The Firefox War

June 24, 2011

I continue to think that the #1 issue in computing today is not which tablet is best or which app is cool, but the overall security of the massive computing infrastructure that has become such an indispensible part of our lives.

This week, Mozilla angered the business community by announcing that Firefox 4, about three months old, would be retired now that Firefox 5 has been released. Subsequent to availability of version 5, Mozilla commented that 5 could be considered the security upgrade for 4.

In one sense, Mozilla is following in the footsteps of Google, which silently and automatically updates its Chrome browser. In my review of browsers in January, 2010 I studied Chrome 4. The current version on my PC is 12, meaning 8 version updates in 17 months or one every two months.

The business furor comes because businesses have to take security seriously and can spend months testing a new version. That's why it takes so long for older versions of Internet Explorer to fade away - the benefit of adopting a new version has to outweigh the costs of dumping the old one. There is simply no way for a business to properly evaluate a major release in two or three months. Most larger businesses with which I have dealt would probably resist a frequency any higher than once a year, more likely choosing at least 2 years.

Another comment attributed to Mozilla implied that the consumer model was more important to it than the business model. I can see that line of thinking; there are a lot more smart phones than PCs.

Today Microsoft exploited the eruption by indicating that it would support IE9 security updates through 2020. This is the sort of situation that would quickly cause businesses to turn their attention to IE and Microsoft and thus give Microsoft an important leg up in the browser wars. And it would be entirely consistent with Microsoft's improved emphasis on security over the past few years.

I do think Microsoft made a mistake by not making IE9 available for Windows XP. IE's worldwide browser share has taken a hit as a result. But by taking an anti-business stance, Mozilla (and Google and Apple by extension) give Microsoft a huge talking point and an excellent opportunity to restore some of that lost share.


Tags: Firefox, Internet Explorer, Microsoft, Mozilla, Web, Web Browsers

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