Trying to mimic Chrome, last year Mozilla introduced a rapid release cycle for Firefox — Mozilla decided they would release a new major version of Firefox every six weeks or so. This resulted in Firefox, which used to see roughly one major release every year, going from Firefox 4 to Firefox 9 in about six months. Needless to say there was significant backlash, even among Mozilla’s own — a Firefox developer publicly admitted that everyone hates rapid releases. Apparently Adobe did not learn a lesson from Mozilla’s blunder because Adobe has decided to start rapid releases for Flash.
According to an official blog post by Adobe, Flash Player is being moved to a rapid release cycle starting with Flash 11.5; Adobe will now deliver beta versions of Flash to the people who are in Flash’s beta channel quicker than before which, in return, should result in faster releases for Flash to the general public. While Adobe has committed itself to rapid releases, it has not announced an official schedule as to when to expect new versions of Flash (e.g. Mozilla says new versions of Firefox will be released every six weeks; Adobe has no such timetable).
Despite my condescending tone, rapid releases of Flash may not be that bad. They might actually be a good thing. You see there are two major reasons rapid releases for Firefox have ticked everybody off while no one has a problem with rapid Chrome releases:
- Version numbers. Firefox has always been known as “Firefox X” — “Firefox 2″, “Firefox 3″, “Firefox 4″, etc. Heck, it was part of Mozilla’s early strategy to market the release of “Firefox X”, namely Firefox 2 and Firefox 3. Since people are used to seeing Firefox X, it is annoying the heck out of end users to see a new Firefox X coming out every few weeks. Chrome, on the other hand, has always been known as just Chrome. Google has never emphasized Chrome version numbers; I can’t even tell you which Chrome I’m on without looking it up. Because Chrome is just Chrome, and not Chrome X, no one really cares how quickly Chrome versions are released.
- Silent, seamless updates. For the longest time Firefox’s autoupdater could not do silent updates. That is to say, Firefox required user input to update to newer versions. People don’t like being prompted by Firefox to update to a newer version every other month. Even today Mozilla has not perfected silent updates for Firefox, despite introducing the feature earlier this year — I still saw the Firefox update dialog when I upgraded to Firefox 15. Chrome, on the other hand, simply updates in the background. Most of the time users don’t even know Chrome updated to a newer version.
Flash doesn’t have the same issues as Firefox. Flash has never been known by its version number by the vast majority of people; Flash has always just been Flash or Flash Player, like Chrome has always been Chrome. So most people likely won’t care which Flash version is being pushed to them every few weeks (or however quickly Adobe releases the updates). Also, Flash introduced an automatic updater back in March that is supposedly able to silently and seamlessly update Flash to the latest version without user input or acknowledgment. I say “supposedly” because I don’t utilize this automatic updater on my computer so I cannot personally attest to how well it works. In other words, I don’t know if it is Firefox-like silent updates or Chrome-like silent updates but, from what I have read, Flash’s automatic updater looks Chrome-like. With true silent updates, most users likely won’t even know how quickly Flash is being updated and thus won’t care.
The other positive side of fast Flash updates is better security and stability. If done probably, faster updates to Flash should lead to a more stable and more secure Flash due to improvements being quickly integrated and pushed to the end user. However, if done incorrectly, rapid Flash releases could lead to a more unstable and insecure Flash.
Only time will tell how effective Adobe’s execution of rapid releases is and how the public will react. However, I don’t expect a Firefox-like backlash… assuming Adobe doesn’t fail like Mozilla.