Mozilla announced it is moving to a faster four-week release cycle for its Firefox browser, both on the desktop and Android. That means new Firefox builds will come out up to twice as fast as before.
The more aggressive release cycle is an apparent answer to requests to expedite the delivery of new features to Firefox users. As things currently stand, Mozilla's developers roll out new Firefox builds every six to eight weeks.
Part of what makes this interesting is Mozilla's admission that "building and releasing a browser is complicated and involves many players." Normally that kind of statement would precede an announcement for a slower pace. However, Mozilla feels it can deliver on an accelerated release schedule without adversely affecting the quality of Firefox, and will start adhering to a four-week cadence in the first quarter of 2020.
"With four-week cycles, we can be more agile and ship features faster, while applying the same rigor and due diligence needed for a high-quality and stable release. Also, we put new features and implementation of new web APIs into the hands of developers more quickly. (This is what we've been doing recently with CSS spec implementations and updates, for instance.)," Mozilla says.
I have to wonder how much of this decision (if any) is in reaction to Microsoft transitioning its Edge browser to Chromium, the same foundation that Google's Chrome browser is built upon. Opera did the same thing in 2013. From Mozilla's vantage point, even though Edge is accounts for a small share of the browser market, this industry wide shift to Chromium is not a good thing.
"From a social, civic and individual empowerment perspective ceding control of fundamental online infrastructure to a single company is terrible. This is why Mozilla exists. We compete with Google not because it's a good business opportunity. We compete with Google because the health of the internet and online life depend on competition and choice. They depend on consumers being able to decide we want something better and to take action," Mozilla CEO Chris Beard wrote in a blog post last December.
Mozilla does not allude to any of that in its accelerated release announcement. Instead, it talks about the benefits and challenges of moving to a four-week release cycle.
As part of this transition, beta builds will arrive more quickly. Instead of two beta builds per week, they will come out "similar to what we have today in Firefox Nightly," Mozilla says.
It will be interesting to see how smoothly things go. Looking at Windows 10, Microsoft's bi-annual release schedule for major upgrades sometimes feels too rushed, with various bugs slipping through (this even happens during its monthly updates). Of course, that's not exactly an apples to apples comparison, given the scope of Windows 10 compared to a browser.
This will not happen overnight, however. Mozilla plans to slowly increase its release cycle starting now, going from seven weeks down to six weeks, and so on.