The definition of “latest and greatest version” just changed…
I heard some some rumbling that the latest version of Firefox, version 3.51, hit the web today.
This is most certainly a big accomplishment and everyone involved has many reasons to be proud of this release. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about2.
I wanted to step back for a moment and call out a group of really important people that are often overlooked in all the excitement during a major release: the sustaining engineering team3.
They’re the group of developers, bug triagers, QA engineers, build engineers, ops engineers, web developers, and project managers who have kept the 300 million and change Firefox 3.0.x4 users safe, secure, and stable for over a year now.
Sustaining engineering has never been particularly sexy work.
Often times, the pressures imposed by consumers of “sustaining releases” make it particularly grueling work: risk assessment becomes a large—and often difficult—part of the job. Mistakes can be very costly and affect higher numbers of users. Such users are less tolerant of sometimes-necessary changes. And in the case of many software products, Firefox included, when a security vulnerability is involved, all of these decisions and work needs to be done on a very tight schedule.
These realities are doubly true for an open source project, where the “release early, release often”-mentality5 often leaves those who toil away on sustaining efforts appearing in relative obscurity. And since open source capital is about visibility, less visibility can translate to less understanding of the actual work being done and the value these teams and individuals bring not only to the community, but to the end users.
So to those who’ve done this difficult, thankless work, quietly, consistently, and proudly: you have my thanks. And even though they may not know about you, you have the thanks of every Firefox user who is able to easily click “Check for Updates” to get today’s New Hotness ™, because your work has kept them safe and secure on the web for the past year.
If history is any guide, these tireless souls are already getting ready to do it all over again and take stewardship of 3.5.x after a couple of releases or so.
So take a moment to raise a (virtual) glass to them6… and then get back to enjoying the awesomeness that is Shiretoko.
1 Back in my day, it was called “Firefox 3.next.” P.S. Get off my lawn.
2 If you do want to read more about the 3.5 release, try here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here,here, here, here,
here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, or here.
3 I don’t know what Mozilla Corporation calls this team, exactly; unlike some other organization, I don’t think (structurally) they split them out; but the function is the same
4 And you have to admit… it was a pretty good vintage of Firefox
5 Which, don’t get me wrong, is critical for any open source project’s success
6 Or, if you’re in a physical localized spot next to them, a real one…