Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

First, Do No Harm Mozilla

ARRRGGGHHH! No, that is not the sound of me practicing to be a pirate for Halloween. Instead, it is a strangled cry of anguish brought on by my attempts to run the new Firefox browser. As my gentle readers are aware of, I am usually a Mozilla fan. I have tossed away Microsoft Outlook in favor of Thunderbird and use Firefox, not Internet Explorer. The new version of Firefox, version 2.0, is giving me pause however.

You would think that these folks never heard of backward compatibility. I'm not talking about the extensions that no longer work. I kind of expect that and usually they catch up over the next couple of weeks. I mean things that are supposed to work that no longer do. Worse, features that work inconsistently.

For instance, I had my browser configured to open most links in a new tab with the exception of links within a page. Bookmarks, search results, new windows all come in a tab. It is the single most useful feature of Firefox, in my opinion. The only thing that I wanted to open in the current window, is a link from within the current window. This is typical application behavior. I loaded up Firefox 2 and, behold, everything works exactly the opposite. Worse yet, changing the tab settings seems to have absolutely no effect on the behavior of the browser. Tell it to open external links in the current tab, it still opens them in a new one. No matter what I tell it to do, the silly browser does what it wants to do. Frustrating as all get out.

My TagCloud system no longer works. It somehow generates a 403 error from the web server. To put it plainly, some of my AJAX applications no longer function. Perhaps it is some new security feature that is ignoring the security profile that is in my user preferences. Perhaps it's ignoring my user preferences all together. Maybe it's just acting randomly.

The point of this particular rant is that this is what kills software. Backward compatibility is a key component of upgrading software. If business enterprises are to be expected to implement these product, if these products are to become something other than a hobbyist's toy, then upgrades have to respect current configurations. New features don't matter if the old, useful ones, no longer work.

In case anyone is thinking that this is just me, look around the message boards. You will find all kinds of similar problems. This is also not the first time this has happened. Several times in the past when Mozilla came out with upgrades a lot of things broke and for good.

The extension situation also exposes the soft white underbelly of open source. Over time, certain extensions, plug-ins, or whatever you want to call them, become so widely used as to become a feature. When that happens you can no longer rely on a weekend programmer to maintain it and keep it current. It is incumbent on the main development team to make sure these critical features are delivered.

New features are nice, often important. You can't deliver those by breaking other existing features. For me, it means a return to the older version that I have, v1.5. That presents it's own problems since the update mechanism won't update to my previous version, 1.7 and a lot of extensions will no longer function below that level. All this aggravation is making me take a good look at IE 7. Exactly what the Mozilla team does not want to happen.

Sorry Mozilla, this is a lousy roll out. You won't win corporate hearts and minds this way.

No comments: