Tuesday, 10 August 2010 19:39

Silent - not forced - updates coming to Firefox


Mozilla is planning to introduce silent security and other updates to Firefox 4.

The popular open-source web browser Firefox currently gives users two choices about how updates should be handled: the program will either alert the user and ask what to do, or automatically download and install the update.

The Windows version of Firefox 4 will go a step further and provide the option of silently downloading security and other minor updates.

Part of the reasoning is that too many people don't understand that most of the updates delivered for Firefox are security patches and for various reasons elect to ignore them.

"For Firefox 4 minor updates will occur automatically," Firefox principal designer Alex Faaborg said in a post to the mozilla.dev.apps.firefox Google group. "We'll only be using the major update dialog box for changes like 4 to 4.5 or 5," he added.

Users will be able to make a preference change so that Firefox 4 handles updates in the traditional way. This is in marked contrast to Google's Chrome, which automatically downloads and installs updates as they become available.

Why is it so important to update web browsers? See page 2.

The rationale is that flaws in web browsers and associated add-ons are commonly used in attacks. Keeping them updated automatically reduces the time needed to deploy patches for newly discovered vulnerabilities.

However, some people prefer to delay the installation of updates, as they would rather wait for other people to uncover serious bugs or unwanted behaviours. The design decision taken for Firefox 4 can keep both groups happy.

One issue that the Firefox team may not have considered is that users in countries where most Internet plans have relatively low download limits often prefer to download updates during the off-peak periods to conserve their peak hours bandwidth for interactive use.

A third beta release of Firefox 4 is expected shortly.


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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