It didn’t take long: Just 60 days after the release of version 4 Firefox 5 is available for download since yesterday. There aren’t many obvious changes for the “ordinary” web user, but for us web-designers the inclusion of CSS3 animations is really big news. This will undoubtedly be the impetus for a wide-spread use of this technique – be it good or bad.
As much as I welcome these fast updates as much I think that this is not the right way to do it for Mozilla. Firefox users are used to the fact that they get a big update with every version number. But this time that didn’t happen. If you aren’t explicitly aware of the changes you really won’t notice them. So where is the benefit for someone who uses Firefox to just browse the web and nothing else? Equal to zero. And if I am this user I ask myself why I should update to Firefox 5 now, or Firefox 6 in three month (which is the promoted period between new versions)? I would not do it.
However things are quite different at the inventor of this “rapid-release-model” called Chrome. People are accustomed to these steady, often only minor, updates there. But the true success lies within the auto-update functionality. If you want users to update a product you have to do it for them. Just proclaiming “hey, Firefox 5 is here, please download it (and oh, by the way, you won’t notice any difference)” isn’t enough. Besides that I even didn’t get a notice in Firefox 4 that there is a new version available.
So, if Mozilla is really serious about this “rapid-release-model” they either have to switch on auto-update by default or go back to point numbers at the the version numbers. Because else nobody will care about it. Maybe to provide an obvious benefit for users to update is also a way, but that won’t happen every three month. I am really curious where this will lead to. Hopefully Mozilla will not face plant it.