In Praise of Software Delays

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Earlier this week, Mozilla announced that it’s delaying the release of Firefox 4 until early next year. I doubt that anyone considers that to be fabulous news–except, maybe, for makers of other browsers–but it struck me as a sensible, responsible move given the state of the browser. It’s the best thing to do for Firefox users.

The postponement is apparently mainly about Firefox 4 still being buggy and unstable. Does anyone want to make a case that it’s so absolutely crucial that the upgrade hit its initial schedule that timeliness should trump quality control? Anyone who’s willing to try a not-quite-finished Firefox can download the beta. Those who like their software more fully baked can stick with Firefox 3.6, or jump ship to another browser.

But when Mozilla says that Firefox 4 is done, it’s saying that it works reasonably well and is ready for non-browser geeks to use as their daily driver for the Web. I’m glad to see it err on the side of conservatism and willingness to admit things are running behind.

The history of personal computers is rife with examples of products that were rushed out the door and caused headaches for users. Microsoft delayed the release of Windows Vista repeatedly and caught enormous flack, but in retrospect, it should have postponed it a few months further so that the initial version worked better and drivers for PC components and peripherals were in place. A current example: Google TV, which Google shipped in time for Logitech and Sony to get their products out for the holidays, but in a buggy form that feels profoundly unfinished. (Using the Revue box over the past week, I’ve felt like a beta tester.)

Both Microsoft and Google had hardware makers breathing down their back to declare software ready for prime time so that it could be preinstalled on new devices. Mozilla, thankfully, doesn’t answer to impatient manufacturers.

Years ago, I heard that a journalist asked Joseph Heller why thirteen years passed between the publication of his first novel, Catch-22, and his second, Something Happened. Heller’s response was something along the lines of “What’s the rush?” ┬áIf more tech companies had that attitude, we might spend less time fiddling with their products and more time enjoying them.