Mozilla plans background updates for Firefox 10

Gregg Keizer
21 November, 2011
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Mozilla is making progress on adding a silent update mechanism to Firefox, with plans to integrate the new service into Firefox 10 early next year.

But one of the developers working on the feature cautioned that silent update might slip. “At this point, we’re not quite sure which version of Firefox this will land in…. We’re working to land it as soon as is safely possible,” wrote Ehsan Akhgari, a Firefox engineer in charge of one of the silent update components, in a blog post last weekend.

Akhgari is currently working on minimising the amount of time it takes Firefox to launch after downloading an update. To do so, he’s come up with a way to stage the downloaded update – essentially an updated copy of Firefox – within the original app bundle on the Mac. The next time the user starts up Firefox, this copy will replace the original app. Other pieces to the silent update puzzle include setting all add-ons as compatible by default, so that Firefox doesn’t display a warning message.

According to information on the Mozilla website, the company plans to incorporate the overall feature in Firefox 10, slated to ship in early 2012. Some pieces, however, have already appeared in release versions – Firefox 8 implemented a pair of peripheral components – and other sections may be held for future releases. If the entire silent update feature does not ship with Firefox 10, Mozilla could integrate it into Firefox 11 (tentative ship date: March 13) or 12 (April 24).

Mozilla has been tinkering with silent updating for more than a year. At one point, the company thought it could add the feature to Firefox 4 – which shipped in March 2011 – but abandoned work when the Firefox team ran into other delays with the release. Implementing silent updating would make Mozilla’s browser only the second browser to offer the feature; Google’s Chrome has used automatic background updates since its September 2008 debut.

Mozilla has done a credible job getting most users to upgrade even without silent updates, but its six-week release schedule is starting to leave people behind: According to Web metrics firm Net Applications, Firefox 7 – which launched September 28 – made up 46 percent of all copies of the browser used last month. However, the ‘tail’ of those running older editions, Firefox 4 through Firefox 6, grew during October to 23 percent, a 10 percentage point jump from the month before.

One in four Firefox users is still running version 3.6, released in January 2010. On Friday, Mozilla was to kick off a major campaign designed to incite those users into upgrading to Firefox 8, but postponed the campaign to wait for security patches.

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