Hey BBC would you like to know how releasing software works?

Dear BBC,

Today on the front page of your technology section you said that downloads for Firefox 4 have been lower than they were for Firefox 3 and that:

The lower figure may be explained by the widespread availability of pre-release versions of Firefox 4 in the months ahead of its launch.

First of all, you forgot that we’ve had 3.5 and 3.6 between those two and so we now have users spread out a bit across versions. Second, here’s an overview of how we’re organizing the release of Firefox 4:

  • We put out the RC and picked up users from outside of our usual beta testing pool in order to give our final candidate some solid tire kicking
  • Firefox 4 went live but our users on 3.5 and 3.6 are not offered the update automatically yet, they must “Check for updates” in order to be asked if they want to upgrade to Firefox 4 
  • Once we have more coverage of the new release for a couple of weeks and are even more confident that we’ve got an amazing browser out there we will turn on the Major Update notification which will offer our 400+ million users the chance to come on up and experience the next level of the web

According to W3C school’s stats(which are measured by visits to their site) the browser distribution of their visitors looks like this:

2011 Internet Explorer Firefox Chrome Safari Opera
February 26.5 % 42.4% 24.1% 4.1% 2.5%
January 26.6 % 42.8% 23.8% 4.0% 2.5%
2011 Total FF 4.0 FF 3.6 FF 3.5 FF 3.0 Other
February 42.4 % 1.9 % 35.8 % 2.9 % 1.5 % 0.3 %
January 42.8 % 1.5 % 36.1 % 3.1 % 1.7 % 0.4 %

What this says to me is that our more than 8 million downloads since yesterday morning PDT only shows us how many people are paying attention to the fact that Firefox 4 has launched and is available for download. It’s not representative of our 400+ million active daily user base (the people who just use the browser but perhaps don’t read your blog or mine).  These people will soon learn about Firefox 4 through their browser’s update notification window. We’ll be seeing a spike in downloads in a couple of weeks and I hope you’ll report on that.

4 thoughts on “Hey BBC would you like to know how releasing software works?

  1. Wow, what a non-sense ("declining share" headline). The most important difference is that download numbers of Firefox 3 have been significantly inflated by the Download Day campaign – it has been widely announced and many people downloaded on the first day just to help create a world record. The download numbers were significantly higher than for any Firefox release before *or* after. I actually find it impressive that Firefox managed to get so close to its own world record without any special announcements whatsoever. I guess that already the next Firefox release will get more then 8 million downloads on the first day.

  2. Can you please release more data about the download rate, such as how many people upgraded their browsers in the given time, and how many users 'activated' their Firefox browser (including those not downloaded directly from Mozilla but other sources)?

  3. Firefox market share is declining – http://gs.statcounter.com/#browser-ww-monthly-200807-201103 shows a very slow, but noticeable decline (about 1% in six months).

    Firefox 4 conversion rate is very slow, compared to the release of Google Chrome's latest major version – http://gs.statcounter.com/#browser_version-ww-monthly-201009-201102 shows the time it takes for Google Chrome to update one major version, which is based on releasing open source software.

  4. richardwhiuk: Chrome uses a different release model where they automatically (and silently) upgrade people's Chrome so that they never have to worry about bringing people up from older versions. No dialog box ever asks you if you want to update. With Firefox we give the user a choice which is nice for things like add-on compatibility. That makes a bit more work for us, but it's how we do it.

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