Why People Don’t Upgrade Their Browser – Part III

Mozilla recently advertised a Firefox 3.5 upgrade to users of Firefox 3 (this is also referred to it as a “major update prompt”) in an effort to migrate people to the latest version of Firefox.  As of earlier this month, about 32% of all Firefox users were still on a version of Fx3, and as a result of the mid-January push, that number is now down to about 22%.

As a side benefit to this initiative, we also took the opportunity to see what feedback people had, specifically asking users to tell us what was on their mind if they were choosing not to upgrade.  We did this once before when upgrading users from Fx2 to Fx3, and the results were extremely impactful, so we wanted to continue this once again as part of our broader user outreach efforts.

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


A little more than 5,000 people were kind enough to share their thoughts.  In turning to the results, let’s start with question #1:


The most surprising insight above is that 53% of respondents selected the “Other reason” check box.  That suggests that the proposed answers we listed were found somewhat unsatisfactory and that people had other ideas on their mind.  Clearly, understanding “Other reason” and seeing what users said within question #2 should provide us with much more insight than the chart above.

Below is a list of the most common phrases people typed into the “Other reason” box.  What’s most surprising here?  The vast majority of comments are about cost, i.e., “is this upgrade free?”.  Taking this insight and turning it into action, we’re planning to make clear that “Firefox is free” within future upgrade prompts/advertisements.


Next, let’s look at how people responded to question #2.  It’s a free form text box, so we manually read through comments, sorting them into different categories:


One easy way to interpret this pie chart is to compare it with what we saw last time (when users were upgrading from Fx2 to Fx3).  UI related comments have almost vanished.  On the other hand, add-on and extension compatibility comments (Norton was far and away the #1 cited) and crash comments have both risen dramatically as their total share of the pie.  For “not compatible with specific website”, Facebook and specific Google pages (e.g., calendar) seemed to be the most frequently mentioned.

Moving forward, it will be critical that we acknowledge and address the concerns faced by these users.  We’ve been working hard in recent months to reduce the crashiness of Firefox, and some positive results are already evident.  For addressing the add-on and toolbar compatibility issues, the Firefox Support team has been raising the visibility of the top extension issues cited by users (Norton, Roboform, etc.).

And how do we properly communicate all of this the next time we advertise a major upgrade?  We currently highlight these three bullet points:

  • Twice as fast as Firefox 3.
  • Private browsing, tear-off tabs and more.
  • The most advanced Firefox yet.

The last two should probably be changed to “This upgrade is free” and “Improved stability, fewer crashes.”  Your thoughts?

24 responses

  1. Adam Douglas wrote on :

    It needs to be made clear to the end user that the upgrade is available, free at no cost and what the key benefits are. This all has to be done in away that doesn’t require a lot of reading or over whelms the end user. As well maybe provided a link for further detailed explanation such as why it is free, how the Mozilla organization works at the same time encouraging donations.

  2. Stuart wrote on :

    I don’t think “This upgrade is free” should be a bullet point. I think it should be in the headline “Upgrade FREE to Firefox 3.6 Now!” or something.

    I’d put “Improved stability, fewer crashes” in as bullet 2 and leave bullet 3 alone.

    If there’s a way to stick in some fine print that says “Firefox is free and will always be free – learn more” I think that might be helpful too – but don’t put an asterisk by the free in the headline, because that would imply a gotcha rather than extra emphasis.

  3. AndersH wrote on :

    The major update dialog looks like a small iframe (to small for its content) inside another window. In short some kind of pop-up-ad/mall-ware-distribution/css-glitch. This is amplified by the small window showing the yellow-warning-bar (but for some reason in the bottom).
    The small window also contains the text “Think fast” in large letters, something you normally only head just before something bad happens to you (e.g. you are hit by some flying object), further suggesting that you should get rid of this window (what ever it is) quickly.
    But I guess people will click yes to anything.

    But as feature updates are minor updates rather than major (as in “scary”) updates (following the lead of google (they push new chrome versions silently, I think), microsoft (push major silverlight updates via windows updates, I guess since they could argue that they also fixed some security issues in the new version) and of course apple), this issue will go away. And that’s a good thing.

  4. alanjstr wrote on :

    Wow. That many people think there’s some sort of cost involved? Of all of them, that’s the one that really shocks me the most. Where did they get the browser in the first place? Maybe they got ripped off once (by paying for Firefox) and so they think they will have to continue to pay.

    Is there a question on the form such as “Would it be all right for us to contact you about your issues? [email address box]”

  5. Daniel Einspanjer wrote on :

    I think the message “this upgrade is free” could be worded more strongly. Something like, “Mozilla Firefox is always free to download and upgrade”. I wonder where all these cost concerns are coming from. Are people somehow having to pay some third party to get Firefox on their system in the first place? Are they just so jaded by the “free to try but pay to get better features” model that they expect that from everyone?

  6. Chad wrote on :

    I’m curious of the ‘cost’ factor is based on companies that have to deal w/ internal support for upgrading and not the cost of the software itself?

  7. Dave wrote on :

    One of the main reasons I skip upgrades for other products is because it takes time. I would Guess that people who don’t have time wont fill out your survey.

    I would suggest adding Quick or Fast! Somewhere as well.

  8. jrk wrote on :

    Why is major update not automatic? At least for people without add-ons (the majority of Firefox users, according to another post).

  9. Alexander Limi wrote on :

    How about labeling the upgrade button with “Get free upgrade”?

    People tend to skim text and forms, and focus on the buttons instead.

  10. Michael Lefevre wrote on :

    I think there are just too many of these update things, and many people don’t understand them. Just the other day I was helping someone with their computer, and as soon as the desktop appeared there were half a dozen different things popping up – adverts for additional software, paid-for upgrades, free version updates, security updates. He was just cancelling everything each time. I went through and removed some annoying stuff, disabled other stuff, and installed important updates to software he actually wanted, but he had no idea which was which, or even what the different applications were for.

    I guess emphasising that Firefox is free would be good, but on the other hand there’s a lot of other “free” stuff that costs money, so…

    “Why is major update not automatic?”

    I imagine a lot of people would be confused and upset if their browser suddenly lost and gained features and the UI moved around, without knowing why it was happening. Heck, there are plenty of people that get upset about that when they have made a deliberate choice to upgrade.

  11. Kirkburn wrote on :

    I suggest that one issue could be the use of the word “upgrade” instead of “update”.

    I think the term “upgrade” implies cost to a lot of people. For example: extra features for your car, upgrading your PC, upgrading your membership level etc.

    However “update” does not suggest this, it feels much more like “improve”. It’s not quite as drastic a term as “upgrade” – but users are naturally conservative. Drastic words are scary, and scariness puts people off.

  12. Tony Mechelynck wrote on :

    jrk: If Firefox’s major updates were automatic, I’d have fled away from it the first time it updated itself without asking me (and, of course, also disabled my favourite extensions without asking me); that would have been when upgrading from Firefox 0.9 to 0.10 (aka 1.0pre). By now I might be still with IE (if on Window), or maybe with Opera or Konqueror, but certainly not with a Mozilla product.

    I think that for products like Firefox, Thunderbird and SeaMonkey (whose most important quality IMHO is their extensibility, by means of add-ons which won’t always be ready to support the next release as soon as it comes out), it is important to let the user upgrade when he’s ready to do it, and not necessarily when the browser and/or mailer “decides” that an upgrade is due.

    As fore “people without addons are the majority”, that isn’t my experience: of people I’ve met on the web, all of those with which the subject of add-ons came into the conversation had at least one, and many had a lot. I have 32 extensions in SeaMonkey, more than 50 IIRC in Firefox, and in both cases my favourite theme is a 3rd-party one, not a or the theme distributed with the app.

  13. Dave Dash wrote on :

    I’d prefer automatic updates that are overridable.

    When I install it, the first thing it should ask is if I want to opt out of automatic updates- if I’m a control freak (or use addons that don’t update well), I can say no, but for grandpa-internet user, I don’t have to worry about them using a security risky browser.

    We don’t make a lot of significant UI changes to FF from version to version to worry about this.


  14. Kirkburn wrote on :

    Third attempt to leave a comment:

    I suggest that one issue could be the use of the word “upgrade” instead of “update”.

    I think the term “upgrade” implies cost to a lot of people. For example: extra features for your car, upgrading your PC, upgrading your membership level etc.

    However “update” does not suggest this, it feels much more like “improve”. It’s not quite as drastic a term as “upgrade” – but users are naturally conservative. Drastic words are scary, and scariness puts people off.

  15. John Slater wrote on :

    Thanks Ken. This is interesting stuff, and will be a huge help as we work on the messaging for the next major update prompt.

    For general reference, here’s the 3.6 version (more current than the 3.5 example): http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/3.6/details/

  16. Martin wrote on :

    I agree with the “update” vs “upgrade” comments.

    For any novice user who has bought their PC from a high-street shop, gotten a friend to help set it up and who helpfully installs FF, it is almost certain to have arrived with trial or time-limited licenses for a variety of software; anti-virus/spyware etc. After some time these will be constantly imploring them to upgrade to some other version, probably at some cost.

    It’s enlightening this affects FF indirectly.

    Perhaps update-checking could be built in the OS? Windows could have a dialog that keeps track of available updates (like the AddOns dialog) and perhaps have a notification threshold so you’re only bugged when there are, say, three apps that need updating and you can run the updates when it’s convenient for you.

  17. James John Malcolm wrote on :

    We’ll never replicate Chrome’s update speed if it’s not automatic:

    Of course, they don’t change the UI (much), but a simple explanation about Ui changes once the update is complete should suffice. (And auto-update should be overridable for power-users via about:config)

    I concur with Limi on the “Get free update” button and with others about using the word update instead of upgrade.

  18. Dan wrote on :

    I think Kirkburn is right about the word “Upgrade”. The combination of that and advertising a better version leads people to think they would be upgrading from the free version to the paid-for version. It reminds me of Quicktime that always bugged you to upgrade to Quicktime Pro.

  19. LpSolit wrote on :

    One reason some people do not upgrade is because they log in as a non-root user, and so Firefox doesn’t offer the upgrade notification. This happened last week with my girlfriend’s father who thought upgrades were automatic and so didn’t worry about not seeing notifications. When my girlfriend checked, he was running Firefox 3.0.11 (!) because he didn’t run Firefox as root for several months.

    Firefox should still check for upgrades, even if you are not root, and ask for the root password to install the upgrade. I think that’s better than 1) do not notify users, or 2) ask the user to log out, then log in as root (because this requires you to leave the work you are doing).

  20. Kirkburn wrote on :

    I’m glad my comments got through in the end 🙂 I was considering finding other avenues to get the thought across!

  21. Gerv wrote on :

    “If there’s a way to stick in some fine print that says “Firefox is free and will always be free – learn more” I think that might be helpful too – but don’t put an asterisk by the free in the headline, because that would imply a gotcha rather than extra emphasis.”

    That’s a great idea. We need to find ways to talk about our mission more, and this might be a point at which users are interested, because the question is in their mind.


  22. noone wrote on :

    Reason i stayed with 3.0.18(etc) was that i read “help me!” posts, saying that passwords in pass file weren’t completely retained by 3.5.x
    However, have upgraded to 3.6 in last few days, with minimal trouble (Had to reset toolbars, then re-customize. Passwords were retained. Discovered one of the extensions nicely upgraded for ff3.6, allowing uninstall of another extension. Also, customizegogle replaced by optimizegoogle.)

    Most of the comments preceding are mushed. Maybe css incompatible with Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv: Gecko/20090331 K-Meleon/1.5.3 ?

  23. rstrong wrote on :

    Just for reference, the button strings are “Get the New Version” for a major update and “Update Firefox” for a minor update. If the button strings are changed I would very much like it if the words were kept to a minimum since this gets really ugly for some locales where they end up with a button that is more than twice the width of a button with “Get the New Version” in English.

    I think we should also include text to the affect that the update is free in the non-billboard case and leave it up to the billboard in the billboard case.

    We use update somewhat consistently in the applications and on first impression think the billboard should use update as well.

    btw: the billboard size is MUCH larger on trunk and there is a good possibility that it will be backported to 3.6 and maybe even 3.5 along with a bunch of other changes.

  24. Timwi wrote on :

    If this blog post has shown anything, it’s that we don’t know what people think until we survey them. Therefore, I strongly urge everyone to ignore all the comments on this entry which rely on personal anecdotes.

    The readers of this blog are naturally biased towards being technically skilled, and being technically skilled naturally biases you towards wanting control. Most people are probably not like this.

    In particular, I suspect that the anecdotes about being annoyed with automated updates and sudden UI changes are unrepresentative. I certainly agree that *I* would react the same way, but the vast majority of users likely won’t even notice. Surely most users never use much of the browser UI anyway; most people don’t know about Ctrl+F, much less about the Options dialog. By contrast, a substantial proportion of people surveyed said that update prompts are too frequent. The consequences to take from this should be obvious. Update automatically by default.