Mozilla is considering two new proposals that will both speed up and slow down Firefox’s controversial new rapid-release development cycle.
The first plan — to speed up Firefox development — would shorten the existing six-week Firefox development cycle to a five-week development cycle. While that might not seem like a huge deal, consider that Firefox spends six weeks in each channel in the cycle — moving from nightly to aurora to beta and finally Firefox proper. Shortening the cycle by a single week means that the final release of Firefox would get to users three weeks faster than it does now.
Of course the five-week cycle is just a proposal. While developers seem to be supportive of the idea, most believe it will be some time before Firefox is ready to speed up again and so far the company has made no commitments.
At the same time Mozilla is also planning a slower release cycle for a new Firefox channel aimed at managed, enterprise environments. Firefox’s move to a rapid release cycle earlier this year left many of the browser’s business users out in the cold. Now Mozilla has proposed a new Extended Support Release (ESR) version of Firefox which would be updated every 30 weeks. That’s considerably slower than the current six-week release cycle that Firefox uses. In addition to the slower updates, the ESR version of Firefox would enjoy 42 weeks of support.
While that’s good news for Firefox’s enterprise users, there’s nothing in the proposal that would limit the ESR channel to enterprise. Mozilla does say that it won’t advertise the ESR channel on its various Firefox websites, but there won’t be anything to stop “regular” users from using the ESR channel.
Of course there are a few things you should keep in mind even if Firefox’s rapid release cycle drives you crazy. The most notable thing to bear in mind is that Mozilla says that the ESR channel won’t enjoy the same cycle of testing that happens via the existing nightly, aurora and beta channels. The ESR channel will be just that, a totally separate channel.
Mozilla also notes that the ESR channel will be “less secure” than the rapidly updated Firefox, with only “high-risk/impact security patches” being backported to the slower release plan. Among the other caveats that come with the new ESR proposal are that Firefox would only be supported on operating systems “supported at the beginning of an ESR.” Presumably that means running Firefox ESR on OS upgrades that come along during that 42 week cycle would not be supported.
The limited security and support in Mozilla’s current Firefox ESR proposal make it worth asking why Mozilla is even bothering with the enterprise market. After all, enterprise tends to move slower and needs a browser that will be as secure a year from now as it is now, which Mozilla does not seem to be offering. As Joe Brockmeier at ReadWriteHack points out, “unlike Microsoft and Google, there’s little upside for Mozilla in engaging enterprises… there’s no set of enterprise products for Mozilla to sell to large and slow-moving organizations, but it faces added costs and development burden to be dealt with to keep enterprises happy.” Mozilla itself acknowledges that the new plan will be a resource drain and could slow down the development of regular Firefox.
For its part Mozilla seems to view the new enterprise plan as a learning experience, noting that the ESR releases will give the company “a better read on the opportunities in a market space it is unfamiliar with.”