There’s a new Firefox development process (PMO: Mozilla Firefox Development Process (draft)). Firefox 4 will come out next week, but Mozilla is looking forward to several more releases this year. A lot of people are whining about browser version number hyperinflation, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about a better browser.
The reasons for the change are several:
The web is growing as fast as ever. New technologies are rolling out, and the landscape keeps changing. This calls for more active browser development than before. It’s not just about enhancing the workflow you’re used to, but about making the browser fit with the changes to your browsing habits as the web changes.
More releases means more refinement in existing browser design and in new design. As GNOME and Ubuntu prepare to release reimagined desktops, one of the big results is going to be the fallout from the shock of major changes. Users adjust better to gradual changes in their software, as it moderates the learning curve and increases their ability to have moments of discovery.
One of the major issues with long release cycles is that some features just aren’t ready in time, but the organization is so invested that it wants to hold the release for them. Other features aren’t ready, but they just gather dust for a year or two. Faster releases means more features, because there’s less pressure to get that one big feature that isn’t ready.
One of the best arguments for faster releases is that community contributors are happier. The patch they just landed can actually see daylight in a reasonable timeframe. That means they get more reinforcement from contributing and will do so more often.
And the final reason to push for tighter loops is that it’s less work per loop. It’s the difference between driving under an overpass and through a tunnel. When you enter a tunnel it feels like time has stopped. You’re just seeing the same thing over and over. There’s no feedback. It can even cause a feeling of despair and remorse for having ever entered the damn thing. Will it ever end? This tunnel… it’s eating my soul. When you have a shorter tunnel, you can see daylight before you’re even halfway in. It feels good.
I’m very glad to see this change in Mozilla. It has every sign of making their browser much better, and the whole web will benefit.