Mathias Hasselmann

Firefox does silent major version update!?

First I was just annoyed by Firefox's "your browser has been updated and must be restarted nagging banner": It slides in with an annoying animation with each tab you open. Even if you closed it. There is no "nag me not" button. GUYS! I'VE GOT WORK TO DO! On an internal website. This site is secure. I promise: "I won't visit that malware ridden Internet before restarting. Really!"

But then searching for a release log - again no link or button in the nag screen - I clicked the about dialog and almost fell of my chair:



Checking system packages.

more confusion

How comes I've got a silent major version upgrade of Firefox!?

insults filling the head

Are you the new IT bad boys? Like those that motivated building free desktops years ago? Is that really your goal?

Disclaimer: Sorry for disturbing your morning. Call me stupid if you prefer. This had to be posted.
Second Disclaimer: Italic portions are edited text since Planet GNOME editors found my blog post insulting.

Update: Issue was caused by Ubuntu's update manager silently installing security updates by default, and Firefox 5 being marked as such. Some things are worth to reconsider I'd say.


Wes Kocher commented on June 22, 2011 at 8:49 a.m.

"I don't want Firefox to nag me about updates!"


Chris Cunningham commented on June 22, 2011 at 8:53 a.m.

Version numbering is not an exact science, even if some greybeards will tell you differently. Most of the time version numbering is purely psychological. For most people, a bump from 4 to 5 gives them a gentle feeling of progress and having gotten something for nothing. For some people, it inexplicably sends them into an embarrassing public apoplectic fit, Microsoft comparisons and everything.

Mathias Hasselmann commented on June 22, 2011 at 9:03 a.m.

Wes: I don't ask for not showing a notification. I ask for showing a sane notification. It's not like upgrade notification UX has not been researched over the years. It's nothing new.

So I'd really like to have:

1) An "Update Later" button. Updates tend to introduce regressions. Those cost time. Nothing I want to deal with when doing urgent work. So "Update Late", please.

2) Bonus points for giving me a link to the release notes. I want to know what got changed. More importantly you want me to tell about me about your fancy new features, and about the scary security issues fixed.

I am not asking unreasonable things. I only ask to respect your users.

Tom commented on June 22, 2011 at 9:06 a.m.

Try a FOSS operating system.

Should fix all your problems.

Adrien Bustany commented on June 22, 2011 at 9:17 a.m.

Both 1) and 2) are present on any system using PackageKit... But then yes, once you upgraded Firefox, you have to restart it because the core might not match the chrome anymore (causing weird issues)

Mathias Hasselmann commented on June 22, 2011 at 9:51 a.m.

Tom: This happened to me on Ubuntu.

Fre commented on June 22, 2011 at 10 a.m.

So, and did you have any real problem with Firefox 5, or are your complaints just theoretical? Normal users do not/should not care about version numbers, they just should have an up to date secure browser. And as 4.0 is discontinued now, updating to Firefox 5 is the only way to give them that. Giving any kind of nagging screens etc does not make any difference to end users, except disturbing them.

sensei commented on June 22, 2011 at 10:19 a.m.

Fre: ha ! I have no word to state how much I love it when people decide what "normal users" are, want and what rights they have. Ignorance is bliss, so why should anyone be presented information ? Educating users ? What a has-been concept !

gee commented on June 22, 2011 at 10:29 a.m.


anon commented on June 22, 2011 at 10:32 a.m.

Obviously you have never developed a web app before. Auto-update by default is the best thing that has happened in the last decade.

Only geeks care about release notes and they usually see them in their RSS feeds.

Andrea Cimitan commented on June 22, 2011 at 10:41 a.m.

about:config and browser.tabs.animate set to false.

bochecha commented on June 22, 2011 at 10:44 a.m.

> "Tom: This happened to me on Ubuntu."

Then the problem is that:
1. Ubuntu updated a major version of a package during a stable release
2. Your update system is configured to update everything automatically without asking you for confirmation

1 is debatable, but last time I used Ubuntu, 2 was not the default and had to be configured by the user, i.e... you?

andre klapper commented on June 22, 2011 at 10:48 a.m.

Blame Ubuntu for their default settings with regard to updates? Or blame yourself in case it's not the default settings?

Robert von Burg commented on June 22, 2011 at 11:58 a.m.

Ubuntu has no choice but to release the major version, as the major version is the security update as well. If anyone is unhappy with this, then one should take it up with Mozilla as 4.0.1 is the last 4.x release. They think they have to follow Chrome's release strategy, which I find kind of wrong...

mmc commented on June 22, 2011 at 1:54 p.m.

You may be on the "Beta" update channel. That happens if at some point during the Firefox 4 time you downloaded a beta version.

nandhp commented on June 22, 2011 at 1:58 p.m.

FYI, Firefox 5 doesn't really qualify as a major version -- it really should be called 4.1, but it's called 5 because of the new release strategy (they've adopted Chrome's strategy -- deploy a few features and bump the major release field every two to three months).

Here's the list of changes:

Added support for CSS animations
The Do-Not-Track header preference has been moved to increase discoverability
Tuned HTTP idle connection logic for increased performance
Improved canvas, JavaScript, memory, and networking performance
Improved standards support for HTML5, XHR, MathML, SMIL, and canvas
Improved spell checking for some locales
Improved desktop environment integration for Linux users
WebGL content can no longer load cross-domain textures
Background tabs have setTimeout and setInterval clamped to 1000ms to improve performance
Fixed several stability issues
Fixed several security issues

Benjamin Otte commented on June 22, 2011 at 2:05 p.m.


So how about you install a distro that is more to your liking?
Maybe Gentoo, which can't do silent updates. You'll notice from the fan that it's updating.

Mathias Hasselmann commented on June 22, 2011 at 2:13 p.m.

@Fre: As a developer I send software to integration queues daily. So I claim to know a little bit about software integration. Despite unit tests and everything, every now and then there are subtle regressions. Especially if you have extensions in that application - extensions are one of Firefox's key features, remember? Actually with extensions you have a quite high risk for major regressions. Unless you've got a time machine, so that you can effort testing each possible combination of extensions.

Summary: Upgrades are risky. They always have been. They always will be. Therefore experienced users try to somewhat schedule their updates: Luch time, evening, overnight. Every time, but __never__ when doing important work.

Actually being able to schedule updates is one of the major advantages of desktop over web (anon raised this).

I am really entirely fine with downloading the updates ASAP (well, unless I am on 3G with limited volume...). It's also entirely fine to prepare everthing to get the update rolling - the less time it takes, the better. BUT: On MY work machine I decide WHEN I interrupt my paid work for getting the update done. No one else.

Mathias Hasselmann commented on June 22, 2011 at 2:15 p.m.

nandhp: see my other comment. risk free update is an illusion.

Marcel commented on June 22, 2011 at 2:33 p.m.

Matthias: I really do not get what you are complaining about... Firefox had a "micro release exception" granted by Ubuntu's technical board for a long time, allowing newer version of the package to enter the archives even if they are bigger updates than the usual "stable release updates". As others explained, 5.0 is not really a new major release despite the numbering. The update to 5.0 contains security-relevant fixes. You apparently checked the (non-default) "Install security updates without confirmation" option in the update manager and therefore the Firefox update was installed automatically. So what? Should it ignore your setting? Why do you select this option if you want to have full control about when updates happen?

Carl commented on June 22, 2011 at 2:42 p.m.

I'm on Ubuntu, as well. I have not changed how updates arrive, and what happens on Ubuntu is this:
1. Update manager pops up telling you that Firefox wants to update.


2a. You don't understand or care what that implies.
3a. You have no business (or, probably, interest in) arguing with what the vastly more qualified software engineers are telling you is best.
4a. You install the updates and then restart Firefox when it says so.


2b. You understand and care what this implies.
3b. You decide whether or not now is a good time to update or restart Firefox.
4b. You realise that if you update Firefox, you'll need to restart it.
5b. You only update Firefox if you both want the updates and are able to restart it right now.

Alternatively, on another Ubuntu box:

1c. YOU have configured Ubuntu to update silently, without telling you.
2c. Ubuntu has updated Firefox silently, without telling you.
3c. You have massive nerdrage about this decision.
4c. Dude, why are you arguing with YOURSELF?

Mathias Hasselmann commented on June 22, 2011 at 2:44 p.m.

Marcel: I complain that this auto update happened under the hood while I did important work, where I really didn't want to bother with updates, or my browser and its chrome arguing about interface versions.

To repeat myself: "risk free update is an illusion" and therefore you schedule your updates: "__never__ when doing important work". You draw a bad picture of yourself you say this is hard to understand.

Maybe let's switch domain for illustration: Would you even consider switching wheels of your car while driving on the motorway? With no less than 160km/h, of course.

Marcel commented on June 22, 2011 at 2:49 p.m.

Matthias: Once again: *you* and no-one else *explicitly* chose "Install security updates without confirmation", saying "please perform auto update under the hood"!

This has been rephrased by several commenters now but you simply ignore this point...

Mathias Hasselmann commented on June 22, 2011 at 2:50 p.m.

Carl: I didn't get any popup. I only got surprised by this annoying toolbar telling me Firefox updated itself. Looking at about:config I see "" is set to "true" by default. Not sure of that's the relevant option. Have not found any UI for this (but the settings dialog deserves its own rant...).

Carl commented on June 22, 2011 at 3:02 p.m.

Mathias: I checked in my about:config, and I also have this set to "true". Googling states that this option is indeed there to download and install updates automatically, in Firefox's own, magical way.

We could argue about whether automatic updating should be the default for a system, but that's by the by, as I think there IS, then, a different, perfectly reasonable complaint here:

Whatever the case, Firefox on Ubuntu has decided to ignore the upgrade pathway* of the system it's on. As a result, a user who believes that he has taken the measures required to control how his computer updates, suddenly finds that there is another mechanism he could not have known about (save by luck or omniscience), which has acted counter to his instructions.

The complaint, then, I think, is this: Firefox on Ubuntu should default to letting Ubuntu control how Firefox is updated. Thus, the user need only change his options in one place.

* "Upgrade pathway" is a term I just made up (perhaps it's a term that's used elsewhere, too, who knows?) but I hope it's clear what I mean.

Marcel commented on June 22, 2011 at 3:07 p.m.

@Carl: Huh? Firefox on Ubuntu *does default* to letting Ubuntu control how Firefox is updated -- the about:config setting is irrelevant (it is the setting you see in the screenshot Benjamin Otte posted -- this setting is not present on Ubuntu). To quote :
The Check For Updates menu entry in Firefox is disabled or hidden in recent versions of Ubuntu. Ubuntu supported updates to Firefox are managed through the package-management system.

So what is relevant is the setting in Ubuntu's update-manager.

Carl commented on June 22, 2011 at 3:13 p.m.


I have set to "true" in my Firefox, and I have app.update.mode set to "1", which means it will upgrade silently and automatically if there are no conflicts between the new version and my extensions ( ). There are no PPAs installed on this system, and I have never used about:config to change these (or any) values.

Mathias has stated that his update manager is set to the default mode- it pops up and asks him to verify that he would like to install updates.

You are right that Firefox SHOULD be using Update Manager to install updates.

The complaint, then, is that there is a bug: Firefox has updated by different means than the Update Manager, even though it shouldn't.

Marcel commented on June 22, 2011 at 3:24 p.m.

@Carl: Now I'm confused... where did Matthias say that his update manager is set to default mode and that he gets update-manager popping up normally (for security updates!)? I can't find this info here in the comments or in the original post.

Of course it might be possible that something changed in Ubuntu recently (I'm currently on a machine with 10.10 so I can't check) but I highly doubt it. The standard Ubuntu package update had been uploaded to the natty-* archives so it is certainly available via the standard update-manager way -- are you saying that additionally firefox auto-updates itself without interfering with the new package version...?

Mathias Hasselmann commented on June 22, 2011 at 3:29 p.m.

@Marcel: My Ubuntu's update manager is configured to not automatically install updates.

Carl commented on June 22, 2011 at 3:47 p.m.

@Marcel: There ^


I am saying that, according to Mathias' story, Firefox is updating itself without using Update Manager. This is a bug.

Whether or not the package version is updated is irrelevant. (Relevant aside: Adobe Air is an example of a service that does not use Software Centre to install applications- it's done in the browser, via Flash- but nonetheless this results in changes to the packages' versions and statuses, etc. This means that removing Adobe Air and Air applications can be done via a package manager, which is nice.)

What is relevant is that Firefox has (according to Mathias) updated itself via means which you, Mathias and I all agree are not the means by which it should be updating. Why is Mathias complaining about this? Why, because this bug has affected him negatively.

autra commented on June 22, 2011 at 4:02 p.m.

@Mathias: so you updated it without reading the changelog...
I have default settings everywhere on Ubuntu 11.04, and my firefox never ever updated itself. I always do it through the update manager (as I did for 5.0).

You didn't update it? Well, do you have a dog, a daughter or something? ^_^

Marcel commented on June 22, 2011 at 4:20 p.m.

@Carl: I see, for some strange reason my crystal ball did not make this comment visible before ;) I'm still in doubt -- until now Matthias is the only one claiming that Firefox auto-updated, other comments indicate that everything is working as ever before... Therefore I'm still doubtful, isn't the standard firefox you get from the website (and that would be updated via an auto-update mechanism) even incompatible with the Ubuntu package?

Anyway, if (and only if) the Firefox 4.0 package really introduced a change in Ubuntu forcing an auto-update side-stepping the package update I agree that is a bug that should be reported -- I do not see any such report in launchpad yet so I'm still doubtful. But, given the visibility of this blog post on planet gnome at some point possibly someone from the Ubuntu Firefox team will make a definite statement about that.

bochecha commented on June 22, 2011 at 4:38 p.m.

Firefox can't really update itself on Linux because:
- it is installed in a location where you need root access to write (/usr)
- it runs as the user

Of course, if you installed it manually in your HOME from an archive released by Mozilla (i.e not from the Ubuntu repositories), then you remove one of the items above and it can auto-update.

Ditto if you run Firefox as root. (but I suspect it might be disabled in the package anyway)

But then, you can't really complain that it did what you asked it to do, can you?

Carl commented on June 22, 2011 at 5:38 p.m.


I had a normal upgrade experience, too, with no problems, so I wont report a bug for this. This is despite app.update settings being apparently set for automatic upgrade.

What bochecha says also casts doubt on the existence of a real bug.

Bob Bobson commented on June 22, 2011 at 5:50 p.m.

Wow. Popular guy.

dao commented on June 22, 2011 at 8:52 p.m.

"It slides in with an annoying animation with each tab you open."

AFAIK stock Firefox doesn't do that. Perhaps this is a modification by your distribution's package maintainer?

autra commented on June 22, 2011 at 11:29 p.m.

I confirm that the upgrade was from the Update Manager.
Here is the beginning of the changelog (last update of firefox):
Modifications pour les versions :

Well at least, that was so at work and on my personal computer.

murdos commented on June 23, 2011 at 1:06 a.m.

OMG you did it again!!! (in reference to

Splashing your ignorance, crying loud before understanding what happens. How many times will you do that before learning about yourself?

Oli Warner commented on June 23, 2011 at 1:20 p.m.

Firefox was updated in Ubuntu because 4.x is no longer supported for security updates. 5.x (and I assume higher later on) are being pushed through natty-security.

As explained here:

Name commented on June 23, 2011 at 1:52 p.m.

I have never seen a Chrome update to break any extensions.

Mathias Hasselmann commented on June 24, 2011 at 9:02 a.m.

Ok, Ubuntu's silent security updates were to blame. Changed Ubuntu's update manager policy to always ask about updates. Today the update manager asked back before installing security fixes, after that Firefox asked to restart. Everything fine that way.

Mathias Hasselmann commented on June 24, 2011 at 11:30 a.m.

murdos: so you assume i start yelling for each ui mess i encounter? be assured i'd post a rant every few weeks then. so let's consider another possibility: maybe this mess i rant about in my blog __really__ annoys and upsets me? maybe those issues are really embarrassing for people like me? after all posting such rants come at a price...