Mozilla: We won't ditch Firefox version numbers

Says big brouhaha two weeks ago was "miscommunication"

Mozilla will not scrub the version number from Firefox's "About" box after all, putting an end to a often-heated debate that first surfaced two weeks ago.

"There are no plans to adjust the version number. It will remain in its current place in the About window, and we are going to continue with the current numbering scheme," said Alex Faaborg, a principal designer at Mozilla, in a message on the "mozilla.dev.usability" discussion list Tuesday.

In another message on the same thread, Faaborg blamed "miscommunication inside of the [user experience] team" for the blow-up about the departing version number.

On Aug. 14, Asa Dotzler, a director of Firefox, announced that version numbers were irrelevant to Firefox users, and said that they would be stripped from the About box, which is used by most locally-installed software to identify the edition being run.

The reaction was almost unanimously negative, and as that original thread grew -- it eventually included about 440 messages, an amazing number for a Mozilla discussion -- many people complained as much about Dotzler's attitude as about the decision itself.

"Because we should all listen doesn't mean we should put all of our plans or features up for a vote," Dotzler said at one point when Firefox users griped that their feedback wasn't being taken into account.

This week, Faaborg said that someone one his team -- Dotzler had identified him as Alex Limi, a lead in the interface design group -- had asked Dotzler to log the change in Bugzilla, Mozilla's bug- and modification-tracking database.

"I really appreciate Asa giving us the authority and deferring to our decision, but in this case we didn't have the design sorted out enough ahead of time and we basically set him up," Faaborg said.

On Aug. 20, Faaborg apologized for not weighing in on the debate earlier, saying that half of his team was on vacation and the other half had been out of the office at a user research-related offsite.

The idea of downplaying Firefox's version number wasn't new -- Mozilla has been deemphasizing numbers since it shifted to a rapid-release schedule in March -- and is consistent with the practice of rival Google. Although Chrome identifies the current version number in its About box, Google usually refers to the browser sans any number.

Chrome has an advantage, however, in that it automatically updates itself without the user seeing a notification or having to call up the About box, which is how Firefox now triggers an update.

Mozilla plans to add silent updating to Firefox. Developers have crafted a features page that outlines the work necessary, but have not set a timeline for its completion or a target edition of Firefox where it may debut. Elsewhere, Mozilla has tagged silent updating as "P1," the highest priority label for an under-construction feature.

At one point, silent updating was slated for Firefox 4, the browser Mozilla launched in March 2011. But last year, the feature was dropped, one of several victims to the chopping block as Mozilla dealt with development delays.

Mozilla released Firefox 6 last week, and is planning on shipping Firefox 7 on Sept. 27.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

Read more about browsers in Computerworld's Browsers Topic Center.

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