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Firefox needs to adopt the Ubuntu model

Firefox has an identity crisis.

Used to being the #2 browser and eroding share from IE, Firefox sees its share eroding slightly–or not growing as fast as it used to, depending on who you ask–and the upstart Chrome gaining.

What Firefox has done is tantamount to panic.

Chrome is fast and edgy. IE is corporate and plodding. Firefox was somewhere in between–too slow to release new versions and innovations for some, but much faster than Microsoft has been. It was a conservative choice for end users, and an OK choice in business settings that valued security and standards compliance over compatibility with IE.

But now Firefox, starting with the new version 5, has decided it’s time to get edgy like Chrome. It’s not quite like Pat Boone singing Megadeth songs, but in trying to be edgier and cooler, they’re giving up the one advantage they had over Chrome: longevity.

Companies test things thoroughly and deploy slowly. It’s a matter of survival. I’ve worked in environments where they just push stuff out without regard for what breaks, and sometimes it means you’re out of business for a few days.
And if Firefox is going to deliver new major versions every three months, they’re going to be a noncontender in those environments, like Chrome. That’s the reason why Ubuntu does a long-term support version for servers and another version for desktops and hobbyists. And frankly, if Firefox wants to maintain any presence in corporate environments–and they should–the Ubuntu approach is a way to do that, and preferable to a Chrome-like approach where they completely ignore that market. Firefox is never going to be the browser of choice for corporate environments, for reasons I’ve discussed before. But what are they gaining when they cede that whole market to IE?
After a decade of stagnation, it’s good to see some real competition in the browser landscape again. But there is such thing as moving too fast. Adopting a Ubuntu-like schedule, releasing a new version every six months and a long-term support version every 18 or perhaps 24 months, seems like a reasonable pace. The long-term support versions would stick around long enough for corporations, and they would also be a good choice for those segments of the user population who don’t want a new web browser every two months, but just want something secure that works.
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