Mozilla has announced today its new development model that aims to deliver new major releases in shorter time frames.
Firefox 1.5, the first Firefox update took about a year after the original release to be ready for users. About another year for Firefox 2.0, more than a year and a half for Firefox 3, one more for Firefox 3.5, about 7 months for 3.6, and a more than a year for Firefox 4. Note that these are approximate durations, in reality, Firefox next release development starts a few months before the current one goes final.
While these development cycles have served well for the past years, allowing Mozilla to ignite the browser development scene with solid releases, and take the browser wars to the web standards, performance, and usability field, it has also become clear that we need those improvements coming faster.
A good example is WebM support. Announced in May last year, it has taken about a year (with Firefox 4 release) to become a real alternative for web content authors. Focus would have helped here.
Currently, Firefox is mainly developed in the nightly trunk (which produces daily builds called Minefield). When a certain level of stability is attained it moves to the beta channel where the necessary tweaks for a public (though not final) release are made.
The problem is there is too much of a quality and user base gap between the nightly channel and the beta releases, forcing as many branch freezes as betas are required, which in turn causes bug fixes to pile up during this period, which then get less tested, and new bugs harder to identify since too many of them suddenly check-in after the unfreeze.
To speed and focus things up, Mozilla will be adding a fourth development channel to be called Aurora. Aurora will be synchronized with the trunk only every 6 weeks, allowing more time for new bug fixes and new features to get stabilized before becoming a beta, while not stopping nightly development.
Mozilla expects a million user base for the Aurora channel, an order of magnitude just between nightly (100K) and beta (10M) channels current audiences.
This is a very important change for Mozilla which has realized that for current web development needs, timing may be as important as innovation, openness, security, and quality.
An early version of Mozilla’s roadmap featured up to three more releases this year, which may be too ambitious for a start. However if we see another release this third quarter, and another one the first quarter next year, it would signal the changes have worked out, and we could come to expect up to three Firefox releases a year.