As beloved as Firefox is by its users, the open source browser has had a harder time finding hardcore fans among IT managers at large companies and other organizations. That's because its rapid release cycle has always been notoriously tricky for them to keep up with. On top of that, Mozilla would sometimes end support on a particular older version of its browser before enterprise clients were ready.
Mozilla has heard the pained cries of IT managers everywhere and today announced that they're going to put out an Extended Support Release version of Firefox to help organizations better manage and support the software.
The initial ESR will be based on Firefox 10 and will offer more time (12 weeks) for organizations to test and certify new releases than the standard consumer version of Firefox. Each release will be maintained for one year, or the equivalent of nine release cycles.
The ESR version of Firefox will be developed as a separate product from the Firefox consumers are used to using, and thus utilizing the ESR won't be without its drawbacks. For one, there's an increased likelihood of bugs being introduced and persisting, since the ESR won't have the same massive beta testing group that Firefox proper has. Over time, the ESR runs the risk of becoming less secure than Firefox itself, and might even confuse some users if they're accustomed to using the standard version at home.
The move represents a bit of a change of heart for Mozilla, who previously brushed off concerns about providing proper enterprise support. By contrast, Google Chrome has made an effort to ease the pain of IT departments. Late last year, Google's three-year-old browser surpassed Firefox as the second most widely-used browser, according to one firm's statistics. By taking the enterprise a little more seriously, perhaps Mozilla can manage to minimize the competitive threat posed by Chrome.
The new ESR will not cover Firefox Mobile or the Thunderbird email client. Mozilla says it will publish implementation details sometime in the next week.