Enterprise IT unhappy with Firefox 4's quick demise

Firefox 4's retirement 'kick in the stomach,' says IBM manager

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In fact, that's just what Mozilla intends to do.

When Firefox 6 ships -- it's now slated to debut Aug. 16 -- Firefox 5 will be retired, and users will be encouraged to upgrade to that version to receive security updates and any new features packaged with the new browser.

The same will hold true on Sept. 27, when Firefox 7 is to launch, on Nov. 8 with Firefox 8 and on Dec. 20 when Firefox 9 debuts: In each case, the preceding edition will be retired.

"I'm very sympathetic to these enterprise concerns," said Hilwa. "But it's more of a sign of the disconnect between consumer and enterprise."

Consumers don't have an issue with upgrading to a new browser every six weeks -- the success of Chrome, which releases a new edition that frequently, demonstrates that the pace works for them -- but it will always be a sticking point with businesses.

Companies want to insure that a new application, especially a browser, doesn't create compatibility or security problems. And to corporate IT, Firefox 5 is a new browser, not simply a security update for Firefox 4.

"If Firefox 5 is just some cleanup and bug fixes [for Firefox 4], a new version number is the wrong message to send enterprises," said Hilwa. "That's the peril of adopting products that aren't actually licensed, or not even attached to any license, as Internet Explorer is."

And it's why corporations continue to use Microsoft's IE. "This flap shows why Microsoft has been much more conservative in its release schedule," said Hilwa, "and why they support older versions for such a long time."

Hilwa said Mozilla has to decide where it wanted to put its time and effort: consumers or enterprise. "This may be a good decision for Mozilla, but it's a gambit," he said. "It's up to Mozilla to figure out how important the enterprise market is to them."

Mozilla has apparently made its decision.

"Enterprise has never been (and I'll argue, shouldn't be) a focus of ours," said Asa Dotzler, director of Firefox, in a comment appended to a follow-up blog post by Kaply. "Until we run out of people who don't have sysadmins and enterprise deployment teams looking out for them, I can't imagine why we'd focus at all on the kinds of environments you care so much about."

In that same comment, Dotzler dismissed enterprise users of Firefox as "a drop in the bucket, fractions of fractions of a percent of our user base."

Dotzler's comment didn't sit well with Christopher Johnson, a developer who works for Illinois-based custom software firm Geneca.

"You're basically saying you don't care about corporations," Johnson said on Kaply's blog. "Does that mean you want a large user base to stay attached to IE? Doesn't that contradict the mission of the Mozilla Corporation?"

Later Thursday, another Mozilla executive, while echoing Dotzler, provided a more detailed explanation of the company's position.

"By releasing small, focused updates more often, we are able to deliver improved security and stability even as we introduce new features, which is better for our users, and for the Web," Kev Needham, Mozilla's channel manager, said in a statement by email.

"We recognize that this shift may not be compatible with a large organization's IT policy and understand that it is challenging to organizations that have effort-intensive certification polices," Needham continued. "[But] tying Firefox product development to an organizational process we do not control would make it difficult for us to continue to innovate for our users and the betterment of the Web."

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@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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