Why Do Firefox Downloads Spike on Release Days?

As Daniel pointed out, there has always been a dramatic increase in fresh downloads/installs of Firefox at the time of each minor version release – separate from people simply being updated.  We’ve never entirely understood this user behavior until Daniel started some digging yesterday.  Here’s what we know…

  • Yesterday (just after 3.0.18 and 3.5.8 were released) we saw a spike in fresh downloads/installs of Firefox.  The typical daily number is in the ballpark of 2 Million and yesterday it shot up to over 4 Million.
  • As Daniel highlighted, nearly all of the download activity was for Firefox 3.6.
  • Digging a little deeper, we also discovered that the entire spike in 3.6 downloads was coming from people on Firefox 3.5.8.  This means people successfully got the update yesterday (3.5.8), and then went out of their way to manually do one further update (i.e., get 3.6).

Why or how is this happening?

It turns out that the answer was right under our nose.   When people get an update, they see an update page.  And if they’re not on the current major version (e.g., 3.6), the page suggests that they go and download the lastest and greatest.   So, what happened within this user interaction yesterday?


So, this explains a common experience for millions of users each time a Firefox update is shipped.  And it’s good to see the messaging on that 3.5.8 update page (and all older update pages) is paying off.  Perhaps we should consider changing the concept of those pages to be even more aggressive in getting people to update to the latest and greatest.

12 responses

  1. Michael Lefevre wrote on :

    I just went through something like this, and thought it was all a bit tedious. I turned on a computer that hadn’t been used for some time and was running Firefox 3.5.somethingearly – it prompted me to update to 3.5.7, did the 10MB download, restarted, and then I did check for updates, to get offered 3.5.8, download restart, and then do the same again to get 3.6.

    Making the pages promote the newer version more is one thing, but ideally Firefox itself would be able to offer a major update without going through minor updates first (I know there are issues with this that have been discussed previously, cause only 1 update can be offered at a time, and of course people who don’t want the major update should still get the minor ones)

  2. Justin Dolske wrote on :

    Yeah, I think this message should be improved. Getting users onto 3.6 is great, but I’d worry that we’re currently confusing people by making them think (1) the version that just got installed is actually insecure and (2) that the Firefox auto-update mechanism is broken because it didn’t install the “latest and greatest”. Maybe we should consider separate wording for when there is/isn’t a Major Update offer available… If we are not offering a MU for the user’s current version, the text shouldn’t be scary-sounding. But if we are, then users should get a little more kick to encourage updating to the MU version.

  3. alanjstr? wrote on :

    Maybe if the update dialog listed more than one update:
    We see that you’re on Firefox 3.5.x, would you like to update to 3.5.x+1 or 3.6.x?

  4. Kyle wrote on :

    I agree with Michael in that users should not have to upgrade more than once to get to the latest version. Ideally they should be presented with a upgrade dialog box whenever a new minor version is available (like normal). If a newer major version is available then they should be given the option to upgrade straight to that, otherwise they can upgrade to the latest minor version (or cancel the upgrade completely). Next time a new minor update becomes available they should be prompted again to upgrade to the latest major version.

  5. Robert Kaiser wrote on :

    I think what’s happening now is exactly what’s good to happen, just that I wonder if we could avoid those users to update twice in a day.

    Apart from that, it’s really good that some people are upgrading due to those messages, but also that it’s not too aggressive. We want people to slowly start using the newer major release and only offer an advertized major update once we know problems for those users switching are rare enough (esp. regarding add-ons).

  6. Dan wrote on :

    This explains the effect, but whilst it’s good that more people are moving to the latest branch, you shouldn’t be misleading people into thinking the 3.5 branch is insecure. The current text “for security reasons” implies this.

  7. Jesper Kristensen wrote on :

    Why is the page suggesting a manual download when it is far easier to check for updates from the Help menu?

  8. Nirbheek Chauhan wrote on :

    When the update page is presented, instead of linking to the download page on mozilla.com, why not make that page link to the update dialog inside Firefox? That way, users don’t have to download the update manually and install it.

    To take this one step further, as some comments suggested, give the user an option to update to the next major upgrade as a part of the update dialog for a minor update as well.

  9. Jim wrote on :

    My reaction to that page is “wait, you mean I _just_ upgraded, and you’re telling me I have to upgrade again?”

    I think it needs to be extremely clear:
    “You just downloaded a small update to fix known issues in Firefox 3.5. We recommend that you upgrade to the lastest and greatest version, Firefox 3.6.”

  10. Simon wrote on :

    Please don’t get *too* aggressive about encouraging users to update. One thing I’ve found out with the release of FF 3.6 is that due to changes to the plugin interface, the Java 1.5 plugin is no longer supported. And that’s actually a big deal in enterprise-land, where older plugins are required in order to support applications. The Java 1.6 plugin should in theory be sufficient, but isn’t.

  11. Alex Faaborg wrote on :

    I think right now we are way to aggressive about informing users that they have received a minor update. They will never be able to notice the changes we made (aside from noticing the absence of hitting a security vulnerability), but right now we frame these updates as a more significant change. Also the “you’ve updated, you’re out of date!” messaging, while actually pretty common to update experiences in general, is pretty messy.

  12. Thane Sherrington wrote on :

    The Firefox update system needs to be changed to actually update to the current latest version instead of the next version in sequence. You can’t expect users who miss a couple of updates (and this happens all the time) to know that they need to keep updating until Firefox tells them that no more updates are necessary. Give them the option of getting the next sequential release or the current latest release.