Mozilla preps Firefox 3.0 auto update

Firefox 3.0.1, the most-up-to-date version, will be offered to users running 2.0.0.16

Mozilla has said that it is preparing to offer Firefox 3.0 to users still running older versions of the open-source browser, and might trigger the update within the next week.

Firefox 3.0.1, the most-up-to-date version, will be offered to users running 2.0.0.16, the latest edition of Mozilla's 2006 browser line, in the near future, said Mike Beltzner, the director of Firefox. He would not set a date, however.

"There are a couple of precursors to us making the offer," said Beltzner. "One is we want to make the offer in the native language of the build that you're running, and we're having text localized and translated now."

Notes from Mozilla's weekly status meeting yesterday hinted that it would be soon. "[We're] refocusing efforts on delivering a Firefox 2->3 major update within the next week," the summary read. Beltzner said Mozilla might have a better idea of a timeline within a few days.

When Firefox users receive the update offer, they will be able to choose between accepting the update, postponing it 24 hours or declining it. The latter, however, doesn't necessarily mean the offer won't be repeated down the road. "We reserve the right to make the offer again," Beltzner said, adding that the offer would not reappear for at least several weeks.

"We're pretty committed to user choice, but we're also pretty ardent that Firefox 3.0 is a good product," said Beltzner, explaining why Mozilla won't take 'No' for an answer.

Unlike Microsoft, which usually crafts blocking tools that let companies bar a major update, including a new version of Internet Explorer, from reaching their machines, Mozilla takes a more hands-off approach. "You can decline the update [when it's offered] if you don't want it," said Beltzner. "We think that's the best approach." Mozilla doesn't offer similar blocking tools, Beltzner acknowledged.

Most users should see the update offer within a few days of Mozilla pulling the trigger, Beltzner said. As with past major updates, the offer will be made to a limited number of users at the onset, he said. "We'll start and make sure the mirror network is not overloaded.

The last time Mozilla pushed out a major upgrade through Firefox's built-in update mechanism was June 2007, when it offered Firefox 2.0 to users still running its predecessor, Firefox 1.5. The several-month delay between Firefox's 2.0's 2006 debut and the mid-summer offer the next year was largely due to the time it took to craft patches to Firefox 1.5, so that it could handle the automatic update.

Mozilla extended support for Firefox 1.5 beyond an earlier-announced deadline precisely to account for one final fix in late May that enabled the auto update.

The delay led to questions from users, Beltzner said. "One thing we heard from users was whether there was a problem with Firefox 2.0" when the upgrade wasn't triggered soon after the new version went final, he added. Offering Firefox 3.0 "sooner, relative to its release," became an important goal, he said.

"People are generally ready for Firefox 3.0," Beltzner said. "There's been a good buzz around it, and for people who have gotten Firefox 2.0, it's been a while since they've had a major update."

According to the most recent data available from Web metrics vendor Net Applications, Firefox owned 19.2 per cent of browser market share at the end of July. Firefox 2.0 users currently outnumber those running version 3.0 by better than 2-to-1.

Mozilla will discontinue support for Firefox 2.0 in mid-December 2008.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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