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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Firefox Update Conspiracy

Modern software releases patches and updates incrementally, meaning you only have to download the code that is different. This allows for much smaller and more effective downloads. Patching systems such as this have been around since software had version numbers. Why then does Firefox require you to download the full program every time a new version is released?

Updating from v1.0.2 to v1.0.3 requires a 4MB download for a meager .01 version update. Don't get me wrong the security updates are welcome and show that the developers are committed to their product. It is the way that they are released I question.

If you step back and look at it, how hard is it really for the Firefox developers to release an incremental system, let alone a standalone patch? I understand it is nice to have precompiled builds for installs but using an archaic update system is inexcusable. Why then was it omitted?

1. Firefox developers thought their product was so good that it would almost never need to be updated
2. Firefox developers did not know how to program such a feature
3. Firefox developers did not have the time and resources to invest in such a feature


4. They deliberately omitted it so updates boost their media hyped Download Number

Whether or not this was intentional remains to be seen but it cannot be ignored that it is having this effect. Now think about it, say you have 10 million adopters of the initial v1.0.0 release, they all upgrade to v1.0.1, your download number now doubles to 20 million, these same users upgrade again to v1.0.2, you now have 30 million downloads. Finally to v1.0.3 with 40 million downloads and still only 10 million users! How much of the super hyped Firefox Download Number is due to the current users just getting the latest version? Much more than you think.


Ziadoz said...

There are other software companies who use this method to update, its hardly a conspiracy, a crime or unusual.

Also statistics are a valuable way of advertising. Advertising is key to market share. Over hyping things is a good way to shift units.

Quining said...

The maintainers of SpreadFirefox.com frequently post in their own forums so it shouldn't be too difficult to get a hold of them. Maybe you could ask them directly? There shouldn't be a reason for them to hide it or to lie. If so they might as well fake the entire download count in the first place!

Asa said...

We do have an update system but we don't yet have binary diff patching. We don't cound the downloads from the update system (if we did, there would be another 10-20 million downloads on our counter).

- A

Yannig said...

So do Skype...
100,000,000 download ;-) !

Jan said...

Afaik MS patches by replacing the changed files. This isn`t possible with firefox, cause mostly thre must be changed something in the .exe.
There is a possibilty to patch parts of a binary, yes. styleXP does this with the uxtheme.dll of WindowsXP. I was told that some tools do the same to remove the need to enter a serialnumber in several products.
I don`t know any major company doing patch into a binary file...

Orrin said...

I would love to see this.

Marvin said...

You have to look at the growth of the use of Firefox on the few sites that tell you how may people are using the program. This is showing an increase in usage and the major ones that track the browser are not reporting anything as it would show a heavy decline of IE. This is costing money for Firefox as all the badwidth they are using to have downloads of the new version. Bandwidth is not cheap at the amount they are using. You must realize that it is the way they did it. You also have to realize they have better security then IE. All their cache files are purged in lieu of deleted and therefore there is no record of what you do on the Internet while IE shows a record. You should of brought up that as improvement in security of Firefox. I hope you can see the improvement in the use of Firefox. One must look at everything and not one little point. To them security is everything and Firefox goes the extra length of purging their cache files.

Colin 't Hart said...

4Mb is quite small for a "patch" given the size of some "patches" from some proprietary software companies.

Andrew said...

IE's cache can easily be completely cleared try using CCleaner as one example.

If the patch was 4MB fine but its not it is the full program. You would have to talk to the Firefox developers on the real size of the code difference but I estimate less then 10KB. Now imagine updating the browser in a few seconds on broadband without having to reinstall anything.

Tracy R Reed said...

4M is really not that big of a download. I would rather download the whole thing again than download some binary patch and a patch utility and have the thing try to figure out where I happened to have installed firefox and then have something go wrong. Simpler just to download the whole thing again and reinstall.

bwsnyder said...

Four megabytes is not too much considering Firefox is a stand-alone product, unlike, say I.E. To get the latest version of I.E. you may have to install much more than 4 MB; especially if you don't do Windoh's Update very often.

Plus, the latest Norton Anti-virus definitions come in around 6MB and that's something one should download once a week if not more frequently. For dial-up users that's a real pain yet keeping anti-virus current is a necessity. Updating your browser once a month at 4MB a clip isn't too bad.

Andrew said...

If something is properly programmed you should never have to worry about something going wrong.

As for Virus Definitions, programs like TrendMicro do incremental updates and are mere KBs. If you ever used an update system like this you will notice how much better it is.

DuaneC said...

5) The firefox development had progressed the code to a point where providing a single patch (for an old build) was harder than just releasing the next "current" build, patch included.

... Maybe mozilla.org wont waste our lives needing 10 to 50 individual security patches before the next "release"

btw, next time you feel bad about downloading the next 4MB firefox release, just think of the next Microsoft release where you can PAY for your trouble.

DuaneC said...

oops, I bit this flamebait article... Hope c3.gostats.com is getting the hit count for this blog right ;-)

ramani said...

The world is filled with fanboys... To them,, Firefox is this perfect entity which nobody can speak ill of, failing so would result in eternal damnation. *sigh* why can't they admit that their update system is indeed archaic and just MOVE ON?

This also teaches us NEVER to believe in web statistics.

Andrew, you've got my full support.

shane said...

you can get incremental updates of the code if you are capable of compiling the source yourself. Sure, binary updates for software via dynamically loadable code (i.e. dll's or "position independant code libraries") are possible but lots of caveats, especially when there are multiple target platforms and library formats. And even if they did that it wouldn't give you updates to the application framework itself; something has to load the libraries. 4 meg is convenient if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

Proud NetCaptor user here, and no, I don't trust Firefox's own people telling me their stats. By the same measure, Fox News tells me Bush is a popular president even though 41% approve of him or his policies. I've downloaded Firefox twenty times, am I counted as both 20 users and 20 downloads?

NewsBlaze said...

Web statisctics - 87.35% of all statistics are fake. ;-)

What is more interesting than the number of downloads is the overall usage on websites.
One year ago at NewsBlaze Daily News, It was IE 97% and firefox 1.5%. As of today, it is IE 83% and Firefox 15%. Firefox still has some bugs they need to work out, such as memory issues, but its popularity is increasing.

Andrew said...

Firefox is actually 8.9%:


Gaby de Wilde said...

After installing a patch all extensions are broken. I can't use it at all withouth extensions.

I don't get how they are they not part of the browser update.

And without registration before downloading the numbers mean nothing. Downloading is the whole goal of the program.

I thought the goal should be making a good browser and creating happy user?

Excuse me then :(

Milto said...

I love FF, they can have IE.
One problem after the update. Now MLB
radio will not play unless I view in IE.
Any suggestions?

Andrew said...

If MLB radio uses ActiveX, than the only way to get it to work on FF is with IE Tab.