Earlier this week, Firefox 5.0 was released, and this represents the first release through Mozilla’s new ‘rapid release development cycle’ that will see new releases more quickly than before. Only three months have passed since Firefox 4.0 which was the first major new version in three years.
Whilst a new version of the browser is welcome, to me (and others) calling it 5.0 is misleading. Really, it’s more like version 4.1 as there are almost no front-end changes. The only new visible feature is when you open the Options panel and choose ‘Privacy’, where you can enable a ‘do not track’ option to ask web sites not to track your visits (although few sites recognise this at present). Everything else is pretty much the same as version 4.0.
As for why Mozilla have changed to this new release cycle, it’s to do something about the elephant in the room that is Google Chrome. Chrome has come up from nothing to the world’s third most-used browser in less than three years, and it’s biting at Firefox’s feet. I know a number of former Firefox users that have found the grass greener in Chrome-land, either because they find Chrome faster, simpler or less prone to crashing – a problem that can afflict Firefox if you’ve been using it a long time and ended up with a ‘dirty’ user profile. Despite it’s relative youth, Chrome is already on version 12, with versions 13 and 14 at different stages of alpha and beta status, and it’s clear that Mozilla want to emulate that model. Furthermore, other competing browsers like Safari, Internet Explorer and Opera all have higher version numbers as well – at the time of writing, Safari is on version 5.0.5, IE is on version 9.0.1 and Opera on version 11.11 – and Mozilla may want Firefox to catch up.
Whilst I think the new release cycle is a good idea, I think major releases should be reserved for those where there is a major UI change, or at least some visible new features. Right now, there’s almost no discernible difference between Firefox 4.0 and 5.0, other than that some of your extensions won’t work just yet.