Although Mozilla will urge users to stick with Firefox's rapid release schedule, there's nothing in a current proposal to prevent them from adopting the much slower tempo meant for enterprises.
Last week, the open-source developer unveiled a plan that, if approved, will deliver a new edition of Firefox for corporations every seven-and-a-half months , five times slower than the six-week pace the company kicked off earlier this year.
Interim updates issued between the every-30-weeks release of a new edition will patch the most serious security updates, according to the plan Mozilla has labeled "Extended Support Release," or ESR.
Mozilla has not yet named the new edition, but several labels have been floated, including "Firefox ESR" and "Firefox Enterprise Edition."
The ESR proposal was Mozilla's reaction to criticism last June from enterprise IT managers, who said that the rapid release schedule forced companies to choose between running an untested browser or one with known vulnerabilities.
Users and developers cited a number of reasons why consumers might want to use the less-frequent ESR builds, including problems with add-ons unable to keep up with the six-week cadence, and a desire for fewer updates on machines they "support" for family and friends.
The every-30-weeks Firefox may also be just "good enough" for many users, one Mozilla developer argued.
"The reason I expect a lot of users to switch to these ESR builds is not because they want extensions to work or because of any one issue that we can fix in the future," said Cheng Wang on the mozilla.planning.dev discussion group last week. "It's simply because Firefox works 'good enough' right now and they don't want to have to deal with change."
There was nothing in Mozilla's proposal that indicated a technical barrier to non-business users climbing on the ESR train. But Mozilla will, at the least, discourage others from adopting the slower release schedule.
"We want to ensure it will be an explicit choice to select the ESR and we won't recommend it for individual use," said Kev Needham, Mozilla's channel manager, in an email reply to questions. "The ESR is targeted specifically at organizations who face the challenges it addresses, not individual users."
Needham, however, said that the details of the plan were "to be determined," perhaps leaving open an option that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for individuals to grab the ESR editions.
"There's no way for them to physically limit ESR to enterprises," Mike Kaply, a consultant who specializes in writing Firefox add-ons and in customizing the browser for corporate clients, countered in an interview last week. Kaply was one of those who criticized the six-week release scheme as unworkable for enterprises.
To keep most users on the six-week plan, Mozilla will downplay ESR by not overtly advertising the longer release schedule.
"Some might [adopt ESR]," said Johnathan Nightingale , director of Firefox engineering, on the discussion thread. "We won't market it, and our experience with old versions (like 3.6 today) shows that the vast majority of people won't."
According to the proposal, the ESR edition will only be mentioned on the Mozilla wiki page dedicated to enterprises.
Others at Mozilla were confident that few non-enterprise users would move to ESR.
"Firefox 3.6 is out there, supported, on mozilla.org, and doesn't have the update rage or add-on pain," said Christian Legnitto , who leads the Firefox release team. "We don't see people opting into it. This is a non-issue if we get out in front of it, and likely a non-issue in general."
At the same time, developers seemed to grow frustrated at the way the conversation went on the discussion forum, and several times reminded users that ESR was not to be interpreted as a reversal of Firefox's rapid release scheme.
"This proposal is not a proxy for moving away from the new release process," said Legnitto. "Please, please stop treating it as such."
As part of the ESR plan, Mozilla will drop support for Firefox 3.6, the early-2010 edition it continues to maintain, 12 weeks after it kicks off the enterprise edition. Mozilla could issue the first Firefox ESR build as early as Nov. 8.
More information about the ESR proposal can be found on Mozilla's website.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer , on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
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