Mozilla debates dropping Firefox support for Mac OS X 10.4 'Tiger'

It could ditch support for the older Apple OS in early 2011

Mozilla Corp. is considering dropping support for Mac OS X 10.4 after it ships the successor to Firefox 3.5 in 2010, according to ongoing discussions.

The talk of discontinuing Firefox for the "Tiger" operating system is the second such conversation to go public this month; two weeks ago, developers and executives pondered whether to drop support for older versions of Windows.

In a series of messages on the Mozilla.dev.planning forum, developers resurrected the idea of abandoning Tiger six months after Mozilla launches the follow-on to Firefox 3.5, a browser that Mozilla has dubbed Firefox.next and code-named Namoroka.

"If we drop support for 10.4 in Gecko 1.9.2 then 10.4 users will be supported until approximately Q1 2011 via Firefox 3.5. Our 10.4 support would end a little over 3 years after the last copy of 10.4 shipped," said Josh Aas, a platform engineer for Mozilla who works on Mac OS X integration. Apple debuted Mac OS X 10.4 in April 2005, then supplanted it with 10.5, a.k.a. Leopard, in October 2007.

Mozilla is currently working on Gecko 1.9.1, the engine that powers Firefox 3.5; it is slated for final release before the end of this quarter. The company will then start working on the Gecko 1.9.2 engine, which would power Firefox.next.

Although Josh said that 36% of the Mac OS X users running Firefox are still on Tiger, he added that that number is sure to drop over the next year and a half. But his most compelling argument, based on the response it got from other developers, was that dropping 10.4 will let Mozilla use application programming interfaces available only in Leopard and later.

"One major benefit of moving to 10.5 as a minimum is using 10.5+ APIs without runtime detection and build-time SDK trickery," said Josh.

"Overall I think there's a lot of technical reasons why 10.5 should be a new baseline, and the number of users is small and diminishing in any case, so I definitely support this from the Firefox side," said Michael Connor, one of the company's software engineers, later in the discussion thread. Connor was the one who jump-started the conversation earlier this month about dropping support for Windows 2000 and versions of Windows XP prior to Service Pack 2.

Not everyone is keen on the idea, however. "Suffice to say, I will be very disappointed if I can't upgrade to Firefox 3.6 or Firefox 4 next year," countered Gordon Hemsley, a user who posted to the forum.

Even though he recommended dropping 10.4 support, Connor acknowledged that doing so will irk some Firefox fans. "Users will be [angry]. That's just the way it works," he said. "But a huge number of apps seem to be 10.5-only these days anyway, so we're just another tree in the forest."

Currently, Firefox 3.09 supports Mac OS X 10.4 and 10.5. Firefox 3.5, which missed a Beta 4 ship date last week, will support the same versions. Mozilla's policy is to support a browser with security patches for six months after its successor is released.

Apple has said it intends to ship Mac OS X 10.6, a.k.a. Snow Leopard, this summer; Apple typically cuts off support for the operating system two steps behind a new release within several months of a new debut.

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