac OS X versions, but Mozilla is meeting some resistance.

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Stephen Shankland
3 min read

Mozilla wants its Firefox browser to drop support for Mac OS X 10.4--the operating system also known as Tiger that was released in 2005--but the plan is running into some resistance.

If support is indeed removed, then Firefox 3.6--the current version of the browser--would be the last one to support Mac OS X 10.4, although Mozilla would still issue updates for several months after the succeeding version of Firefox is released.

"We would like to take advantage of more modern technologies on Mac OS X, and 10.4 support has been a hindrance," Josh Aas, one of Mozilla's Mac experts, said in a mailing list post. "We are planning to make the decision to remove 10.4 support final and remove the code from the tree. If you have any strong objections please let us know now."

There are objections, of course.

"I still have two PowerPC machine that use OS X 10.4.11...As it stands now it impractical for me update either machine due to lack of funds...So if support for 4.11 is removed then that means I will have to go to something else such a iCab, Opera, or OmniWeb rather than Firefox and you don't need to lose users," Phillip Jones said in a response, suggesting a two-track approach. "You can create one with all the fancy new stuff. Then one for us poor people that [can't] drop ($3,000) at the drop of the hat and have to hang onto older equipment out of necessity."

But his objection and some from others have not moved Mozilla members to change course thus far.

"Does this suggestion come with a donation for doubling of full-time development resources, QA [quality assurance] and testing, build and release infrastructure, and user support for this second track that would cover a shrinking minority of Firefox on Mac users?" Mozilla's Asa Dotzler asked in a post. "There are currently approximately 1.5 million people using Firefox on 10.4 and we're fully aware of that...In one year, I expect 10.4 to account for less than 5 percent of Mac OS X users and at that point it will have less prominence than Windows 98."

Supporting Mac OS X 10.4 also comes with a penalty for those who are using 10.5 and 10.6, added Mozilla programmer Boris Zbarsky. "We can significantly improve the user experience on 10.5 and especially 10.6 if we drop support for 10.4 (we're talking something like 30 percent performance improvement on 10.6, for example if I recall the numbers correctly, between the newer compiler and doing 64-bit builds," he noted.

Mike Shaver, Mozilla's vice president of engineering, added that the decision wouldn't immediately cut off those with Tiger.

"10.4 users would still have a supported release until Firefox 3.6 was end-of-lifed, which I would expect to be at least 6 months after the trunk release of which Boris speaks," Shaver said. "They wouldn't be able to upgrade to the latest and greatest, but they would still get stability and security updates."

The sometimes-emotional debate recapitulated elements of a 2009 discussion about dropping Mac OS X 10.4 support.