Firefox update discussion

Jono Xia ( DiCarlo), a former Mozilla employee, recently garnered a great deal of attention for making some critical remarks about Firefox’s update system.  He has subsequently made two follow-up posts, which have garnered much less attention.

The first of these concludes the following statement.

The Firefox update mechanism is a lot better now, as is the add-on compatibility situation. If you’ve left Firefox, I hope you’ll consider giving it another try.

The second of these includes this statement.

This has taught me something very sad and frustrating about how communication goes wrong on the internet. I posted something that was close to a lot of peoples’ hot buttons. So it “went viral” and appeared to generate a lot of discussion. But most of the people “discussing” don’t even care what I said. They just wanted a thread to re-state their favorite rants about Firefox memory consumption or whatever. My post was just used as fodder for a pre-existing flame war. The point I wanted to talk about got lost in the noise.

Both follow-up posts are worth reading.

15 Responses to Firefox update discussion

  1. I agree that some mistakes were made in the past, and the situation is better now. Backward compatibility should be a high priority. I personally don’t find updates annoying, but I notice that members in my family (non-tech savvy) dismiss updates dialogs and don’t let Firefox update.

    I have some suggestions about how Mozilla can change it’s philosophy a little bit. I think addons should play a larger role in Firefox. Mozilla should pay more attention to the addons. It’s great for example that the MemShrink project has recognized the role of addons and is treating them more as an integral part of the Firefox product.

    I think many features should be developed as “official addons”, rather than built-in features. By official addon I mean automatically installed, similar to the “Test Pilot” in the beta branch.

    For example, I think it would have been more befitting if the “new tab” page was implemented as an official addon. I, personally, use FastDial which is another extension that does almost same function, but it is more suited to my needs. In that case, I can just uninstall the new addon because I don’t need that functionality. Same applies to the social integration feature that is coming in FF15.

    This strategy has two advantages: 1- Less bloat in the Firefox core. 2- Features can be developed more independently, and thus can get to release faster as soon as they are ready.

    I think Mozilla could have even saved lot’s of time if they just took one of the already existing addons for the “new tab” and included it [maybe with some additional improvements].

    I understand why Mozilla wants to push some non-fundamental features into Firefox as very few users actually install addons, but it would be better if Mozilla focuses more on under-the-hood improvements, and rely on addon for other features. Include some addons as part of the installation if they deem it necessary. And if the feature cannot be done with addons, maybe they should just focus on providing the necessary API’s without UI elements in the Firefox core. Are there good reasons for not following that philosophy?!

    • Nicholas Nethercote

      Your first paragraph was relevant to this post, thanks for that. The rest of your comment wasn’t. I don’t want this post’s comments to be about add-ons.

      • Manoj Mehta

        Aurora update dialogs on Mac OS X are a daily occurrence. Nicholas, are aware of plans to bring silent updates to Mac and Linux?

        Thanks,
        Manoj

  2. I think it’s relevant in the larger picture, since the topic is Firefox update. My point was not so much about addons, but as what Firefox updates consist of. But anyways, since you don’t want the discussion to go in that direction, I apologize.

  3. I read the “infuriating” post and I believe he made some fair points. It is true that when the UI changed and the Menu bar was removed for the Firefox button, I didn’t like it. I never whined, because I simply customized the browser right back to the “Classic” View, Menu bar, Reload and Home button placed back on the left side. I didn’t feel the new design was more efficient and clear, but I guess many users don’t want/know how to customize their browsers and will instead switch to the many alternatives. Perhaps a quick “Switch UI” button with presets of UIs could be useful for those users.

    The post was right about the extensions as well, but this has been fixed.

    The internet is a mean machine with no time to read and distinguish people’s real thoughts unfortunately, although, the big mistake may have been the title of the blog post, which was too easily interpreted as “Yay, bashing wars!”

    • Nicholas Nethercote

      IIRC, the introduction of the Firefox button happened in Firefox 4, which was the last release *before* rapid release started. Since then I believe there have been no significant UI changes, especially to the primary UI elements. So I think “the UI changes every six weeks” idea is total rubbish.

      I agree about the extension incompatibility issue — IMO that was the one true problem that rapid releases introduced, and the fact that it wasn’t fixed until Firefox 10 hurt us badly.

      • While it’s true that the core UI hasn’t changed radically since 4, there has been a steady stream of minor changes, many of which have been polarizing. Some examples are the removal of http:// and the site identity block, the introduction of smooth scrolling and the dancing forward button, and inline URL autocomplete. Not everybody dislikes every change, but those small percentages add up over time.

        So while the UI hasn’t been upended recently, there is at least some merit to the idea that people could be frustrated by interface changes.

  4. > He has subsequently made two follow-up posts, which have garnered much less attention.

    Probably partly because he got dropped from Planet Mozilla for daring to write some constructive criticism – a bit disappointing that! – preventing the follow-up posts getting the wider circulation of the first post.

    • Nicholas Nethercote

      I read Planet regularly and I didn’t see Jono’s post until it was mentioned on Hacker News. I also can’t find it in the RSS feed for Planet.

      Jono has at least two blogs. “Not the User’s Fault” (http://jonoscript.wordpress.com/) is syndicated on Planet — there’s a link on the RHS of Planet.

      “Evil Brain Jono’s Natural Log” (http://evilbrainjono.net/) is where his “Everybody Hates Firefox Updates” post was published, and it’s never been syndicated on Planet, as far as I can tell. I looked through the old posts and I’ve never seen any of them.

      So: evidence, please.

  5. I have to agree thoroughly with his point about the rapid release cycle. While it has been a boon to MemShrink and has brought the important work of that project to the public sooner–a point which cannot be understated–it has also caused a lot of havoc with add-ons, especially older ones, and it has made the UI team positively giddy about finding new bad decisions to make. At least I have the add-on compatibility reporter, which lets add-ons run even past their expiration version and I can disable them if they actually don’t work.

    I just got the update notice for Firefox 14 today. Having soured dramatically on the beta and being forced to jump back to 13, I find myself wondering whether I dare jump forward to the 15 beta in the hopes that it doesn’t have 14’s problems. I mentioned before that I had high idle CPU usage in 14 and memory was growing steadily, a problem not seen in 13. Maybe it’s fixed in 15; if so I’d love to know, because I’m aware 15 has a lot of other good MemShrink fixes. But I also loathe the decisions the UI team made to alter the address bar, and only now that there’s an add-on to bring back favicons (if I have to hear “but it’s still in the tabs” one more time I’m gonna throw something; some of us hide the tab bar when it’s not in use) am I even willing to consider trying 15. The UI team made enough radical changes in 4.0, but that was a big version change and at least people expected that; the idea that removing favicons and site security colors is going to make people safer from phishing is (euphemistically) inane–and at least it should have been handled with an about:config switch.

    So my own feelings are mixed. MemShrink changes have been great, except the one time recently when they weren’t. (My assumption is the new garbage collector is to blame.) Sadly that also coincided with untenable UI changes. I’m still wondering if I’m back in the boat I was in with 3.5, waiting forever for a new version that’s not going to break my system, or if 15 brings things back in the right direction. And if I upgrade to the 15 beta and it does fail, am I losing my chance to downgrade back to 13? Augh!

    • Nicholas Nethercote

      You know that add-ons have had their compatibility auto-updated since Firefox 10, right?

      • I was not aware of that, no. I assumed that the compatibility reporter was taking care of keeping them active for me, since I had needed it in previous versions. Still though, a number of add-ons have been messed up by the updates, like when Firefox 13 made Stylish unusable. And the issues with the CPU/memory usage problem I had in 14, and the UI mess, still stand as examples of updates gone wrong. I cannot overstate the frustration I experienced with the 14 beta, nor the fear that I’ll have similar problems in 15 in spite of its MemShrinky goodness. And this was in spite of having a very positive experience with all the betas from 8 upward (except a text rendering change that appeared somewhere in 12 that makes Google and Wikipedia look like crap with harfbuzz disabled, and still persists in 14) until that point.

        One problem of the rapid release cycle is one bad release can really soil the bed. On the other hand, as my disastrous experience with 3.6 attests, at least with a rapid release cycle things can get cleaned up sooner rather than later.

  6. Alan L. Seltzer

    i’m running Firefox 12 beta on a Windows 2000 Professional platform. I use Windows 2K for better compatibility with legacy programs. I’ll eventually upgrade to XP or better. In the meantime, I don’t think I can go higher than 12 and I’m wondering if I should stay with the beta. What’s the latest version of a non-beta Firefox that supports Win 2K? Also: I’ve been unable to view or hear YouTube videos on Firefox for several months. They seem to work fine with IE6, which appears to be the highest IE that I can use with Win 2K. Please advise about both?

  7. Alan

    FF12 is the final version that supports Windows 2000 (which is itself out of support, but I guess you knew that). You should probably go to the released version of FF12 as that will have some more fixes than the beta.

    If you want a version of FF that gets security fixes, you could go to FF ESR (Extended Support Release) which is based on FF10 but gets security patches. It will be supported until early next year.