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Mozilla Plans for Firefox Enterprise - Will it Slow Innovation?

firefoxFrom the 'Lowest Common Denominator' files:

One of the perceived shortcomings of Mozilla's rapid release cycle, with new browsers every 6 weeks - is that enterprises couldn't keep up.

So now Mozilla has officially embraced a plan for an Enterprise release version of Firefox dubbed Extended Release Support (ESR). Personally, I don't think it's a great idea. In fact, I think it could hurt Mozilla's mission for improving the web for us all.

Today, Mozilla already has an extended support version in all but name - with Firefox 3.6, which was first released back in January of 2010. To be fair, Mozilla has updated that browser multiple times for security - and yes some features too. But, I've never heard anyone ever complain of being able to support Firefox 3.6 in an enterprise. So that's two years of support for a release.

The new ESR will come out only once a year, implying only 1 year of support, which again to be fair - is better than the 42 weeks of support that Mozilla initially suggested in September of 2011.

Adding another layer to the ESR situation is the fact that true enterprise vendors like Red Hat for example, support their software for much longer periods. In Red Hat's case, they've told me that they just cherry pick fixes from Mozilla and then update their build. So yes, if you want an enterprise support long term version of Firefox TODAY, just use Red Hat Enterprise Linux (or get their binaries).

And if you're an enterprise using Firefox 3.6 today (and not on Red Hat), you're still going to have update more than you're used too for major releases.

Having the new ESR release, IMHO will only serve to confuse regular users and small businesses that otherwise would run the rapid release. By not running the latest rapid release, users will not benefit from the latest feature and HTML/CSS enhancement make and that's a big problem. Web Developers have long adhered to a philosophy of supporting the lowest common denominator when it comes to standards and specs. That's why having IE6 around for so long was such a pain right? If enough users stick with the ESR it could hold back the embrace of new standards.

As well, with the upcoming silent update feature, Firefox updating will be non-invasive and easier then before.

That said, having worked in enterprise environments, I understand the traditional sensitivity toward change and change management. I have felt the pain of a broken, mission-critical app because a new browser no longer worked.

I also know that the good people at Mozilla are really just trying to strike a balance and they also have alot of users to satisfy. My only concern is that in satisfying the enterprise, the rest of us are held back. I hope that doesn't turn out to be the case.


Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

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