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Why Firefox 9 Is Not in Red Hat Enterprise Linux

firefoxFrom the 'Rapid Releases Aren't Good For Everyone' files:

Mozilla faced its fair share of criticism this year when they moved to the rapid release cycle. Enterprises argued that they couldn't update as fast as Firefox is being released, with new browsers out every six weeks.

As it turns out, Linux vendor Red Hat isn't updating with every Firefox release either.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is the industry leader for Linux at this point and they're taking a different approach to updating Firefox. I recently spoke with Tim Burke, Vice-President of Linux Engineering at Red Hat about the Firefox issue.

"Six weeks is just too fast for RHEL, we don't just take projects from upstream," Burke told me. "When it comes to RHEL we have been updating Firefox at most once a year. In the interim, we will cherry pick security fixes.  We strike a middle ground between stability, security and access to rapid innovation."

Fedora is another story, taking a more rapid approach, though still not as rapid as Mozilla's own cycle. Burke explained that Red Hat will work Firefox updates via the Fedora community to gain confidence and ring out bugs.

Now while Red Hat doesn't follow Mozilla for the version changes, they are tracking security very closely. The 'cherry picking' of security fixes is something that Burke stressed is a strength of Red Hat.

"This is what we do, that's fundamentally the power of Red Hat in any component from kernel to desktop," Burke said. "As part of enterprise hardening we leverage the fact that we're in the code and we know and it's only possible to do this level of cherry picking due to the depth of experience and contributions."

At this point, Mozilla is still maintaining the 3.6.x branch, but the plan is for an enterprise support version with 42 weeks of support. Time will tell when that actually comes into play and whether or not that's the model that Red Hat will embrace, though I suspect they will. In the meantime, they've got a system that works for them. The challenge from my perspective is that the enteprise users aren't likely running the fastest/best Firefox they can. That said, any user can just download and use the new stuff if they want (assuming of course the enterprise/system policy restricts that).


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