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Update: Ken Kovash studied the Firefox 3.6 downloads and found a wonderful reason for them! See here for more details.

I was asked this evening if the nightly report was correct in showing that we had a 128% increase in Firefox downloads today.  The answer is a resounding yes that figure is correct, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to put a bit more detail on it.

Histograms demonstrating the sharp flood of upgrade patch downloads on release day

Histograms demonstrating the sharp flood of upgrade patch downloads on release day

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 was a release day for both Firefox 3.0.18 and 3.5.8.  Starting around noon Pacific time yesterday, hundreds of millions of Firefox users would eventually see a prompt notifying them that there was an upgrade available to install.

If the user was running the latest security release for their version of Firefox, the upgrade would consist of a small patch file that would quickly bring them up to the new security release.

If the user was not on the latest security release, they would instead download a special file that was the full size of the Firefox application.  The upgrade process would then automatically install the upgrade.

The question at hand is, “why do we see an increase in people visiting the Mozilla website and downloading a new installer?”  In the past, we’ve had concerns about whether people were having trouble with the automatic update system and were being forced to download the application and install it manually.  From the data I reviewed today, I think it is safe to say that is not a common scenario.  Instead, I’m happy to report that what I see is a lot of people who get a reminder that they should upgrade Firefox and they decide that it is about time for them to go ahead and download the latest and greatest Firefox 3.6 instead.

The chart above (generated courtesy of Tableau Software) shows that manual downloads of the 3.0 and 3.5 versions remained relatively flat, but manual downloads of Firefox 3.6 climbed by almost 3x over the previous day’s peak traffic time.
I would also like to point out that an infrastructure that can handle in increase of over 5 million requests per hour in a three hour window isn’t too shabby.

While my Pentaho Data Integration ETL processes do slow down considerably when processing this huge influx of data, they keep up, managing to process these 10 or so million requests per hour in 30 to 40 minutes.  It could actually be much quicker if I moved this processing to a separate server, but the primary reason it is slow is because once it falls outside its normal 5 minute run time, it has to compete with other ETL processes that are scheduled to run later in the hour.

8 Responses to “Firefox Downloads on Release Day”

  1. on 19 Feb 2010 at 2:02 am Nick Thomas

    I agree that resorting to a manual download of the installer doesn’t look that common, maybe one in ten or twenty. But it’s actually pretty hard to browse around mozilla.com and find a link to download a 3.5.8 installer (all-older.html), and we don’t have a d/l page for 3.0 so it’s not surprising that’s flat. Also, IIRC people failing both the patch and full upgrade end up at the 3.5.8 release notes, which have the bug that the ‘Downloading’ section points to 3.6 at all.html. So wouldn’t say the evidence for the ‘reminder’ theory is that strong.

    It would be really cool if we saw an increase in 3.6 full updates around the same time. That’d indicate people were proactively going Help > Check for updates after applying the 3.0.x or 3.5.x security update, and finding the major update to 3.6.

  2. on 19 Feb 2010 at 5:07 am James John Malcolm

    Hmmm, so more security releases for older releases increases the take up of newer releases…nice!

  3. on 19 Feb 2010 at 6:21 am Majken "Lucy" Connor

    How did you conclude that they intended to get 3.6? If someone has a problem w the update and goes to get the manual download, they’ll be offered 3.6. I don’t think enough users would be savvy enough to say “no, I want to go find 3.5.x instead”

  4. on 19 Feb 2010 at 8:08 am Boris

    Daniel, what does the middle chart (“Upgrade by installer”) mean?

  5. on 19 Feb 2010 at 9:04 am deinspanjer

    @Boris
    I tried to come up with descriptive terms for the three types of downloads, “manual” or “Download of Installer” means they went to the website and downloaded the OS appropriate installer.

    “complete” or “Upgrade by installer” means they downloaded a .mar file that the automatic update system installed for them.

    “partial” or “Upgrade by patch” means they downloaded the binary diff patch which was applied by the automatic update system.

    @Lucy & @Nick
    I agree I didn’t consider the fact that people might have been having upgrade difficulties and when they visited the website, they just downloaded the first thing they came across. I’d love to have some way to derive intent there, but I suspect the only ways that would be possible would be with a survey or if we could some how link users with failed upgrades to new downloads. The latter isn’t likely to happen since it has both technical and privacy issues.

    It might be nice to run a survey offer on the manual download page on our next release day though.. Ask people what prompted them to download today.

  6. on 19 Feb 2010 at 9:55 am Majken "Lucy" Connor

    Well we could do a double download button for Firefox users who have an out of date version, ie someone with 3.5.2 would be offered the latest 3.5.x beside a box of equal size “OR Upgrade to 3.6 now!”

    I suppose that’s a good question, what browsers are people downloading 3.6 from wrt these charts?

  7. on 19 Feb 2010 at 11:01 am deinspanjer

    @Lucy
    Ken Kovash just did some additional investigation regarding your question and he found something very exciting that he will probably be posting on the Blog of Metrics shortly.
    Just about all of these 3.6 downloads came from users running Firefox 3.5.8, *and* most of the referrer URLs for those downloads come from the 3.5.8 first run page.

  8. on 19 Feb 2010 at 3:50 pm Majken "Lucy" Connor

    ooh cool!!

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