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Mozilla Steps Up Chrome Battle And Release Pace With Firefox 10

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Firefox 10 paves the way for Mozilla’s silent updates, as Google’s Chrome grabs more market share

Firefox 10 is to be released on Tuesday, as the Mozilla Foundation steps up its release schedule in the face of aggressive competition from Google’s Chrome browser.

Mozilla developers approved the update’s planned release at a meeting last week, keeping up the pace of the six-week release schedule adopted last year. Firefox is moving to the faster release schedule in emulation of Google’s Chrome, which in 2010 moved from a quarterly to a six-week schedule.

Silent updates

Mozilla is also aiming to emulate Google’s practice of “silent updates” that do not require user approval or interaction, and the release of Firefox 10 brings in changes that will allow that shift.

One change is that the browser will automatically mark all extensions that work with Firefox 4, or later, as compatible with newer versions of the browser.

That is a change from the previous policy, which caused problems because many extensions were marked as incompatible by default, because developers had not specifically indicated they would work with browser updates.

Last March, Mozilla began marking extensions as automatically compatible, but that policy only extended to add-ons officially available from the Mozilla Website, which accounts for only about 75 percent of extensions. From Firefox 10 onward the policy will cover all extensions.

Mozilla has indicated that the add-on compatibility issue is one of the major barriers stopping it from making the shift to silent updates. That shift is planned for completion with Firefox 13, currently set to launch in June.

Firefox 10 also marks the first Extended Support Release (ESR) for the browser, created mainly for enterprise users who want to stick with a slower release schedule. The ESR edition will be updated every 42 weeks.

Developers are also planning to release Firefox 3.6.26 on Tuesday, an update to version 3.6 that adds security improvements. Firefox 3.6 is due to be retired in April, according to Mozilla.

Chrome competition

Mozilla patched six Firefox vulnerabilities in Firefox 9, which it officially released on 20 December. Four of the issues were rated “critical”, and the remaining two were rated “high” and “moderate”. Mozilla also released Firefox 9.0.1 on 21 December to fix a bug that was causing the Mac version of the browser to crash.

In November, Chrome enjoyed its biggest monthly market share boost ever and could pass Firefox browser in early 2012, according to data from Net Applications.

The market researcher put Chrome at 17.6 percent through October, an impressive 1.4 percent gain from the fledgling browser’s September share of 16.2 percent. The only other time Chrome grew more than one percent month-to-month, by Net Applications calculations, is when the browser grew from 14.3 percent to 15.5 percent.

Mozilla Firefox, meanwhile, rose from 22.48 percent in September to 22.51 percent in October. But Firefox’s share is falling more often than it gains and Chrome is now within five percent of Firefox. Last August, analyst firm Starcounter stated that Chrome had already overtaken FireFox in its calculations.

If Chrome continues on its current trajectory of averaging one percent market share growth per month and Firefox continues to slide, Chrome should catch or pass Firefox through February or March 2012. That surge will have happened in just three and a half years since Chrome launched in September 2008.

Chrome’s rapid iteration cycle – it is on version 15 – is largely responsible for the growth, though online and TV ads have helped spread the word.

During Google’s third quarter earnings call on 13 October, Google CEO Larry Page said that Chrome has more than 200 million users worldwide. “Turns out people really care about getting to the Web quickly and securely, and having a whole ecosystem of apps at their fingertips,” Page said.