55% of New Users Install Old Versions of Firefox

We know that existing Firefox users update their browser remarkably quickly. However, it seems the same cannot be said of new users–those people who are installing Firefox, perhaps for the first time.


In the recent two week period since the release of Firefox 3.5.6, only 45% of new en-US users installed Firefox 3.5.6 (or a beta version of 3.6). What about the other 55%? 24% of new users installed an old 3.5 version, while 24% and 6% of installed Firefox 3.0 and 2.0, respectively.

A more detailed breakdown of installations provides few hints as to why so few new users installed our latest release. Lets start by looking at Firefox 3.5. Below, I have plotted the percentage of total First Run page visits for each page version.


As expected, the most recent versions, 3.5.6 and 3.5.5, are the most popular. Beyond this, the data doesn’t tell a clear story. Firefox 3.5.3 and 3.5.2 are both more popular than 3.5.4. The data for Firefox 2 and Firefox 3 is even more confounding! This results holds on non-English locales as well; 38% of German users, 53% of French users, and 62% of Russian users installed old versions of Firefox!

Now that we’ve identified the problem, it’s time to come up with a few hypotheses and see if any insights can help us improve the user’s experience. Perhaps users are intentionally downgrading to old versions of Firefox. A more likely scenario is that new users are mistakenly pointed to old download files. Somewhere in the ballpark of 60% of Firefox downloads occur at a Mozilla website (mozilla.com, mozilla-europe.org, etc.). Outside distribution channels (e.g., download.com, community sites, international sites, etc.) may take longer to update the files they are distributing.

Have a idea of your own? Please leave it in the comments!

In the short them, I suggest we update all versions of the First Run page. As a longer term solution, we may want to implement a lightweight installer that always downloads the most recent Firefox version.

36 responses

  1. Kyle Huey wrote on :

    If nothing else, this shows that we should keep the files on the update server that point the path from older versions to newer versions alive indefinitely.

  2. Jesse Bugden wrote on :

    I wonder if some of these old version first-runs could be put down to existing installations where a new user logs onto the machine and runs firefox for the first time. It certainly seems to be hard to maintain large deployments of Firefox on the latest version without getting the users to update it themselves. In a decent sized organisation with a little bit of hot desking or even just computers being handed down as senior people get their PCs upgraded you would get some first runs from installations that really occurred some time ago.

    To test the theory perhaps the first run page could accept an install time from the browser, although I guess that’s only going to give you data starting from the version that implements that feature.

  3. George wrote on :

    Are the 2.0 installations win 95/98?

  4. Dan wrote on :

    As Jesse said, I think one problem here is assuming that the First Run pages are only visited when installing a new version of Firefox. New users on a computer will see the page, as I think will anyone suffering from https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=495735

    I’m sure there are lots of people actually installing old versions though, so that does need a solution. Having a warning on all of the outdated First Run pages is the best place to start, and should be done immediately (for every first run page ever created).

  5. Majken “Lucy” Connor wrote on :

    Jesse has an interesting point.

    It looks like a new profile hits the first run page, too. And of course some people end up with the first run page in their saved tabs. Are the numbers above for unique IP?

  6. Micah Gersten wrote on :

    This could be caused on Linux in part by versions that ship on CDs for Distros. I know in Ubuntu we shipped 3.5.3 with Karmic, so anyone trying that in a LiveCD environment or installing it and running the browser before updating will show up as 3.5.3

  7. Justin Dolske wrote on :

    Does the non-English data imply imply localized builds, or would a Russian user installing an en-US build still get a Russian first run (assuming their OS is set as such)?

    It would be interesting to publish some “official” URLs for the latest Firefox builds, as well as use those links on the front mozilla.com download page. (eg http://xxx/latest/firefox.exe, or http://latest-3.5/firefox.exe). We already have such links on the FTP server, but Bouncer probably needs to have it hacked in?

    We should definitely update the first run pages… See bug 390332.

  8. Wladimir Palant wrote on :

    One factor is certainly that forums tend to link to the actual download rather than the download page. I still get tons of hits for outdated Adblock Plus versions that are no longer on my server because of that. But that probably doesn’t amount to more than a few percent of the total downloads…

  9. Michael Lefevre wrote on :

    “we may want to implement a lightweight installer that always downloads the most recent Firefox version”

    I’m not sure that is a solution to this issue – if anything, I guess that might actually push some people away from the Mozilla download site to other sites which carry the full version (unless you can, as some companies manage, actually make it impossible to obtain any version without using a stub downloader, which is likely to anger a lot of people that want Firefox on multiple machines or whatever…).

    But I’m sure third party sites are a problem – I know I posted in some forum recently to inform people about a download link that was posted which pointed directly to downloading Firefox 3.0 (from Mozilla).

  10. celui wrote on :

    I used fx 2, 3, 3.5 and 3.6β everyday fir website testing purpose. Each time I launch a version of firefox, I get a “first-run” page in one tab. My point is : I’m not really sure that the number of first run page is an accurate data…

  11. Fernando wrote on :

    Other cause is the “offline installation”, made in large networks, when the admin customize a new computer he uses a installer already downloaded (and not allways updated) or use a disk image previously configured.

  12. Alfred Kayser wrote on :

    Probably best to put a redirect on all links to old versions, which shows a page with ‘There is a new version available, download it’ with a small print option ‘download other version’ if one really needs to install a specific version.
    (and only redirect, if not coming from the ‘download other version’ link of course…).

  13. nemo wrote on :

    Hey, I just wanted to mention that I was attempting to upgrade my Father-in-law’s Firefox and I ended up (in the end just out of curiosity) doing about 4 or 5 updates.

    From his existing 2.x to latest 2.x, then from 2.x to 3, then either 3 or 3.5 (or maybe both) did *NOT* install the latest but instead made me do one more upgrade cycle.

    so. something like… -> -> 3.0 -> 3.0.16 -> 3.5 -> 3.5.6
    I might not have had to have done the 3.0 or 3.5 one, but it still seemed like a lot.

    Wondering if those would show up in your stats if it happens often.

  14. nemo wrote on :

    just to be clear on that last comment. -> -> 3.0 -> 3.0.16 -> 3.5 -> 3.5.6
    or -> -> 3.0.16 -> 3.5 -> 3.5.6
    or -> -> 3.0 -> 3.0.16 -> 3.5.6

  15. bcutler wrote on :

    Great catch Jesse and Dan! Ken actually had a blog post related to this a few weeks back (http://blog.mozilla.org/metrics/2009/11/10/what-people-say-after-installing-firefox/). I’ll attempt to estimate the effect of this bug shortly.

  16. Jesper Kristensen wrote on :

    In my “Metrics: Localizer Report”, the numbers for “downloads” is pretty similar to the numbers for “installations” which you report. And if that report is in fact counting downloads, then I think it is fair to assume that people are in fact downloading outdated builds (as supposed to hitting bug 495735 or creating new profiles).

    There could be many reasons. Fixing https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=405088 would be a good start for community sites, but maybe it would help if the download links from mozilla.com did not have the version to download in the link, so that copies of the link to forums and blogs would stay up-to-date. What are the statistics for http://download.mozilla.org/?product=firefox-X.Y.Z&… ?

  17. Gerv wrote on :

    Perhaps we need to have a canonical URL something like:
    and encourage people to link to that so links don’t go stale?

    Or do we already have something like that?


  18. Gustavo Noronha wrote on :

    Large installations in which there is a QA for a given release that is then mass-deployed? Distributions of software shipping with a specific release (such as Ubuntu, Fedora)? How many of those 55% are GNU/Linux users?

  19. Blake Cutler wrote on :

    I’ve only looked at a few First Run page versions, but generally less than 1% are Linux users. Windows and OS X account for +90%.

  20. thierry wrote on :

    the new 3.5 and 3.6 firefox freeze so much i just can’t use it . Incredible . Therefore i had to reinstall firefox 2 which works just fine .

    I don’t speak about the memory consumption. Firefox 3 is far from the light 1.5 one . It has become an elefant .

    I prefer chrome now but some sites are not recognized by chrome …yet .

  21. Brendan wrote on :

    Installing an older version after updating to 3.6 corrupted and made using Firefox impossible.
    It now won’t even mount when reinstalling.

    Newer versions seem to be getting more sluggish.

    It’s a pity as I’ve been a Firefox fan for years.

  22. bearls wrote on :

    As the newer versions have come out I am having more problems with firefox shutting down and not responding. When I first started using mozilla somwhere in the 2 version I had no problems. I am currently working my way backward again to get to a version that works. Until I find it and turn off updates I guess I am stuck with IE.

  23. John and Dagny Galt wrote on :

    Definitely having problems with Firefox 3.5.6 and 3.5.7 and 3.6 all refusing to shut down after user visits websites such as aol.com to retrieve their email. Ending Firefox process via task manager is required.

    Sad state of affairs after so much success.

    Anywho, there are plenty of other browsers out there. Anybody know if Seamonkey or Opera is having these difficulties?

    Starving The Monkeys Continually And Forevermore,
    John and Dagny Galt
    Atlas Shrugged, Owners Manual For The Universe!(tm)


  24. Dan wrote on :

    I have updated religiously, unfortunately. From version 3.0 on, I have had nothing but Firefox crashes to deal with. I have been through your FAQ’s and not had a lot of success. The solutions posted there that one can comprehend have not worked for me.

    Rather than pointing to new versions, maybe you should offer pointers to the older versions and make them more accessible. I fit the model from your article above – “Perhaps users are intentionally downgrading to old versions of Firefox.” The reason we are doing this is the search for a reliable web browser without having to go back to the default one that comes with our operating system.

    I like Firefox. But I just can’t handle the continuous crashes since version 3.0

  25. Zol Heyman wrote on :

    Switching to 3.5 started causing problems with DNS lookup. After a while it wouldn’t find any domains. Upgrading to 3.6 was even worse. So I’m going back to 3.0.17. That worked ok. If anyone know where I can get 3.0.19, I’d like to know about it.

  26. Sandro kensan wrote on :

    I have mandriva 2009.1 (mandriva one 2009) and i can not install by ufficial repository the latest version of firefox 3.5.x. I must install only the branch 3.0.x or prior version.

    I must change my OS (install the newest mandriva one 2010) for install Firefox 3.5.6.

  27. Katrinka wrote on :

    I tried switching back to v. 2 and it was a disaster so I am trying 3.0. So far so good, but it’s only been a few minutes. LOL I love Mozilla Firefox, especially the ad blocker & lazarus. BUT the newer versions hang up and I suspect is causing memory glitches. And, it takes forever to open. In addition, the oldbar addon doesn’t work in the latest version. 🙁 Also having problems w/lazarus addon w/the scripts hanging up. So I’m hoping v. 3.0 will solve the problem.

    Here’s a link I found where you can download the version of your choice.

  28. ernst wrote on :

    Far be it for me to speak for others, and being a faithful since v1 with few if any upgrade problems, Fx v3.6* and Tb v3 have been nothing but disaster. Its futile to mention issues, a browser is a tool, not an experimental toy with which to while the time away. V3.0.16 and 2..0.0.24 are the end of the road for me. After my experiences it will take some convincing to make me change my mind. What’s more, if I hear SECURITY one more time I’m going to barf. Why not call the latest efforts Patriot Mozilla? So far my opinion, perhaps I’m not alone?

  29. Don wrote on :

    Remember, this can also happen when a user intentionally maintains multiple installed versions sharing the same user directories/profile. On my laptop, e.g., after running 3.n (or, yes, Iceweasel, running often thinks it’s its first-run, and hits the “new version” page. Perhaps a (hidden? why??) flag for NeverForceFirstRun would be handy… if only for us geeks!

  30. Joey wrote on :

    I stick with 3.0.19 FF – no crashing epidemic hassles like with the new version.

  31. Play. wrote on :

    People install old versions of firefox not because they don’t know or they don’t find out about the new ones. They install them because they are lighter. simply that.

    For example : With three tabs open in ffox 3.5.9 I’m getting an 145.000 k charge in windows task manager
    With version 2 I’m getting 90.000 k. Some people are willing to disregard the security risks and run older versions because they simply run smoother.

  32. Zol Heyman wrote on :

    I’ve tried updating, but I run into trouble with a problem with my DNS lookup failing after awhile. Not sure it’s Firefox’s problem, but staying in 3.0.18 doesn’t seem to cause me the trouble.

    There’s mention in some google postings about a DNS Lookup issue. Haven’t tried recently to upgrade. Maybe I’ll give it a try.

  33. Jeff wrote on :

    My problem is that a lot of add-ons that I like don’t work with Firefox 3.6. Why is that? Will this be corrected in Firefox 4.0?

  34. Carol De Priest wrote on :

    I’ve always used old versions, either 1.8 or 2. versions, because I really do not like what 3.0 & later versions have done with bookmarks. If and when that problem has been solved and the bookmarks file is put back the way it was, then I’ll upgrade. I think it’s a crime how difficult you make it for users to obtain older versions. I can’t tell you the problems I’ve had when a bug screws up my system & I have to reinstall Firefox & other programs.

  35. john walker wrote on :

    I am learning web development and have spent a lot of time researching and downloading lots of really good Firefox add-ons that helped with web development. I was really angry when I downloaded the latest version of Firefox 4.0b6 only to find I have lost the use of most of the add-ons. If I had have known that this would happen i would not have updated my version of Firefox. is there any way of warning users that this may happen and give a complete list of all the add-ons that will be affected by downloading to a new version of Firefox.

  36. warf33 wrote on :

    Just weighing in as a user…older versions weren’t so bloated and their are many ways to secure older versions if that is what you want to use. Many newer renditions of the browser have bugs that screw up your current configuration and often the plugins you currently have are not supported when the next edition comes out. In my case I stopped using firefox entirely when putting auto update on the manual setting didn’t work ; firefox kept reverting to auto update. Went to about:config and found a dozen bits of code to hound the user into upgrading. My browser is going to damn well do what I say or it’s gone. So, don’t underestimate your user base we are purposely using older versions and if mozilla wants to maintain and grow its market share the company had better listen to its suscribers.