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Mozilla Plans to Silently Update Future Firefox Releases

Firefox's sizable updates will soon download and install without bothering the user

Mozilla is changing the way Firefox handles updates. Mozilla has announced it will take yet another page from Google Chrome’s playbook and move automatic updates to the background where they will happen silently, without the need for user input. Of course that also means Firefox updates will happen without user consent, something Mozilla avoided in the past.

The new silent update policy, which Mitchell Baker, Chair of the Mozilla Foundation, announced via her blog, will not take effect until Firefox 10, which will arrive in early 2012.

Lest you think that Mozilla is moving to Chrome-style silent updates simply because it wants to, Baker clarifies that the change is in response to user feedback:

In the past we have been very careful to make sure people know something is changing with their web browser before it changes. We did this to make sure people are aware and in control of what’s happening to their environment. Our position was to err on the side of user notification. Today people are telling us — loudly — that the notifications are irritating and that a silent update process is important. This work is underway.

Moving to a silent update system will help address what’s known as “update fatigue” by eliminating the endless update notices. Google Chrome has already shown that this is a much more effective way to keep software updated without troubling users every single time a bug fix arrives.

However, Chrome has another trick up its sleeve that makes its frequent updates easier on users — a custom compression algorithm that reduces the size of those updates. Chrome’s Courgette project makes sure that silent updates don’t choke your bandwidth while they’re downloading. Firefox, at the moment, does not seem to have a similar tool in place. As it stands, when Firefox downloads an update in the background it’s only marginally smaller that what you’d download if you used the downloads page.

Hopefully Mozilla plans to enable some better compression tools — and thus, smaller updates — in the future. While Baker doesn’t specifically address the issue, she does say that Mozilla has a long-term plan that will “alleviate the issues” many users have had with the new rapid release cycle and that Mozilla will have “improvements rolling out in the coming weeks.”

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