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Mozilla to pull the plug on Firefox 2 "soon"

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Mozilla to pull the plug on Firefox 2 "soon"

Chicago (IL) – Riding on the heels of recent market share gains, Mozilla indicated that it will kill Firefox 2 soon, urging Firefox 2.0.0.18 users to upgrade to Firefox 3. The open-source organization hinted that Firefox 2 is approaching end-of-life and confirmed it will cease the development of security and stability updates, which will basically end with version 2.0.0.18. The move is designed to allocate all development resources towards Firefox 3.1 and its mobile counterpart Fennec.

Yes, this one has “forced upgrade” written all over it, but, of course, it is nothing out of ordinary for the software industry. Support for aging and not current applications will vanish at some point and should not come as a surprise.

The time has now come for Firefox 2.0.0.18 users to either upgrade to Firefox 3.x or continue with a browser that may work just fine, but will no longer be maintained and supported. According to a blog post on Mozilla’s Dev Center, the open-source organization said it would offer Firefox 2.0.0.18 users a “free” upgrade (well, it is free anyway, no matter how you look at it) to the latest 3.x version of the browser. Firefox 2.x users will start seeing notifications to upgrade to Firefox 3 “in the next couple of days,” which will probably lead to a disappearing Firefox 2.x as soon as the final 3.1 build starts shipping.

“It’s been four months since the last time Firefox 2 users were offered a ‘major update’, and in that time we’ve improved Firefox 3 and seen more and more of our Add-Ons become compatible with that version,” wrote Mozilla. “As Firefox 2 is rapidly approaching the point where Mozilla will no longer be actively issuing security and stability updates, we strongly recommend that users consider upgrading to Firefox 3.”

There are several reasons why Mozilla pushes Firefox 3 in this particular point in time.

The add-ons ecosystem is a key weapon in Mozilla’s arsenal that is unmatched by its rivals. It is no secret that Firefox users like add-ons that let them personalize web browsing environment and extends the capabilities of the browser, with many of them citing add-ons as the sole reason for a switch to Mozilla. But maintaining Firefox 2 and 3 versions of add-ons is becoming increasingly difficult, time consuming and costly. By pushing Firefox 3, Mozilla is doing add-on makers a big favor, especially to developers that are backed by VC capital and whose business model includes making money with their add-ons.

NetApplication’s web usage share survey revealed that Firefox sailed past 20% web usage share in November, while IE dropped below 70%. The milestone came at the expense of IE and means Firefox is now installed on one in five network-enabled computers. More precisely, Firefox 3.x grabbed 15.57% of the web usage share, while Firefox 2.x contributed to the remaining 4.8% share.

Firefox 3.1 can translate into more page views and thus higher web usage share as the remaining 2.x users upgrade and learn to appreciate the speed advantage of the updated Gecko and TraceMonkey engines, even without considering interesting new features like Privacy Mode. Transitioning almost 5% of online users who run Firefox 2.x to a speedier version of the browser is a top-priority that will impact Microsoft, which completely overlooked the importance of the browser speed race Mozilla triggered this summer. Last, but not the least, phasing out Firefox 2.x will free Mozilla’s development resources to completely focus on Firefox 3.1 and Fennec.
 

The corporate upgrade perspective

Eagle-eyes readers might note that Mozilla doesn’t have to work hard to convince users to upgrade since Firefox is predominantly used by consumers, not business users. This is in sharp contrast to Microsoft, which has been struggling for years to convince corporate IE6 users to make the IE7 move, albeit without much success. IE6 has been entrenched in business environments for years as the de facto standard due to the fact that business web applications were certified for this particular version of the browser when IE was much stronger than it is today.

This fact turns a simple browser upgrade into a major and costly brain transplant for most corporations who rely on IE, as the differences between IE6 and newer versions will require code updates in business applications. As Firefox 3 push brings 2.x users up to date, the benefit of speed may motivate some IT managers and administrators in their companies to re-consider Firefox 3.1 as a possible replacement for IE6 during the next corporate upgrade cycle, especially if IE8 does not close the speed gap. Current browser market share numbers provided by Net Applications suggest that IE6 is losing market share much faster than IE7 or IE8 can pick it up.

According to Net Applications, IE hovered around 69% market share in the first week of December, with about 46-47%% covered by IE7, about 22-23% by IE6 and about 0.8% by IE8 beta. Firefox maintained its 20%+ share, with Firefox 2 holding about 4-5%, Firefox 3.0 15-16%% and Firefox 3.1 beta at about 0.05%.