Firefox 6 is here. So far, I haven't received any notification pushing the latest Mozilla browser, but my wife has, so I assume it is just a matter of time. When my Mozilla overlords come knocking, though, I'm not sure I want to get on the Firefox 6 train.
The dust has barely settled on the last "major upgrade"--but that is the product roadmap strategy Mozilla is sticking to. With that in mind, here are four reasons I would just as soon not download and install Firefox 6.
1. Firefox 4.2
Is there anything revolutionary or Earth-shattering about Firefox 6? No, not really. There wasn't really any major change from Firefox 4 to version 5, either. In fact, what Mozilla has chosen to identify as whole new version numbers and release with much hoopla and fanfare every few weeks is about the same as what other browser vendors do at least as frequently called "automatic updates".
Pushing out patches to fix security holes or resolve bugs does not qualify as a new version of the browser. Even tweaking or adding a minor feature or two doesn't justify calling it a new version. Those are the kinds of things that generally get an incremental number--so Firefox 5 is more like Firefox 4.1, and Firefox 6 is really just Firefox 4.2. Mozilla knows that too, which is why it wants to dispense with version numbering entirely so it's not as obvious.
That isn't a reason to avoid Firefox per se, but it is an annoying break with established norms for version numbering. And, for IT admins trying to manage and maintain browser updates across hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of machines, Firefox launching a "new version" every six weeks is a nightmare.
2. Falling Star
Firefox has been on the decline for a long time. It still has a dedicated following, and it still has about 40 percent more market share than Chrome--but Google's browser has gained 5.5 percentage points since last September, while Firefox has declined by 1.5 percent. The two browsers have many of the same features and same general audience, and Chrome is clearly leading the way.
Of course, we can't ignore Internet Explorer. IE has been sliding as well, but it still has 50 percent more market share than Firefox and Chrome combined. IE has plummeted nearly seven percentage points since September of 2010, but for Microsoft I would argue that the decline is semi-intentional.
Microsoft is actively campaigning and imploring businesses and consumers to abandon older versions of the browser--particularly IE6. At the same time, the latest flagship browser from Microsoft--Internet Explorer 9-- is limited to Windows Vista and 7 systems, which restricts its potential audience to only about a third of all PCs. As Windows 7 continues to gain ground, and Windows 8 eventually hits the street, IE9 (and eventually IE10) will continue to gain ground.
It breaks add-ons--again. When Firefox 5 was launched, many users complained that it broke add-ons that had worked just fine in Firefox 4. That left Firefox 5 dysfunctional for users that rely on those broken add-ons until or unless the developer scrambles to update them.
A commenter on my PCWorld peer Jon Mello's article, which praised Firefox 6 with reasons you should download, it doesn't seem very pleased. MBGolferb5r4 says: "Of course when you log on to upgrade it says it will not work with Norton. A rather large issue since I had to jump through hoops with the last upgrade to get it to work."
The good news for this reader is that Norton will most likely jump right on this and aggressively develop an updated add-on that is compatible with Firefox 6. The bad news is that the new compatible version may only work for a few weeks before Firefox 7 comes along to break it again.
That shiny new Firefox 5 you have? It's obsolete. It is filled with serious security vulnerabilities that will never be patched because the browser is no longer supported by Mozilla. The "update" you need to fix the security issues is to "upgrade" to Firefox 6.
As soon as you install Firefox 6, you are already only a matter of weeks away from its planned obsolescence when Firefox 7--which is already in beta testing--is launched. Of course, if you rely on Firefox and you aren't in a position to switch to an alternative browser like Chrome, you really have no choice but to "upgrade" or you're just leaving your browser open to security exploits.
Admittedly, I will download and install Firefox 6 when I finally get the notification from Mozilla. But, it is not because I choose to, or because I think it's a worthwhile thing to do. It is purely under duress because it's the only way to ensure my version of Firefox isn't riddled with security holes.
I could just uninstall Firefox, but I frequently use all of the major browsers for various testing purposes while I am writing. I will be switching to Firefox 6 with a gun to my head, though, as will many others--so Mozilla shouldn't get too excited about the millions of downloads or rapid adoption of its latest and greatest browser when the fact is that users don't really have a choice.