Why People Don’t Upgrade Their Browser – Part I

Back in May, we launched one final push to migrate Fx2 users to Fx3 via a major update (MU).  At the time, 10% of Firefox users were still on Fx2.  If you’re curious about the results of that push, that 10% was down to 8% a couple weeks later.  Aside from these results, there was one interesting twist integrated into this MU offer – people seeing the prompt below were also asked if they wanted to provide some feedback if they were choosing not to upgrade


(Please ignore the Fx version numbers in this screenshot.  Unfortunately, we don’t have an exact copy on hand.)

For people interested in leaving their feedback, here is the survey they saw:


In total, nearly 5,000 users provided feedback.  Similar to our other recent feedback efforts, we decided to manually read through comments from the second question above in order to extract the most insight and best understand the true pain points and thoughts of these Firefox users.  Sorting through the comments, I noticed about fourteen different types of comments/issues that were cited multiple times… a distribution breakdown and example comments are below.


Location Bar (clearing history) = “There are several issues with Firefox 3, but the browser is not very secure if browsing history cannot be deleted from the location bar. The Tools->Clear Private Data command was no help.”

Speed/Memory Leak Concerns (real or perceived) = “I had heard it made your computer run slowly when it first came out….but after a few months i had forgotten about this tid bit and installed ‘3’. It did indeed bring my computer to a near standstill. My friend did this as well. Another friend then jarred my memory as to why and so…i then un-installed it and re-installed ‘2’ and since then my computer has been running great….so….would you take the chance again?”

Add-ons Compatibility = “There are a number of add-ons which will not work with Firefox 3, Getmail, Silverscreen, Feebe and others.”

Look & Feel (general UI) = “Compared to v2, v3 has an interface that sucks, sucks, sucks big time.  Graphically, it’s much worse: harder to read (too dark, type too small), icons lack color, etc.”

Bookmarks (UI) = “Getting to alphabetized bookmarks with the latest version is a serious pain in the fundament and my wife and I continue to be amazed as to why you decided to take a huge step  backwards with what was supposed to be an advance. Cure this problem and we’ll move up. Thank you.”

Crashes = “Firefox 3 Crashes every time I install it.  Even with a clean upgrade.  It won’t load at all it just crashes restarts and crashes again.”

Lost Stuff when Upgrading = “Last time I took a Firefox upgrade, my entire Favorites list was wiped out.  It would take me more than a year of frustration and work if that happened again.  So, I’m afraid to take another upgrade.”

Developer for Testing = “I am Web developer and have to test my page in all browser. So I am keeping ff2 alongwith ff3 and other browser .”

Don’t Fix What’s not Broken = “I need more time to figure out what to do.  I am happy with all the stuff I have and the status quo.  My computer works well as it is.  Do I really need this update? ”

Fonts (size) = “The window is huge.  the writing is huge.  when I go searching only 2 or 3 websites fit in the window.”

U3 Compatibility = “Firefox 3 does not work on U3 devices in fact it makes the device unusable and so does the latest version of Thunderbird. The U3 device only accepts the mobile versions although I keep getting upgrade versions popping up.”

Cost? = “If you say this is free. I have always heard there is really nothing free in this world.  Times are tough all over, especially for us seniors living on social security.”

Printing Problems = “When printing from FF3, text comes out as scrambled ASCII. doesn’t work on Win(XP/Vista), Linux, etc. Big pain in the butt. I love FF3 otherwise, but as a network admin I just can’t make the switch.”

Enterprise Support = “We can use only software expressly approved and that works together with our network and other older software.  We can’t download or install anything on our own.”

In our next post, we’ll provide some interpretation around these findings and discuss possible implications from a product standpoint.  Stay tuned for Part II!

Lastly, thanks to Sam Sidler for implementing this survey and to Eric Hergenrader for providing much of the analysis.

21 responses

  1. Dan wrote on :

    Good to see more ways of understanding the user base.

    Why isn’t there a chart for the question 1 responses?

    Were the people asked to complete the survey if they clicked the “Not Now” button, or the “Never” button?

    As for the bookmarks issue, there was a huge change in user experience between 2 and 3. Previously, someone bookmarked a page, and then it appeared in the bookmark menu. Simple. That doesn’t happen with Fx 3, and is almost certainly why the person in the comment you selected was frustrated. If Fx included the “Unfiled bookmarks” folder in the bookmarks menu by default then the transition between 2 and 3 would have been much more intuitive.

  2. Alex Faaborg wrote on :

    Awesome and really useful analysis.

    Can I check out the location bar / clearing history comments. I want to get a better understanding of if this is a UI or implementation issue (or perhaps both), and what steps we could take to clear this up. It sounds like if users are feeling that clear private data isn’t working, they might be seeing sensitive bookmarks (which started to display in the location bar in version 3). This is something we tried to address in 3.5, but people may not know about the new controls they have yet.

  3. Mardeg wrote on :

    Printing problems is probably bug https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=454532

    It’s frustrating to see the users not being able to find support articles that do exist for 50% of the problems:
    http://support.mozilla.com/kb/High+memory+usage and http://support.mozilla.com/en-US/kb/Firefox+consumes+a+lot+of+CPU+resources

  4. kkovash wrote on :

    Dan — good questions. The breakdown for Q1 was: “I’m having trouble” = 10%, “My add-ons don’t work” = 16%, “Tried Fx3 and didn’t like it” = 36%, and “Other” = 38%.

    There was a link for the survey where the offer now reads, “The most advanced Firefox yet.”

  5. Cd-MaN wrote on :

    Regarding the add-ons compatibility issue: maybe the updater could check the installed add-ons and say if there are any incompatible ones, or if – after updating – all the add-ons are compatible. This should eliminate most of the worries associated with add-on compatibility (it is overstated anyways – I never found an add-on I needed which was incompatible with the latest release).

  6. Ralph wrote on :

    It’s somewhat disconcerting that 50% of the issues are technical ones, where the 3.0 codebase isn’t quite as robust with large amounts of data (bookmarks, etc) I’m sure in many ways it’s more robust, but when my system has high VM usage (especially on a Mac), and lots and lots of disk I/O, its hard to consider it an upgrade. Firefox 3.5 seems much better, BTW

    In many 3.0 release, SQLLite and the cleanup code not being used properly still impacts users badly if they have lots of bookmarks

  7. jim wrote on :

    Picking on Clearing History as if it were the only problem with the Awful Bar is just wrong.

    Having trawled the forums are read the comments of others who have also tried OldBar and OldLocationBar add-ons, I know I’m not the only one who finds much worse problems than that. If none of the responses criticising the bar mentioned anything but clearing history, I would be very surprised.

    (Posting with Opera)

  8. Foo wrote on :

    @Cd-MaN: re: updates/plugins

    How about the other way around. Give the updater an option *not* to remove incompatible plugins.

    The one thing I always feared about upgrading was that I’d have to spend 10-20 minutes extracting/hacking .xpi files to get my extensions to work again.

    (I have several extensions that are no longer maintained — they work just fine in FF3, they just refuse to install without a little hacking.)

  9. Peter wrote on :

    Why is Firefox for Linux compiled against the latest libraries? Wouldn’t it work just as well with libraries a few years old? On Windows XP (how old is that?) you can use the latest Firefox. But on Linux you can’t if your box is a few years old. I am not going to upgrade my system each year just so I can use the latest Firefox. So it’s still Firefox 2 for me.

  10. Peter wrote on :

    By the way, it would be helpfull if the comment form on this page had text labels. The tiny pictograms mean nothing to me.

  11. Hari wrote on :

    Firefox needs to be less of a memory hog, upgrade less often, add very very useful functionality into the core program so that we don’t have to use so many add ons to supplement it and most of all, provide a centralized way of deploying, managing and upgrading firefox browsers across large numbers of machines without user intervention!!!!!!!!!

    What you you thinking Mozilla foundation, the world wants you but you only cater to an unprofessional individual user sitting at home or managing their own workstation at work (frowned upon)

  12. John wrote on :

    I have a program that copies a password out of any password box, does an MD5 encryption on the password, and then puts it back into the password box. This is a simple way to increase the length of any short password you would like to use. Unfortunately, Firefox 3 would not accept the correct MD5 password, but was doing something to it so that it was not accepted by the login site. Therefore, I had to stay with F2. There are 5 settings you can make to some field in the config section, but resetting these didn’t fix the problem.

  13. Perberos wrote on :

    I miss the Go button

  14. James Dashner Jr. wrote on :

    Ubuntu 6 month releases and LTS releases don’t upgrade to the latest version of the browser. And upgrading can cause problems, including the mess of having two browsers installed.

  15. John Kawada wrote on :

    Most of the various Linux distro updates don’t make it a priority, for whatever reason. I understand their concern for stability, but Firefox goes through a relatively long beta process.

  16. Beth Budwig wrote on :

    (x-posted from http://blog.mozilla.org/security/2009/08/25/why-some-firefox-users-choose-not-to-update/)

    These are some interesting stats! As one of the 4 percent… I haven’t been able to find any FF2.x download on Mozilla’s site. I always upgrade to the latest, but as a web designer, I need to test on older browsers. The Mozilla site was always great about having those available? What’s the deal?

    There are plenty of third-party sites with a FF2 download available, but that seems like a risk, unless there’s one you recommend.


  17. Kevin wrote on :

    Believe it or not, I dual boot Win 2K and an update mix of Win 98 and ME (known as 98SE2ME) on my main computer, my secondary computer is all
    98SE2ME (see the forums on msfn.org for a community that is still keeping 98 alive with unofficial updates).

    FF3 will not run on Windows 98, so I stick with the last nightly build of FF2 ( from 04/15/09).

  18. Pissed Off wrote on :

    I can tell you why ppl like me don’t upgrade, for good reason. “Lost stuff when upgrading”. It’s extremely irritating, and it just happened to me when i finally gave in and moved from 3.0 to 3.5, in part due to this article. Some options were needlessly changed around and renamed (“tools-options-privacy-history-clear history when firefox closes-browsing history” means my session store? what??), so i lost all my hard-found session tabs. So pissed off. Make a sessionstore.js auto-backup already, jeeze.

  19. Robert Strong wrote on :

    Cd-MaN: app update reports which add-ons will be incompatible if the update is accepted. There were bugs where it over-reported the add-ons that would be incompatible that was fixed in Firefox 3.5

  20. Alexander Limi wrote on :

    “Pissed Off”, you have a problem that is fixable. You’re probably using the TorButton add-on, which had a bug that would temporarily make the bookmarks not show up. Upgrade to the latest version of that add-on, and they are back.

  21. Lucy wrote on :

    IMHO, pointing out “clearing history” as the only reason why people don’t like your “awesome bar” is a either a biased scope or the result of a poor research method. Many of us don’t like the way the bar searches. Period. We are used to type the first letters of an often visited site to get there. To be prompted with every page in your browsing history (and your bookmarks, if you can’t figure out how to disable that feature) that has those letters somewhere in the url or the title is utterly annoying and time consuming. And no, I don’t have the time nor the will to teach my browser how to do what every other browser in the universe does without any learning process.

    I’ve even seen Mozilla related sites that suggest that those who don’t like your awful bar are only concerned about other people possibly uncover their porn navigation, and thus offer the private browsing as the magic solution. That’s simply derogatory, not to mention that most people don’t know how to do it.

    I’m a rather old lady and a power user too. I don’t like porn and nobody uses my computer but myself. I rolled back to FF2 as soon as I saw that horrid bar, and I know I’m not the only one. Now that many sites are about to become incompatible with FF2, I gave FF3 a shot, only to find that you devs insist on ramming that bar down our throats with no option to get back to the old style. That was enough for me. I don’t know why you decided to act like Microsoft, but I will not stand it. I’m uninstalling FF for good. I’ll miss it, but no arrogant dev will tell me the way I like to browse the web.