Mozilla, Firefox and the Version Number Chaos

Share this article

Firefox’s rapid release schedule has not been the success Mozilla hoped. Most web developers agree it’s good for HTML5 feature evolution but it’s not without problems:

  • Add-on compatibility. Most of us use extensions which cannot keep up with Firefox’s development progress.
  • Increased effort. The majority of IT departments must test mission-critical applications before a browser update can be deployed throughout the enterprise.
  • Confusion. Few people understand the rationale behind major version increments. Why shouldn’t Firefox 6 be version 4.2?
Mozilla is replicating Google’s release model but Chrome does not necessarily exhibit the same problems. It’s add-ons system is far simpler; more akin to bookmarklets than integrated code. The browser also has fewer legacy hurdles and has silently updated since the early days. Those using Chrome either understand this concept or don’t care. One solution Mozilla considered was the removal of version numbers from Firefox’s “Help > About” dialog. Mozilla’s logic:
  1. Few users understand version numbers.
  2. Removal would simplify the UI.
  3. Users would be informed when the last check occurred, whether they were using the latest version, and how they could update (if Firefox had not automagically done so).
  4. If you really needed the version number, it could be found in about:support.
Uproar ensued on Bugzilla and the associated newsgroup discussion
. The majority of respondents detested the idea (although a large volume of ranting and spam appeared when Mozilla’s intentions went public). The organization put forward some reasonable arguments but ultimately backed down. Mozilla’s Robert Kaiser:
Can we close this bug report? Version numbers in software are like coordinate systems in physics: irrelevant and necessary at the same time — it’s completely irrelevant how you do them, but they provide necessary reference points. Not more, not less. Where ever we go with this, I don’t think it will have either a large impact on version number messaging or on making Firefox useless, so I think the rage on both sides is overrated.
The reply from VanillaMozilla:
Done … I’m having a hard time finding anyone at all who thinks this is a good idea.
The argument become overheated but Mozilla’s proposition had a number of flaws:
  1. It went against established UI conventions that span OSes and 20+ years of IT development. There may be better ways, but removing version numbers is not likely to be the best solution.
  2. The proposal was too simplistic and did nothing to tackle Firefox’s rapid update issues. Version numbering was never the cause or the cure.
  3. Users may not understand version numbers, but removing them was a non-issue. Firefox wouldn’t suddenly become easier to use.
  4. There are multiple versions of Firefox in the wild. Some would have version numbers, some wouldn’t. None of the older editions would state they were out of date.
  5. Version numbers are important to developers and IT support staff. What’s the first question you ask when someone reports a problem in a specific browser?
Version numbers have been rendered meaningless in Chrome and Firefox. Few people know or care what version of Chrome they’re running. Perhaps, one day, the same will be true for Firefox — but we’re not there yet. Firefox is an older browser with far more baggage and a large, passionate user community. Mozilla ultimately listened to their demands, but the the proposal and subsequent onslaught did nothing for the browser.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Mozilla Firefox Version Number

How can I find out what version of Firefox I am currently using?

To find out the version of Firefox you are currently using, click on the menu button in the upper right corner of the browser. This will open a drop-down menu. From there, click on ‘Help’ and then ‘About Firefox’. A window will pop up showing the version of Firefox you are currently using.

Why is it important to know the version of Firefox I am using?

Knowing the version of Firefox you are using is important for several reasons. Firstly, it helps you ensure that you are using the most up-to-date version of the browser, which will have the latest features and security updates. Secondly, if you encounter any issues with the browser, knowing the version number can help when seeking technical support or troubleshooting the problem.

How often does Firefox release new versions?

Firefox typically releases new versions every four to six weeks. This frequent update schedule ensures that users always have access to the latest features, improvements, and security patches.

How can I update my Firefox to the latest version?

Firefox usually updates automatically by default. However, you can also manually check for updates by clicking on the menu button, then ‘Help’, and then ‘About Firefox’. If an update is available, it will start downloading automatically.

What are the differences between the major and minor version numbers in Firefox?

Major version numbers in Firefox indicate significant updates that often include new features, major bug fixes, or changes to the user interface. Minor version numbers, on the other hand, usually represent smaller updates that might include minor bug fixes, security patches, or small improvements.

Can I downgrade my Firefox to a previous version?

While it is technically possible to downgrade Firefox to a previous version, it is not recommended. Downgrading can expose your system to security vulnerabilities that have been fixed in later versions.

What does it mean when Firefox is in ‘Extended Support Release’?

Extended Support Release (ESR) is a version of Firefox designed for large organizations that need to manage updates across multiple systems. ESR versions are updated less frequently, but they receive all necessary security patches.

How can I switch from a regular Firefox version to an ESR version?

To switch to an ESR version, you would need to download the ESR version from the Firefox website and install it. However, please note that ESR versions are intended for use by organizations and may not be suitable for individual users.

Why does Firefox use a rapid release cycle?

Firefox uses a rapid release cycle to ensure that users always have access to the latest features and security updates. This approach allows Firefox to respond quickly to changes in web standards and security threats.

Can I use an older version of Firefox on my device?

While it is possible to use an older version of Firefox, it is not recommended. Older versions may not support the latest web standards and can have security vulnerabilities that have been fixed in later versions.

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
View Author

Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

Share this article
Read Next
Get the freshest news and resources for developers, designers and digital creators in your inbox each week