“Web browsers are done”, and other such claims waiting to be refuted.

Came across this very interesting post today, in which, among other things, the author bemoans the rapid sequence of updates that Firefox is coming out with:

If you use Firefox 3.6, you should assume that, after August, there will be no more fixes, security or otherwise. If you want to get on board with their process, you’ll need to start using Firefox 4. But wait a minute. Firefox 4 is dead too. You need to be using Firefox 5. And that will be dead in a few months, replaced by Firefox 6. And so on.

I can understand the author’s anguish at the termination of support for older versions of Firefox, since he personally is conservative with his software updates:

I am not just this conservative with browsers. I’m running Windows Server 2003 on my cloud machines. That’s eight year old OS. Runs great! Does absolutely everything I need. And Microsoft is, thankfully, keeping it updated.

However, he must keep in mind that not all companies can keep supporting legacy versions of their software – they simply don’t have the resources for it. Heck, even Apple does it every few years, which is one reason they’re not very popular in the corporate sector.

His personal dislike, though, does not translate to a problem at Mozilla, does it? The author goes on to add:

[T]here must be a reason they’re doing this. They must see something we don’t. Like their numbers going down. Or the money drying up. Since they’re open source and non-profit, shouldn’t we be told what the issue is?

Uh… Does it strike you, sir, that a cash crunch, or the very fact that they’re open source and non-profit, would allow them scarce resources to support older browsers?

Also, what’s with the comparison to Osborne?

Osborne Computer Corp famously committed suicide in 1983 by announcing a new product before it was ready to ship, thereby killing their cash cow (the previous product), and killing their cash flow, and killing themselves.

Osborne pre-announced a later version of a product they were selling, thereby stopping sales of the current product before the new version came out. Firefox, on the other hand, is rapidly coming up with newer versions, without letting the community know much in advance. (I personally went “Huh? 5? Already?” when the popup told me a new version was ready.) Also, if you’ve noticed, Firefox is free – so I’m guessing whoever funds them would actually be happy to learn that a newer version is in the pipeline.

What was the comparison with Osborne about, again?

Finally, the bit that really irked me about the post:

The problem for them, if they choose to view it as a problem, is that web browsers are done. Feature-complete. No one can think of anything to add that anyone wants, because there are no more features to add. Sadly, this happens to product categories.

[…]

Software products have lifecycles. They reach a point where all they need is maintenence. Make sure it runs on new hardware. Fix security issues as they arise. Optimize. (Firefox could sure use that!) Teeny little tweaks that are almost unnoticable.

Really? The web browser is dead? There’s nothing new happening that would warrant new versions of browsers? Have you heard of HTML5, sir? What about CSS3? Does your version of Firefox (version 3, I think you said) support any of the new HTML5 elements? What about the version you’re moaning about, Firefox 3.6?

Do me a favor, sir. Open up your precious Firefox3, and see how the browser does on the HTML5 Test. Then, why don’t you browse this website for me: HTML5 Rocks Presentation. Did you enjoy it? Did your browser run the presentation at all?

You might not like the direction that each web browser is taking in its development (for example, choice of formats to support) – I don’t either, and that’s why I end up using three browsers regularly on my computer: Safari, Firefox and Chrome. But that position is very different from crying “browsers are dead”. No they’re not: every browser still interprets HTML coding slightly differently, not all the latest web standards are yet implemented across the board – and I’m certain there are other new tags and features that web developers are clamoring to be included in the HTML standards even now.

The web browser, sir, is far from maturity – let alone death.

P.S.: I share no special love for Firefox – I would have had similar reactions about any browser in general.

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