A recent discussion in the mozilla.dev.apps.firefox Usenet group revealed that the developers of the popular Firefox web browser are planning to implement silent updating capabilities for minor (that is security and stability updates) updates of the browser.
The basic idea is to install security and stability related updates silently in the background, and major updates that make changes to the user interface or functionality as usually in the foreground.
The major advantage of silently updating Firefox with security fixes is an accelerated deployment of those patches in the Firefox community which in turn reduces the number of Firefox users who work with insecure or unstable versions of the browser.
Alex Faaborg, Mozilla user experience designer, revealed details about the planned Firefox 4 feature:
[..] I think the majority of users would prefer an application that doesn't bother them with what they view as little details (where a little detail is a minor update, major updates that include UI changes are different).
We get a lot of complaints that Firefox updates too often, people can't see even see the difference with the new version (it was actually a security patch), that we change our mind too much and should just ship one version (it was actually a security patch), etc.
For Firefox 4 minor updates will occur automatically. Users can change the setting in Options > Advanced > Update. We'll only be using the major update dialog box for changes like 4 to 4.5 or 5. Unfortunately users will still see the updating progress bar on load, but this is an implementation issue as opposed to a UI one (ideally the update could be applied in the background). We will also be able to prompt the user if they haven't restarted in a very long time and there is a particularly bad security vulnerability that need to be patched.
Unlike in Google Chrome, where users have no choice, Mozilla plans to implement options to turn off silent updates in the browser. Good news for users who prefer to - or have to - research updates and their impacts on the browser and system before deploying them.
Robert Strong, the Mozilla developer working on the implementation of the feature in Firefox mentioned that Mozilla is well aware of the controversy surrounding silent or forced updates, stating that "there is no one size fits all behavior for this that will please everyone just as the current behavior doesn't please everyone."
He added that silent updates "might not make Firefox 4", even though the goal is to release the updating mechanism with the Firefox 4 final.
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