Mozilla ponders, rejects even faster Firefox release pace

Hears out proposal to ship a new version every five weeks

A pitch to accelerate Firefox's rapid-release schedule even more -- cutting a week to ship a new version every five weeks -- was rejected by Mozilla, according to a lively discussion on a company forum.

The proposal, made by Mozilla engineering manager Josh Aas last week, would have cut weeks from the current scheme.

"Moving to a five-week cycle would mean a fix going into mozilla-central would get to users three weeks faster," said Aas on the mozilla.dev.planning forum. "That's a big deal. It's an upgrade in responsiveness that we can't afford to pass on if we can pull it off."

Developers continually work on Firefox in the browser's main code base -- what Aas called "mozilla-central" -- and when changes there are ready for release they're worked on for an additional 12 weeks in the Aurora and beta channels before being added to the release version. The result: A new edition every six weeks.

For example, Firefox 7, slated to release Sept. 27, will follow Firefox 6's Aug. 16 debut by six weeks.

The reaction by Mozilla contributors, developers and managers to Aas' proposal was almost universally negative, with reasons ranging from developer burnout and too-short testing time for enterprises to the current lack of an automatic, behind-the-scenes update mechanism ala Google's Chrome.

But while the consensus seemed to be that moving to a five-week schedule was a bad idea at the moment, Mozilla left the door ajar.

"Yes, I absolutely think in the future we will shorten the cycle -- but it won't be soon," said Christian Legnitto, the Mozilla manager who oversees Firefox releases. "We have some work to do to make 6 weeks smooth from a process, tool, and product side. When we get 6 weeks down to a science we can shorten as needed."

Others made it clear that the discussion was just that, and not proof that Mozilla was about to speed up Firefox releases.

"This thread is not changing the schedule of Firefox releases. This thread is people talking about stuff," said Johnathan Nightingale, director of Firefox development. "Any future change to our schedules will be loudly communicated."

Mozilla prides itself on the open nature of its development process, in which most proposals and decisions are made public.

"This thread is about people talking about stuff. That's how Mozilla works -- we discuss in the open," said Mike Beltzner, a former Firefox director who still contributes to the open-source project.

The topic of Firefox's rapid release schedule has been a touchy one since Mozilla shifted to an every-six-week scheme last spring. Some enterprises that rely on Firefox loudly complained about the fast pace, saying that it gave them insufficient time to test each edition before deploying it to workers. Others have griped that many add-ons -- the extensions Firefox is famous for -- were broken by new versions, and that add-on developers weren't keeping pace.

Mozilla plans to ship Firefox 7 next Tuesday, then follow that with Firefox 8 and Firefox 9 before the end of the year.

Firefox 7 has been touted by Mozilla as a memory miser compared to earlier editions, using as much as 50% less memory than its predecessors.

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 gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more articles by Gregg Keizer.

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