Some organizations are reluctant to keep their browsers up-to-date because they worry that internal websites might not be compatible.
Organization-internal sites can have unusual compatibility constraints. Many have small numbers of users, yet are highly sensitive to downtime. Some were developed with the assumption that the web would always be as static as it was in 2003.
Rapid releases help in some ways: fewer things change at a time; we can deprecate APIs before removing them; and the permanent Aurora and Beta audiences help test each new release consistently.
But frequent releases make manual testing impractical. (Let's pretend for now that the roughly-monthly security "dot releases" never broke anything.)
As with the problem of extension compatibility, overlapping releases could be part of a solution. But we should start by thinking about ways to attack compatibility problems directly.
A tool could scan for the use of deprecated web features, such as the “-moz-” prefixed version of border-radius. This tool, similar in spirit to the AMO validator, could be run on the website's source code or on the streams received by Firefox.
There is already a compatibility detector for HTML issues, but my intuition is that CSS and DOM compatibility problems are more common.
Not all visitors have the technical skills and motivation to report issues they encounter. In some organizations, bureaucracy can stifle communication between visitors and developers. Automating error reports could help.
It would be cool if a Firefox extension could report warnings and errors from internal sites to a central server.
Depending on the privacy findings from this extension, it could become an onerror++ API available to all web sites, similar to the Web Performance APIs. This seems more sensible than adding API-specific error reporting.
We could suggest things to put in contracts for outsourced intranet development.
Often, the best solution is to align incentives. That could take the form of specifying that the developers are responsible for maintenance costs for a specified length of time.
When that isn't practical, I'd suggest specifying requirements such as:
- Follow forward-compatible practices: avoid browser-specific or prefixed features; sniff features rather than browsers; validate markup and CSS.
- Include automated, browser-based tests for key workflows. (Perhaps using Selenium, a tool developed in part by Mozilla employees.)
- Include non-obfuscated source code.
There is a roughly exponential distribution of home users between the Nightly, Aurora, Beta, and Release channels. This helps Mozilla and public web sites fix incompatibilities before they affect large numbers of users.
Large organizations should strive for a similar channel distribution so that internal websites benefit in the same way. It might make sense for Mozilla to provide tools to help, perhaps based on our own update service or Build Your Own Browser.
Counterintuitively, the best strategy for security-conscious organizations may be to standardize on the Beta channel, with the option to downgrade to Release in an emergency. This isn't as crazy as it sounds. Today's betas are as stable as yesteryear's release candidates, thanks to the Aurora audience and the discipline made possible by the 6-week cadence. And since Beta gets security fixes sooner, they are safer in some ways.
The loss of release overlap takes away some options from IT admins and intranet developers, but rapid releases also make possible new strategies that could be better in the long term.