Major update to Firefox 3.6 (the day after)

Looking at the approx 4.5million people who moved to FF3.6.0 since yesterday morning:

  • ~66% (3million) downloaded the FF3.6.0 installer and installed from it
  • ~33% (1.5million) manually did Help->CheckForUpdates

This is very similar to what we saw with the FF3.5.0 release. As far as I can tell, we did not gain 3million *new* users yesterday. My belief, without data to prove it, is that most/all of those 3million people were *existing* Firefox users who chose to do a download install, instead of doing CheckForUpdate. I guess there are cases where a Firefox user might want to do a fresh install, but I would have thought that most people would prefer the easier in-place upgrade of Help->CheckForUpdates.

To me, I was hoping to see:

  • ~20% downloaded the FF3.6.0 installer and installed from it
  • ~80% manually did Help->CheckForUpdates

Is there something we could do differently, so that next time, most existing Firefox users do Help->CheckForUpdates, instead of a fresh download? Is it possible that people hear about the new release, but do not know about Help->CheckForUpdates? What do you think?

49 thoughts on “Major update to Firefox 3.6 (the day after)

  1. One thing that could be done is to sniff the browser version on the download page. If they have the new version already then prompt before continuing. I would suggest some text detecting an older version and providing a “fast install”, where that takes them to a page describing the ‘check for updates’ mechanism.

  2. In our case, corporate IT locked down something during the 3.5 beta cycle that resulted in Firefox updates being blocked. So, several of us have had to resort to full downloads.

  3. When I wanted to upgrade Firefox in previous releases, Help->CheckForUpdates told me there were no updates for a few days. So I downloaded the installer and let it upgrade because I did not wanted to wait

  4. You don’t want most existing Firefox users to have to use the menubar! That’s never going to happen; most users don’t even really know there IS such a thing.

    But I agree that most users should use Firefox’s inbuilt updating/upgrading system rather than having to download an executable.

    I think the answer is to change the Download page, so that if you’re using Firefox (but not the latest version) and the download page that you’re viewing is for the latest version of Firefox and you click the download button, would just call navigator.checkForUpdates() (or something!) that triggers the same function that “Check for updates” triggers, by default, instead of linking you to an exe. (There should, of course, still be a way to get an exe, but it shouldn’t be what you get automatically when you go to and click “Get Firefox 3.6” if you’re using Firefox 3.5).

  5. Indeed, it’s quite possible that “Help -> Check for updates” is not really obvious for so-called “regular” people. Maybe some effort could be put there to enhance the interface.

    I was thinking as well about that: possibly a (large?) portion of Firefox early adopters are involved in web-development, one way or the other. The point being: I myself did an update, but in the minute after had after-thoughts and downloaded a 3.5 to install back – as to keep both. Pretty much the question is: how many people want to keep both?

  6. I think many people simply don’t find this menu item. I saw my father using the installer to update yesterday, I don’t think he prefers that to an automatic update.

    Also, until recently clicking “Check for updates” on release day wouldn’t do you any good – so many people probably don’t even try any more. And finally, limited user accounts on Windows have this option grayed out, doing an automated update is non-trivial then. So there are clearly reasons for people to download installers, and I don’t see any obvious solutions.

  7. I downloaded the installer because I forgot that “Check for Updates” wouldn’t find anything when running 3.6RC2, since 3.6RC2 is the same build as 3.6 final.

  8. In my version of Firefox, CheckForUpdates doesn’t find anything for the moment.

    Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; fr-FR; rv:1.9.1) Gecko/20090624 Firefox/3.5

  9. Hi John, my take will be that people do not know about Help->CheckForUpdates.
    Being myself used to having Firefox notify me when update for add-ons are available, something similar for Firefox itself will be good.
    In addition, many people just hibernates or suspends his/her notebook thus Firefox is not restarted in days and the checks it does at startup time never happen…


  10. I don’t know if you can break that down by geography, but I downloaded the installer because after I got the news of the official release, Help > Check For Updates wasn’t working for me, and was still showing FF3.5; so I had to download from in order to get the update. Seems like Europe lagged a few hours behind.

  11. Hi John, the reason I did a download and install is because the built-in update does not work from an RC version. I’ve been using the beta’s and release candidates and wanted to go to the “official release”.

  12. There is a very obvious thing that we can do to improve this:

    People that have installed the Release Candidates download something that is branded as “Firefox 3.6 RC2” from the web site, but branded as “Firefox 3.6” in the About dialog.

    I have seen several people re-download the installer when running (this time around) RC2, and wondering why it won’t update to the final release. The fact that RC2 is bit-for-bit the same as the final release isn’t something they understand. I’m wondering if we could do something like only change the version string when going from last RC to final, and have the About dialog actually show “RC” in it until the final release ships. Then, there’s a quick update that just adjusts the version number, and people will feel like they’re running the latest version.

    Also, there’s the bug on Macs where if FF was installed by another admin user, you can’t update it, even if you’re an admin user — you have to download manually to do so. I believe this bug was fixed, but obviously wouldn’t affect the numbers until next release.

    Both of these reasons aren’t going to massively affect the numbers, though — I think we just do a really good job at PR around the releases, so people do what most people do when they want to get software — they go to the web site, and download the file.

  13. 1) Don’t throttle updates
    2) Immediately notify users of an update instead of waiting 24 hours or so…I think that goes back to #1
    3) Increase timer for the app update timer (I barely see this thing, let alone able to click it everyday for nightly updates because it is so quick)

  14. John,

    Some anecdotal evidence as to why you might be getting those results:

    In updating my Firefox installations yesterday I wound up using both methods. On my Mac Pro, I used “check for updates”, but it took three tries spread over an hour. The first two times Firefox told me there were “No Updates Found”, even though I was watching the count on the download tracker. (No idea! …and I would have just gone the download route except that I got distracted by an incoming email.) The third time I tried, it worked, although after downloading FF 3.6, the install failed because the machines uses Mac’s fast user switching and there was an instance of 3.5.7 “running” in the other user space. (Being a bear of very little brain, I didn’t catch on to what the problem was and did a full O/S restart to get past the message about a resource file being in use).

    On a Windows notebook that gets used only rarely, I also first tried check for updates. That updated FF 3.5.6 to 3.5.7, which installed normally. When 3.5.7 came up it displayed the welcome screen that said I wasn’t using the latest version and displayed a big “Download 3.6” button. I punched the button which I suspect put me in the second “Download the installer” category. I suspect this accounts for at least part of your manual download count.

    — Cheers!

  15. I think the Firefox download page is fundamentally broken if you’re already using a Firefox version with an in-browser upgrade path to the new release.

    On the page there is a big green thing with the download link to the installer. Really draws attention to itself. It’s basically the only thing a human will click on that page, because it’s designed that way.

    If the user for some reason clicks “Learn More”, again there’s a big green thing you immediately want to click. But! Below it is a text saying “What’s a Firefox update?” in gray against a grayish background with a “Learn More” link. If you click on that instead of the huge (in comparison) green attention-getter link, on the new page you have to expand the “How do I update Firefox” section (next to which is another green thing telling you to click it) to find out you can click through to the page that shows you how to do Check For Updates. One easy click to download, several non-obvious clicks to find out about in-browser updates.

    Basically, if you don’t know about Help->Check For Updates, there’s no way you’ll learn about it when you go to to download the new version you just heard about somewhere. Since there is no opportunity to learn about it when you update this time, you probably won’t know about it when the next major update hits the internet and you’ll download/reinstall that one too. Rinse, repeat.

    I know user-agent sniffing is an abomination, but I don’t think it’s too bad if it’s done on the download site in a very version-specific way (that is, don’t check for Mozilla/5.0 but Firefox/3.5.x). If the browser is Firefox with an upgrade path, show an alternative UI. Big graphic on how it’s “easy” and “comfortable” and “quick” to do the in-browser upgrade, with instructions. And then a smaller link that takes the user to the installer download. Reverse the dynamic a bit. Because saying in-browser update is simpler and faster isn’t a lie, it’s the truth! And users who want to download the installer can do so with no extra steps.

    This could be taken even further, with pre-update extension compatibility checking (similar to the Plugin Check). An unsure user can actually see if they’ll have a painless upgrade or not. (Yes, there are issues what with the chrome vs. content celebrity death match, but it’d be pretty sweet nonetheless.)

  16. I suspect that most of those people hear about a new release, and think ‘oh I need to get that’ so they go to Mozilla and download it and install it the same way they did with 3.5. They don’t think ‘oh it’ll be distributed as an update which I haven’t been prompted for’, because they’ve never been told that a manual update check will show them a new major version. Updates in Firefox are usually background and automatic, so it’s entirely possible they have absolutely no idea they can even initiate an update check, or that updates can work between major releases. I certainly wouldn’t expect them to think it might be found in the Help menu, for what have software updates to do with help (well, other than potentially fixing problems you might need help with I suppose).

    Basically, I think the reason people are choosing to use the installer is because Check For Updates is not a discoverable way to upgrade to a new major Firefox release. If 3.6 had been offered as an automatic update on launch day, the numbers would be very different. I doubt most users are aware of the update system when it’s not pushing itself.

  17. It could be that they clicked “Help -> Check for Updates” and it said No Updates Available, and they were so eager and excited they downloaded the whole thing. I know that I tried several times through the day before Firefox saw there was an update available. However, I knew to be patient.

  18. Being that I’m in the beta channel, and I get updates before they go live, I can’t say that I did this for 3.6.

    However, in the past, if I knew that there was a new release, I’d do Help->CheckForUpdates and be told there was not one, so I would go and download the installer.

    I believe that the problem might be that there is a lag time between releases and HCFU. Up to a day in some cases. This may have been resolved in more recent releases but it’s still something that is present when I consider updating.

  19. Maybe it’s the way it’s worded? “Check for Updates” sounds like a minor action. I’d imagine more people would use it for a major release if it was labelled with something stronger, like “Upgrade Firefox”.

    Just throwing an idea out there: The background update checker could be told in advance to schedule a check at a specific time, assuming the final release date is known a few days in advance and it could be made to do that sort of stuff.

  20. I think, the message with every release is “Download Firefox x.y” and banners and twits and posts tend to point there. So basically all our efforts are to get people to download the new versions and that’s what we’re getting.

    Is it possible to have a web initiated “check for updates”?

    From past experiences I always prefer a full install just to be sure nothing is left (aside from the profile) from past versions. If it is the case that a fresh install is exactly the same as an update (which I guess is the case… and still do a full install because it’s 1 minute) then we should have a separate message (this one) for current users.

  21. On both my OS X and Windows 7 machines I tried Help->CheckForUpdates and it said there were no updates, so I went and downloaded it instead. I’m using a localised build (en-GB), and the update check has always been far too laggy. It’s days, sometimes a week before it actually sees an update.

    Basically, I think you should switch to Chrome like updates. Always the newest version, all of the time.

  22. My personal story is that I knew the new version was due yesterday. I checked for updates, but there was no update available. Optimistically I checked and 3.6 was available so I downloaded it. This was around 3-4pm GMT.

  23. Is it that much easier to do the check for update? Saves a couple of mouse clicks I guess. One of the several computers I tried it on the download stalled half way through, so I also downloaded from the website on that one.

    I would imagine it’s certainly possible people don’t know, or don’t think about, the update check. I saw many posts on planet.m.o, including the official news on the official blog, and quite a few stories on other sites, and most of them linked to the website, they didn’t also give instructions for existing users. I just did a search with Google reader, and the only item that turns up a mention of “check for updates” is bsmedberg (except for this post).

    It’s actually easier to write “go to” (and that can be a clickable link in the text) than “if you’re using Firefox already, go to the ‘help’ menu and choose ‘check for updates’, otherwise go to”.

  24. You’re already auto-updating everyone to 3.6.0? Isn’t that a bit reckless? I am not calling 3.6 unstable or anything like that, but it is definitely less stable than 3.5.7 was … 3.5 went without any crashes for at least a month before I installed the 3.6 RC, which in turn has crashed a couple of times and froze once since then (not once did it actually bring up the crash reporter window though).

  25. I did Check for Updates yesterday (from Firefox 3.5). The web was already full of official announcements of the release of FF 3.6, but I was told there was no update available. So I downloaded the new FF manually. Maybe there is a delay in the update system?

  26. Although I’ve done no research on the matter, it totally makes sense that people would go to the website to get a new version, especially on the first day.

    you have to go to the website to get your first version of Firefox, it only makes sense you’d go to the website for your subsequent versions of Firefox.
    Although Firefox does apply security updates from time-to-time without the user having to download a whole new installer, so does Windows – and Windows Update definitely won’t upgrade you from Vista to Windows 7. If people make the analogy between Firefox updates and Windows updates, they won’t expect Firefox to update major versions either.
    I seem to recall that Mozilla does (or used to) stagger the availability of updates through Check For Updates to prevent overloading the download servers. If a user really wants to try the new version, it’s better to go to the website where the new version can reliably be found, rather than trying Check For Updates until it deigns to give you the upgrade.

  27. One thing I notice is that when a new release comes out, people link to or similar to encourage the upgrade. Maybe if there was a way to form a link that would call “check for updates” instead? So when people read the release announcement or whatever, the link provided would trigger that upgrade method instead. You’d also need some fallback for non Firefox users clicking that link also.

    Also, perhaps rewording the official release announcements to have “existing Firefox users are encouraged to check for updates” prominently, and before the link to would help.

  28. John,

    I have a home computer and a work computer. I noticed that 3.6 was released and did a “check for updates,” but ff told me I had the current version. So I manually downloaded and installed. Later in the day I was at my work computer, performed “check for updates” and this time got satisfaction.

    Maybe some number of people, like me, were itching to download 3.6 and didn’t want to wait for the update system to come up to speed.

  29. Going to Check for update is not a natural move yet, while the nice green rounded buttons on make it so easy to click once you discover a new version is available…

    Why not add a glowing button inside the location bar as soon as a new update is available. 🙂

  30. For what it’s worth, I’ve never used Help > Check For Updates. In fact, I’ve never used the Help menu at all, so I don’t think I even knew there was a Check For Updates item there. Updates usually happen automatically, but when I hear that there’s a new version for download… I go out and download it.

  31. The usual for me was download the installer to “test” the new version using -p.
    I allways do that, only for updates from alpha, beta, rc check for help->checkforupdates

  32. I think for me, there were three reasons why I manually downloaded instead of checking for updates:

    Being in Germany and being subscribed to Planet Mozilla, I had about 30 blogs and Tweets that told me that Firefox would be released on the 21st, but nobody told me what time. So all day I would check the website until it was finally there in the evening.
    I don’t think the average user knows that the supported upgrade path is. In the past, this has always been a little confusing. If I am using 2.0.xx and I check for updates, I’d get updated to 3.0.xx. If I’m using 3.0.xx and check for updates, I don’t get updated. When the new release came out, I wasn’t sure if that meant that 3.0.xx users would get updated to 3.5.xx and 3.6.xx would need to be a manual update, or what? So the easy thing is just to go download it manually, since I was checking the website all day for the new version anyway.
    About half of the boxes I use run Linux, where the Check for Updates thing is grayed out and if you want to run the current version of anything, it needs to be a manual install. So I manually download it from the website and put it in /opt/, since the repositories have an older version.

  33. Yes you can:) less crashes on FF 🙂 I have also experienced similar issue with update. On linux distribution like fedora, new FF comes only when maintainer gets time. So i prefer o have custom version always. But it seems thats not the right way. bcos I see lots of crashes after update on Fedora12, almost everytime i close FF. Not sure why. But will try installing fresh. (and loosing lots of configurations and preferences for addons)

  34. Not that it gets to the central thrust of your post, but another disadvantage of not doing CheckForUpdates is that users don’t get notified if their extensions are incompatible beforehand.

  35. I think most people have no idea Help > Check for Updates exists, and assume the way to get the new version is to download it from the website.

    If you want more people to use the built-in updater, then I think you’re going to have to do one (or both) of the following things:

    1) Educate them. The Firefox download page needs to detect that they’re using the previous version of Firefox and suggest that they use Help > Check for Updates instead of downloading the entire thing. It should also tell them why (easier, faster, smaller download, etc.).

    2) Push the update notification sooner, so fewer have a chance to download it manually. This may or may not be feasible or practical. Either way, I doubt it would have the same success rate as #1.

  36. First of all, complete update means you won’t meet with bug 489522.

    The update executable also can then be manually brought to environments with limited Internet access (intranets, expensive GPRS, etc.), where direct update is not desireable.

  37. Updating is slow. I prefer to Dowloadthemall the binary file. And while there is a way to pause updating, there is no way to cancel it. Been doing it from 3.5. Always like to have a bacup of an old version.

  38. It make sense to add an option to backup existing profile before installing update (and, in fact, whenever user wants to make backup). Moreover, it make sense to provide a way to create/select profiles with normal GUI rather than using sort of “secret” command line option -p to call the profile manager. Not all users know about profiles at all, and installing Fx from full installer may be just some desirable (but elusory) way to isolate (just in case) existing data and settings from new version.

  39. hi;

    Wow; thanks for the tons of replies on that post.

    Trevian,Martin: possible you were just a little too quick? We only enabled the updates around 9am PST / 10am MST / 5pm GMT. If you still have a computer on FF3.5.7, can you try again?

    AUser,Joris,smaug: We make major update available at the same time as the downloadable installers. We’ve started doing this with the FF3.5.0 release, and with every release since then.

    Gaurav,Tulapi,JimB,Matt,Peter Gasston,alanjstr: If you have more details on when you hit that “No updates available”, we’d love to hear. I’ve filed to track this. Any information you have would be great. Like when did you try? What city you were in at the time? What OS you were on? What version of Firefox you were running, trying to upgrade from?

  40. If you prefer in-place upgrade than downloading installer, why not remove “Get the World’s Best Browser” in Software Update dialog appearing after you click CheckForUpdates?
    At least this should be “For more information…” in the last of this frame.

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