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Mozilla coaxing old-era Firefox 3.6 users to upgrade

A large swath of people using an older browser could climb aboard Mozilla's rapid-release train when they're prompted to upgrade starting today.

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In a move expected to bring a large number of Firefox users onto Mozilla's rapid-release process, people using Firefox 3.6 will be encouraged to update to the current version 7.0.1 today.

Mozilla has moved to the rapid-release process to try to make Firefox more competitive by getting improvements into users' hands sooner. Google's Chrome, which has been increasing in browser usage at Firefox's expense, pioneered the six-week rapid-release cycle that Firefox now uses, too.

When Mozilla releases new major versions of Firefox, the older browsers don't immediately notify users they can upgrade. But after a pause, Mozilla flips a switch that means those older browsers will find out about the upgrade and pass the offer along to users.

Release manager Christian Legnitto announced the upgrade in a mailing list message Tuesday:

This is mainly to move regular Firefox users who don't know there is an update up to a newer/better version if they are so inclined.

Based on previous advertised update offers we expect to see a significant percentage of users installing the new version. We are, of course, watching the data closely to see what happens and to make sure there are no unexpected issues.

According to Net Applications, Firefox is the second-ranked browser in terms of people using it on the Web. For September, 11.4 percent of usage was from Firefox 6, 6.2 percent was from Firefox 3.6, and 0.6 percent of usage was from Firefox 7,

Mozilla has run into trouble with the rapid-release process. One problem has been that add-ons aren't always compatible, and another is that some slower-moving organizations want more time to test the new versions.

For the former problem, Mozilla is moving to a less conservative approach of marking add-ons as compatible by default. For the latter, it's proposed an Enterprise Support Release of Firefox that has a lifespan of 42 weeks, with new ESR versions arriving every 30 weeks.

On Monday, Mozilla Chair Mitchell Baker said in a blog post that other rapid-release course corrections are on the way, including a more silent upgrade process to try get out of users's hair.

In the past we have been very careful to make sure people know something is changing with their Web browser before it changes. We did this to make sure people are aware and in control of what's happening to their environment. Our position was to err on the side of user notification. Today people are telling us--loudly--that the notifications are irritating and that a silent update process is important. This work is underway. The first set of improvements should appear in the next Firefox release, with more improvements appearing in the next few months.

Firefox 3.6 arrived in early 2010.