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Firefox proposal to remove version numbers spawns a rebellion

Recently, a bug report was issued in Mozilla’s Bugzilla discussion area that brought up the possibility of doing away with Firefox’s version numbers. Apparently, Firefox usability lead Alex Limi and product lead Asa Dotzler thought it would be a good idea to eliminate the version number that we find by opening the “About” window in the “Help” menu.

Well, this unleashed a torrent of comments that ranged from polite to vitriolic — in the bug report and in the Google group that Firefox had to set up to handle the overflow.

A large majority of the comments were against the proposed change, and after hundreds of comments, Firefox officials decided to close the ticket as “RESOLVED INVALID,” which essentially means they are dropping the matter. Still, people have kept contributing their 2 cents, and at last count, there are 645 comments.

Although what Firefox suggested goes against the way we’ve done things for more than 30 years, Limi and Dotzler might have a point, at least until you consider the security implications.

One poster early on cited version usage statistics, and in them, I found something very disturbing: Nearly a third of Firefox users don’t have the most current version, and most of them don’t even have the next-to-newest major release. That just blew my mind.

Really, nearly a third? The Web browser is the program you use the most to connect to the Internet. It is the major point of assault for malware, and the most important thing you can do to avert disaster, in addition to having an up-to-date antivirus program, is keeping your browser at the most current version. And the upgrade doesn’t cost anything, either.

Yet there are some users out there who are not that interested in keeping themselves safe or don’t know the risk.

Sadly, removing version numbers would probably only make the problem worse by allowing these folks to stick their heads in the sand even more, which we all know does not ultimately save anyone.

I would recommend to the folks at Firefox that, if you are going to suggest an improvement that flies in the face of convention, try coming up with a mind-control laser that will make a significant minority of your users more security-conscious. I wonder how many comments that would generate.

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.

Reader Comments

Wed, Aug 24, 2011

You assume that not upgrading is a security issue. I've looked through some of the version release descriptions and I'm not convinced there's a reason to go from 3.6.20 to 5.0 to 6.0. Each one of those changes potentially breaks an add-on that users may like or depend on. New versions constantly add bugs or security holes. It blew your mind that a third of FF users have older versions -- it blows MY mind that a computer columnist doesn't understand the risk assumed with always adopting the latest version immediately. Changing just to change is one of the major fallacies of the modern IT industry -- it's a huge expense driver, often with very little apparent benefit to the user/client. If you're going to make security the raison d'etre for "upgrading" then you need to very carefully outline in big bold letters what is fixed with the update and why that can't be fixed with the older version that has been tested and known to work for the user's applications.

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 Southeast US

The "general public" user needs an operating system service that seeks out and installs updates on major item software (applications, like office suites and browsers included) automatically without any user being logged in. A "geek" friend/relative could set it up once and everytime the computer can connect to the internet, updates get downloaded and, for installs requiring a reboot, only install/reboot during "off hours" to minimize users' disruption of their computing experience. Some vendors (HP on some recent notebook models I have seen) are getting pretty good at it with their systems health software. It just needs to be set up as a service and not require user input. Installs need to be able to be interupted and resumed so that a laptop user can shut down in the middle of something and move on, picking up the remainder of the install later when the user has more time to keep the computer on. Microsoft? Are you listening? Fix your install/reboot madness!!!

Tue, Aug 23, 2011

Most users, corporate and real-world private, NEVER do version upgrades or security patches. They run it until it blows up or quietly dies, and call in a geek to come fix it, or they go buy a new machine. That is why all the vendors started pushing auto-update or nag routines, so people would call in the geek before catastrophic failure.

Mon, Aug 22, 2011

"Sadly, removing version numbers would probably only make the problem worse by allowing these folks to stick their heads in the sand even more, which we all know does not ultimately save anyone." i agree with you ,so i want to change to orca browser but it hasn't updated over 1 year.hmmm

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