As planned, Mozilla has launched Firefox 5, which considering the browser’s six-year history would seem to be big news.
Except, it’s not. Firefox 5 is actually the first update in a new, faster development cycle for Mozilla. From now on, new versions of Firefox will arrive every six weeks, meaning that 2011 will bring more Firefox updates than the entire six years prior.
In some ways, I like this approach, which is roughly the same way Google handles updates to Chrome. If a feature isn’t ready, Mozilla can simply hold it until the next version, which means less waiting for the features that are ready.
But the rapid release cycle introduces its own issues. It can result in some pretty dull updates, as evidenced by Firefox 5, in which CSS animation support and performance enhancements are among the biggest new features.
More importantly, I’m worried that these rapid updates will discourage dramatic user interface changes, like the difference between Firefox 3 and 4, or Internet Explorer 8 and 9. I don’t know for sure that this will happen, but I do know that after more than two years of rapid releases, Google Chrome pretty much looks the same as it always has.
So while rapid releases may allow Firefox to get better at a faster clip, it could make bold new changes harder to implement. Let’s hope the new development cycle doesn’t confine Mozilla to mere incremental improvements.