Mozilla Wants to Be Agile. Can They Do It?

The Mozilla Foundation is exploring moving from a long, browser development cycle to a much shorter one. If you’ve followed the life cycle of the original Mozilla browser which evolved into Firefox you know that the release cycles have been unbearably long at times.

For example, Firefox 4.0 has been in development for over a year. In the fast-paced world of browsers and web technologies, that’s an eternity.

Google’s Chrome browser undergoes much faster release cycles, sometimes only weeks apart. Can Mozilla successfully speed up it’s development life cycle and go head to head with Google?

Yes…but…it won’t be easy.

Mozilla will need to overcome cultural, organizational and infrastructure issues to get there. The cultural issue is obvious. Everyone is accustomed to the long, methodical, development process. Many will question the need for change. Mozilla will need to sell the new process internally and sell it hard!

Organizational issues are less obvious but no less difficult. Shorter cycles will mandate overlapping development teams to accommodate short and long term needs. QA will need to be more tightly integrated with software development. The current organizational structure is unlikely to support accelerated release cycles.

Finally, infrastructure issues are last but far from least. Everything from the layout of the office space to the software tools used by the development teams will need to be updated or overhauled. These types of changes will be controversial and, possibly, expensive (luckily, they are an open-source organization).

The extent to which the Mozilla Foundation faces these challenges and commits to change will determine their long-term success. It won’t be simple and it won’t happen within a single release cycle. I hope they make it happen. I’m a long-time Firefox advocate, though I have to admit that Chrome is also on my laptop.

P.S. Ars Technica has published an overview of Mozilla’s proposed development cycle that is worth reading.

Updated: March 22, 2011 — 10:08 pm