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15 Nov 11 Firefox 10: Can Mozilla Afford To Miss Silent Updates?

Mozilla released the downloads of Firefox 9 Beta, which will be released just before Christmas as final, as well as Firefox 10 Aurora, the developer version of Firefox. But even with six new versions within one year, Mozilla may not have accomplished what the rapid release process promised: Most notably, Mozilla released substantial memory improvements this year, but it will miss some features it so desperately needs to compete with Chrome.

mozilla firefoxMozilla announced the availability of Firefox 10 Aurora a bit earlier today and those who are following Firefox development may have been surprised by the feature set that is currently laid out. The details are mentioned here and there are plenty additions in this release, albeit not those the average user may get excited about. So, the explanation is that Firefox 10 focuses on HTML5 enhancements, which would include the HTML5 Visibility API as well as 3D Transforms as well as WebGL anti-aliasing (which is not part of HTML5). Despite those 40 or so additions and modifications, I am not sure if it will be enough.

What surprised me quite a bit is that silent updates is not part of the list. Perhaps it was just an accidental omission, but, strangely enough, silent updates have been marked as “at risk” for deployment in the release tracker for Firefox. One critical feature – the removal of the security dialog in Windows – depends on the resolution of a critical bug, and the actual background updates are generally “at risk” as well. As controversial as the silent updates are, it is somewhat obvious that they have been working very well for Google and Chrome and enabled Google to transition more than 90% of its user base from one version to another within a week, while Mozilla and Microsoft rely on users to actually make a choice for an update and actively initiate it or grant permission. Common sense would suggest that silent updates are more convenient for browser users and would make them stay with Mozilla.

Missing silent updates and moving them to yet another version is a big risk for Mozilla in a time when Chrome will be overtaking Firefox in market share. Mozilla simply can’t afford such delays and needs to stay nimble and execute perfectly if it wants to compete effectively.

For the first 13 days of this month, Chrome has passed Firefox market share at 25.47% versus 25.32%, according to StatCounter. Over the past weekend, Chrome climbed to 27.22% market share, while Firefox dropped as low as 25.05%. Over the past weeks, Mozilla has lost its #2 position in Asia to Chrome, it is about to lose #2 to Chrome in North America and Oceania, while Chrome has climbed to become the #1 browser in South America. There isn’t much Mozilla can do to change this situation now, but there needs to be a strategic feature plan and those features will need to arrive in time.

The current problems do not end with Firefox 10 and silent updates. It appears that Firefox 11 will get the much anticipated new tab page, but Mozilla just listed the home tab as well as Chrome settings migration “at risk”. Firefox 11 is scheduled for release on March 13, 2012. However, by that time, Mozilla may have fallen into the 22% neighborhood and Chrome may be at 28%, if the current trend holds up.

What do you think? Can Mozilla afford to miss those features?

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