Browser versions and the new Web

Ten years ago the Web was a very stagnated place. There was no new technology, no good reason to update your browser. We live in a different world now where the Web is contant evolving and new technologies arrive every day. We need better browsers and constant updates.

In this new world, there’s  no place to major browser versions. There’s no place to big releases with years between them. We need a continuous release cycle with constant improvements and a simpler user experience.

Google Chrome was the first browser to realize this new requirements. When you download Chrome you’re not downloading version “4” or “9”. You’re downloading Chrome and you always have the latest version (whatever it is) thanks to automatic updates.

The HTML5 expert group also noted that the new Web needs this continuous flow of inovation. There’s no HTML version anymore. There’s is just HTML, an evolving technology.

Older browsers still suffer from this “major version” release cycle. Firefox recently tried to change its release cycle to a more frequent one. Firefox 5 is expected just a few months after Firefox 4. And, according to the planned release dates, we will see Firefox 6 and 7 this year. But how much time until we have simple “Firefox”? No versions attached? Just the latest Mozilla goodness? My guess? Very soon.

Internet Explorer still has those big numbers attached to every release. They are also trying to decrease the interval between releases. IE 10 was announced just after IE 9 official release. Other browsers like Safari and Opera also have specific versions – Opera being the worst one labeling its versions, with an obscure numbering scheme.

A versionless Web is the best strategy to a continuous and constant evolution. It’s better for users, that don’t have to think about versions and updates, and will always have the latest version. And it’s better for developers that don’t need to think about supporting older browser versions.

7 Responses to “Browser versions and the new Web”

  1. nico says:

    That’s a bit of a mock point about Chrome… Chrome still has a version number (I currently run 12.0.742.91).

    The important thing is not the version number, or lack thereof, is the fast release cycle and the automagical update to the new version.

  2. Kirill says:

    Erm, why? Even Chrome does have versions. And what’s bad about a versioned IE as long as it’s the newest one? You know, versions serve the puropose of making sure that you have the latest one. I can tell you that I have the latest IE cause it’s 9. If IE didn’t have a number, it would be just IE, no matter how outdated (like IE7) it is.

  3. slopes says:

    Of course Chrome has an internal version number, every software does. But there’s no apparent version to the end user. Just compare browsers download pages (one has a big 9, the other has nothing):

    As nico said, the important thing is the automagical update and the fast release cycle. Firefox, IE etc all have automatic security updates to the same major version (3.6.x for example). But you still have the big major release (version 4) that is some sort of a different browser (it’s an independent update, a big announcement etc).

    Chrome is the only browser that doesn’t have this major version announced. Everything is always up to date and the user never knows when there’s some major release. Chrome’s strategy is more similar to web products release cycles than to traditional software products. It’s like going to Google Docs and always know that it’s the latest and greatest version even if there isn’t an apparent version.

    My opinion is that Chrome’s strategy is better for end users because it’s simpler and safe. And better for designers because all users always have the latest version.

  4. nico says:

    @slopes: I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that when FF4 was released FF3 asked me to upgrade directly to 4… (but, again, I may be wrong)

  5. nico says:

    I confirm that FF4 just automagically updated to FF5 on my Android phone. No automatic update on my laptop, but that’s probably because I’m using the FF version shipped with Fedora.

  6. I agree that the Internet (and its web subspace) is a place so much different from what it used to be 20 or 10 years ago.
    I disagree (at least partially) about the reasons for a continuous update of browsers (or whatever client and server you need).
    In first place I see security. Are you really sure the password you are typing into your browser is not being sniffed and recorded by some malicious addon/plugin/trojan? Are you really sire the home banking page you are reading is actually what you expect and not a fake one by passing the “anti phishing” mechanisms?

    In second place standards (like HTML) should not be “ever evolving”. HTML v4.01 is 10+ years old. There’s no single browsers completely implementing the standard as it’s been defined. After 10+ years we are going towards HTMLv5 (which is not a standard yet but a “work in progress”). Browsers developers are all embracing the (temporary) HTMLv5 standard and leaving all unfinished HTMLv4 behind.
    Look here. Something simple and important like table column formatting has been left behind BY ALL OPENSOURCE BROWSERS since 11+ years. This has forced site developers to workaround the bug since then.

    The reality, in my opinion, is that all this race is just marketing.
    fast deployment of releases is not the solution and the quality assurance processes need time to … ehr … assure quality is in place.
    The two major search engine companies want you to use their browsers and services. And anything that will lead to this is good for them.
    That’d be it.

    Under Linux (the real one, not Android, MeeGo and the likes) there cannot be a really automatic update. Too many distributions are overkilling for them. Chrome and Firefox under Linux has the automatic update feature disabled. But desktop Linux account for too few desktops which are all considered somehow geeky.

  7. pookito says:

    Thanks for the blog. Quick and easy to understand. I got your point. And true, I wish we could live in a world where the version number would not matter to the end user.