Now, there are so many versions of internet browsers that it tends to be a bit messy. This is especially true for Firefox.
Different release life cycles
Here’s a brief history of the three main browsers. Sorry Opera and Safari fans…
Up to version 3, Mozilla team used to release a major version of Firefox once a year or every two years :
Internet Explorer, a web dinosaur, follows a similar life cycle. There is a correlation between Windows releases and IE version increment.
I don’t forget the youngest browser on the market : Chrome. In only two years of existence, Chrome has become one the most popular browser and has overtaken Firefox. Version increment is faster with several releases a year (or even two releases a month). Updates have become so routine that Google barely even mentions them anymore…
Firefox in trouble
The conclusion is obvious. Chrome, which has been released 4 years after Firefox, is displaying a version number much more higher : Firefox 3.6.13 and Chrome 8 in early 2011. The longevity of IE is such that Microsoft does not need to speed up its release cycle (IE 9 in 2011).
Let’s take a user who has the choice between an application X in version 2 and an application Y in version 12 and knowing that both applications have similar features. Unless strong constraints, it is likely that he will use the application Y. A higher number version means a better, up-to-date, stable and reliable application with the latest features. Of course, this is not necessarily true, but it’s a perfectly legitimate and natural choice.
To prevent losing market share and to keep up with its competitors, Mozilla introduced a fast release schedule after Firefox 3.6 (every six weeks) :
Firefox and IE are in the running for 2012 with a version number in double-digit. At this rate, Chrome would reach version 30 (!!) by the end of the year.
Firefox, available in several “flavors”
At the same time, Mozilla has introduced new distribution channels. We used to have a Beta and Stable channel. Now, the existing “Nightly” channel has been highlighted in the process and we also have an “Alpha” channel, which sits between Nightly and Beta (a kind of pre-beta).
This is the agile concept of continuous integration, with the building of the latest software version every day (nightly build) and the possibility to release a new version more often. User has access to the latest features, but it means there will be bugs and issues. Indeed, goal is to provide some feedback for the development team, as soon as possible, in order to include correction and enhancement in beta and stable revisions. In the same time, Mozilla has found a more recognizable name to its alpha channel : “Aurora”. The community has also designed new logos and a dedicated web page.
Since version 4.0, Firefox is now available for mobile devices, with stable, Beta and Aurora channels like the Desktop version. Mobile and Desktop versions share the same version increment.
Here are the links to download your version of Firefox :
- Stable Desktop Version: http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/all.html
- Stable Mobile Version : https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/browsers/mobile/
- Beta and Aurora for Desktop and Mobile Versions : http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/channel/
All versions (included old releases) are also available on the Mozilla’s official FTP : ftp.mozilla.org/pub/firefox/.
ESR, the new Firefox flavor in 2012
In early 2012, Mozilla announces a new version of Firefox (again !) with an extended support, Firefox ESR (Extended Support Release).
Firefox ESR is a variation of the Desktop version designed for enterprises with a slower release cycle that allows organizations more time to certify and test new releases of the browser.
Firefox 10 will be the first Extended Support Release and will incorporate security updates. The ESR release cycle will be slower and similar to the old one (before version 4) with a major release every year. For example, a company will have to update from Firefox ESR 10.x to ESR 17.0 (17 is not arbitrary, an ESR version will be supported for one year with security updates).
- Because Firefox 3.6 is still receiving security updates (it will until April 24th, 2012), it can be seen as an unofficial ESR version. Companies would be well advised to update to Firefox 10.0 ESR (planned for the 31st of January 2012) when Firefox 3.6 will not be supported anymore.
- Diagram and key dates above are provided for information only, this is a draft plan and there will probably be some changes.
What’s next ?
Is this multiplicity of versions will make Firefox losing users ? Is it meaningful to keep high version numbers ? Will Microsoft have to adopt a rapid release development cycle ? Late 2013, will Chrome be in version 50 ?
So many questions unanswered, but I hope this article has helped you to find your way in all these versions…