Mozilla Migrates Users to FF5, Responds To Corporate Backlash

Last week, Mozilla released Firefox 5--just three months after launching Firefox 4. While the company had previously indicated it was moving to a faster release schedule and a whole-number versioning system, the launch caught many users, particularly corporations, off guard. Mozilla claimed that a rapid release schedule would allow it to deliver "new features, performance enhancements, security updates and stability improvements to users faster."

In the eight days since FF5 debuted, some 55 percent of FF4 users auto-updated to the new edition. Web tracking data indicates that the number of Firefox 4 users dropped from 16 percent to 7.2 percent, while Firefox 5's market share increased from 0.5 percent to 10 percent. This implies that the FF5 release prompted users who were previously using an older edition of the browser (3.6 or earlier) to jump to the new version.

When it launched FF4, Mozilla shifted its default update procedure. Previously, the browser only applied security updates automatically--users were prompted when new browser versions were available, but the new flavors weren't automatically installed. Now, users who don't want to update must manually opt out. Since Mozilla no longer issues security fixes for anything but the last version of the browser, it explicitly recommends against disabling these updates.

Firefox's 5 uptake is much higher than what Mozilla has seen previously, but lags Google Chrome. Chrome's update process, however, is completely silent--users are not notified when a browser update is installed and the company has stopped externally referring to the browser's version. That data is still available, but it's buried underneath "Tools / Task Manager / Stats For Nerds."

Corporate Complaints Spark Moderating Missive:

A few days after FF5 went live last week, multiple corporate IT administrators began asking how they were supposed to validate a product with such a short lifespan. One post by John Walicki, an IT administrator with 500,000 corporate Firefox users, sums up corporate concerns quite well. He wrote: "I’m now in the terrible position of choosing to deploy a Firefox 4 release with potentially unpatched vulnerabilities, reset the test cycle for thousands of internal apps to validate Firefox 5 or stay on a patched Firefox 3.6.x. By the time I validate Firefox 5, what guarantee would I have that Firefox 5 won’t go EOL when Firefox 6 is released?"

Mozilla executive Asa Dotzler responded to such concerns with the following:
Your “big numbers” here are really just a drop in the bucket, fractions of fractions of a percent of our user base. Enterprise has never been (and I’ll argue, shouldn’t be) a focus of ours. Until we run out of people who don’t have sysadmins and enterprise deployment teams looking out for them, I can’t imagine why we’d focus at all on the kinds of environments you care so much about.

Dotzler's statement and his complete dismissal of corporate users fueled criticism from MS and Google, both of whom hastened to assure the world+dog that they just love their business customers. Mozilla's Jay Sullivan (VP of products) posted a response to the furor today, in which he hastened to assure enterprise customers that Mozilla loves them, too.
The Mozilla Community has focused our efforts on the needs of the individual user, and prioritized the product roadmap and features accordingly. However, as is the case with many technologies, loyal Firefox users and their IT departments have sought to bring Firefox into their places of work.

A key challenge for enterprises is that they need to certify their websites, apps and add-ons each time Firefox is updated. This can take weeks or months. Security is also paramount, enterprises need access to a version that includes all known security fixes.

We are exploring solutions that balance these needs, with active discussion in our community.  Open Source software is well-suited to these challenges, as interested parties can come together to build what is needed.
Sullivan's post seems more a token olive branch than a sign of any policy changes--and it's not clear changes are needed. Mozilla's rapid release (and mandatory upgrade) system is nothing more than a marketing move. Freezing a primary version number doesn't actually change the validation process. Users tend to link version increases and major feature changes, but corporate policies need to gaze a bit deeper.