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[Repost] Firefox and Rapid Release

By Matt A. Tobin on Monday, May 26th, 2014
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NOTE: This was originally posted in the now defunct IT Central (before that on the “New Tobin Paradigm Blog” and even before that in the form of comments on Neowin and Mozilla’s Blog .. Are we having fun yet?!)

I am very disappointed that Firefox builds that turn releases are not properly tested and have unprecedented stability, security, and reliablity issues ever since the beginning of this so called RapidRelease program.

The main issue is RapidRelease != Rapid Development. The actual development of the browser’s code base has not accelerated and with constant reversion and pulling of new code from the various build channels filtering down to the Release channel we are not getting nearly the compelling and stable firefox that made it the product we came to use and care about.

With features and code being backed out you are left with mixing of new and old code which presents unpredictable results in the so called “Final” product which has affected stability and reliability in the browser since Firefox 5 began the trend.

Obviously this was a marketing decision made with no regard for code stability or testing. It is and has harmed firefox so much more than the apparent slowness of the previous release cycle ever did.

Where chrome succeeds is it truly does employ a rapid development which is easy to do and does go twords getting the new standards out there because of what it is and what it was intended to be. A browser that is nothing more and nothing less than a rendering engine in a window frame. Though it did grow as Google’s “Don’t be evil” policy fell twords the wayside. And some people want a Just Works(tm) solution that is as simple as that (half baked addon system not withstanding).

Where Mozilla Firefox and it’s parent product turned community sister product excelled at was pure choice in how your browser works, looks, and functions while providing what other browsers at the time didn’t. Updated, stable, and reliable Web Browser plus so much more. However, this is not the case anymore and Mozilla needed a way to not look like it was standing still next to the rapid development cycle of Google Chrome (which I must remind you is little more than webkit in a window frame). What they failed to realize is you can’t just start releasing a product every 6-12 weeks without the proper testing and actual development that makes it significant and advantageous to keep upgrading to the “latest and greatest”.

RapidRelease simply does not work without rapid development. But firefox being more than just a rendering engine inside of a window frame (well it is but in a completely different way) it is a very complex piece of software engineering and lives off a mature code base that is now being picked apart and rewritten and changed so frequently but in tiny ways that no one can predict the over all affects of these changes without the proper testing. This compounded with the fact actual development is not proceeding any faster than before as caused a reduction in stability and quality of the releases we get from Mozilla. You can’t just start making changes in pieces and components and expect the newer pieces to work with the older pieces instantly then compile and release a product every 6 weeks.

To restate the problem Firefox looked like it was being released slower than Chrome so Mozilla decided to go to this RapidRelease program which is all well and good on paper but in reality the problems caused by this decision are far worse and have done long standing damage to the Firefox brand than any perceived loss of market share caused by not having the highest version number and most releases in a year.

If Mozilla is not up to the task of providing an end to end experience with a fast cycle of releases it should return to the tried and true method of releasing updated versions when they actually reach a specific standard for code and functionality. This is how Firefox became popular and at one time one of the most used browsers aside from Internet Explorer which was only used “because it was there”.

For the time being I am currently using a stable and functionally complete fork of the Firefox codebase known as Pale Moon. It does not conform to the ideals of releasing regardless of stability or completeness. Until such time either the actual development of firefox increases to match it’s rapid release model or they return to a more sane release cycle that is in line with the speed of actual development I will not be using what comes out of MozCo.

UPDATE: Since this was posted on New Tobin Paradigm I have been re-expanding my use of browsers to include Chrome and Firefox Nightly and still find that using Pale Moon is a viable gecko alternative to standard Firefox.

In addition, an earlier version of this post that was in the form of a comment on the Mozilla Blog was quoted on a security website following the Firefox 16 zero day issue. We will see where the Mozilla future takes us but even after a few months it is clear that my assessment and opinion stands.