Thursday, March 3, 2011

Firefox 4 Is Taking Forever and I'm SO MAD

To answer your first question, no, I don't think I could find a nerdier thing to be mad about.

Being the tech dude that I am, I like to use beta and unreleased software, both because I like to live life on the edge and because I like to keep abreast of what's coming down the pike. As such, I've been using Firefox 4 since pretty early in the beta process.

Mostly, I've liked what I've seen, but what I haven't liked so much is that fact that Firefox 4 has been in beta for so damn long. The first beta was release in July - we're now on beta twelve and there's still no solid release date. Firefox 4 is four months late. What the hell is taking so long, and why the hell am I so upset about it?

Look at this screenshot, this one right here:

If you've been using a computer for awhile, you might remember this - it's Internet Explorer 6, and provided you immediately upgraded to it when it first came out in 2001 and immediately upgraded from it when IE7 replaced it in 2006, you were using it for five years. To provide some context here, the gap between Internet Explorer 4 and Internet Explorer 5 was about one and a half years; the gap between IE7 and IE8 was about two and a half years. The average time between versions of Google Chrome is six weeks. Internet Explorer 6 was the world's Web browser for one long-ass time, and it's still on about 11% of the world's computers (roughly the same amount as Google Chrome, for reference).

During this time, IE6 was (and continues to be) patched with security updates, but at its core it's still a ten-year-old web browser. Imagine having to use a ten-year-old computer right now - better yet, imagine you're a programmer, and you have to ignore a decade of technological advances in order to make your software run on something ancient. This is precisely why people are mad that IE6 is still around.

I first found out about Mozilla Firefox in 2004 or so, and while I didn't fall in love with it immediately, I quickly came to appreciate its tabbed browsing and its many, malleable extensions. It also seemed to update more than once every never, so that was exciting for the tech guy part of me.

Firefox started chipping away at more and more of IE6's then-total market domination, to the point where Microsoft couldn't stop ignoring it, and that finally brought us Internet Explorer 7. The new IE wasn't the best thing in the world, but it was far and away a superior browser to IE6, and it signaled the beginning of another set of browser wars.

Fast forward to 2008, and some other people start getting into this game too. Safari, previously a Mac-only browser, had a Windows release in March of that year, and then in September, Google released something called Chrome that started out interesting but strange and quickly improved from there.

Chrome updated quickly, and as a result many tech-savvy users (myself included) have jumped from Firefox to Chrome at some point during the last couple of years, whether because of speed, stability, or simplified interface - Chrome is starting to make gains not just as the expense of Internet Explorer, but at Firefox's expense as well.

So what? So, I don't want any company to be able to be the next Microsoft, is what. Even though the odds of this happening seem pretty slim right now, Mozilla's problems with Firefox 4 are symptoms of larger problems at Mozilla - unwillingness to ship until things are just so, complete inability to hold to feature or date targets, and lack of diversification (Mozilla has Firefox going for it and not much else, where Microsoft, Google, and Apple seem to have their hands in just about everything) among them.

Mozilla claims to want to speed up the development process this year, but I've seen no indication that they'll actually be able to pull this off - basically, I'll wait for Firefox 4, and then I'll believe anything else when I see it.

I'm a Chrome user at home, myself, but I'm not at all eager to live in a world where anyone is allowed to control as much of the market as Internet Explorer 6 once did. Web browsers are so good now because Mozilla broke Internet Explorer's monopoly and made the market competitive again - if the market is allowed to stagnate, history is going to repeat itself, and that's not something anybody wants.