GCN LAB IMPRESSIONS
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.