Mozilla is getting ready to officially launch Firefox 6 tomorrow. That’s less than two months after the release of Firefox 5 and not even half a year since the launch of Firefox 4. Indeed, there is now some talk in the Firefox community to get rid of version numbersin the user interface altogether. That’s not a bad idea. Users really shouldn’t have to worry about which version of a given browser they are running and those version numbers have now become mostly irrelevant anyway.
Google Chrome is now at versions 13, 14 and 15, depending which channel you are using (stable, beta, dev). I’m currently running Chrome version 14.0.825.0 dev and the Nightly version of Firefox (8.0a1). To be honest, even though I follow this business pretty closely, I have no idea how those versions are different from Chrome 13 and FF 7.
Both Mozilla and Google are using a rapid release cycle schedule to push out new versions on a set schedule. Instead of waiting for every major feature to be ready, new features are pushed out whenever they are ready. Opera and Microsoft are still using a more traditional release schedules, but even Opera now features a developer channel (Opera Next) to push out betas quickly and I wouldn’t be surprised if even Microsoft would switch to a more agile release schedule after Internet Explorer 10 (though its strong presence in the enterprise may make this impossible).
You Shouldn’t Have to Care About Browser Versions
At this point, there is no good reason why an average user should have to worry about keeping a browser up to date and given the current version number inflation, these numbers have completely lost their meaning anyway.
While large enterprises may hate this, as they like to have exact control over what runs on their users’ desktops, users can only profit from the rapid advancement in browser technology. There really isn’t any good reason why your average mainstream user should have to worry about which browser version is installed on a given machine. Both Chrome and Firefox already push out updates as needed – though Firefox still pops up a dialog when a new version is ready while Google just installs it in the background.
I can’t remember a new browser version really breaking anything on the Internet these days – though I gather the moment I type this, I will get some email about banking sites that still won’t run unless you use Internet Explorer 7. New version tend to add more stuff but rarely deprecate an old feature. Except for developers, users don’t have to really worry about that. If a website makes use of these new features, that’s a good thing – and it can only help developers if more users are able to make use of these advanced features.
One Exception: Major Interface Changes
From a user’s perspective, all those changes that happen behind the scene and keep them secure on the net or speed up the browser are mostly irrelevant anyway. The only time most mainstream users care about a major update is when the user interface changes. For the large segment of users who actually have to invest time into learning how to use a browser, that is indeed an issue developers have to think about and that would call for a pause in the automatic update procedure.