As announced a few weeks ago, Mozilla is preparing for a significant change on its Firefox development/release cycle with new features to be served as minor updates, which in the past have been restricted to security and stability bug fixing.
Electrolysis, the project that aims to make Firefox a multi-process application with tabs, chrome, and plugins running on processes of their own to improve stability and security, has already pushed the ability to run plugins (like Flash) on their own process. Since it will be a significant improvement for millions of users, Mozilla doesn’t want to wait for a bunch of other features to mature, get checked in, and tested. Instead, Lorentz, the code name of the release with partial multi process support, will be a minor update (3.6.x).
Firefox Director, Mike Beltzner, explains: “Now that we have better test automation and the ability to develop on project branches, we can better isolate changes with continuous integration testing, nightly builds and the ability to deliver smaller pieces continuously through the regular maintenance cycle (”minor updates”) of a product. This means that we can, without the user being disrupted or disturbed, improve stability, security and capability of the 25% of the Internet users who browse using Firefox. One day they’ll start up their web browser and it will be better. Maybe it will crash less, maybe it will be improve typography support on the web.”
It doesn’t mean, however, that everything will come as a minor update: “Changing the way the browser looks or interacts with users is something we should avoid doing.” “Risky interactive changes that could benefit from multiple iterations and betas can safely do so without worrying about “missing the boat.”, added Mike.
So, what we’re seeing is not just a change in Firefox’s roadmap, but a change in a paradigm about how software (commercial or open source) is developed, which I think we will see replicated somewhere else soon wherever there is a similarly apt and mature software development process.
The shift will also raise new challenges for other critical areas including marketing,QA, and localization.
For users, this basically means one, and only one thing: less wait.