Moving At Internet Speed

In his book Program or be Programmed, erectile Douglas Rushkoff writes:

For most of us, the announcement of the next great “iThing” provokes not eagerness but anxiety: Is this something else we will have to pay for and learn to use? Do we even have a choice?

At Mozilla, we talk a lot about user choice, but one choice we have a hard time giving our users is whether to upgrade to the latest version of our software.

This isn’t unique to Mozilla, of course. It’s fundamentally a social problem: once developers decide to push a product in a certain direction, there’s not enough human resources left to maintain the old version for an indefinite period of time. Eventually, the old version reaches its end-of-life; one can try to keep on using it, until a security hole that goes unfixed results in data compromise, or a dependency like the underlying operating system changes and breaks the program that relies on it.

Our inventions shift beneath us like tectonic plates.

Every company wants their product to be the next great iThing, but what about people who are content with what they’ve got? Or the ones that are so overwhelmed by the other changes in their life that they simply don’t have the time to figure out how to use the latest version of their software, which has been forced upon them at internet speed?

7 Replies to “Moving At Internet Speed”

  1. and what about IT departments that take a while to review new software and browsers? They probably won’t keep up with new releases every 6 weeks…

  2. I’ve been thinking about something that’s at least tangentially related to the issues you raise here and I’m interested in your opinion/response because you have the rare ability to write about these kinds issues with a clarity and a simplicity that I don’t.

    I think something changed when all of our computers (and other devices like phones and refrigerators) connected up. No longer is any one computer an island and any one user only responsible to himself.

    The obvious problem of Web progress being slowed by the lowest common denominator (like the IE6 situation) come to mind, but the less obvious issue is maintaining the actual health of this extremely valuable and share ecosystem called the Internet.

    An insecure internet connected device has a very good chance of being infected and becoming a vector for other infections and even a component of criminal attacks. Criminal botnets are being used for everything from extortion, theft of private data, and espionage, to cyber terror and literal war.

    In some sense, this means that computing has become more like societal participation which carries a public health concern than an individual pursuit. That means that computer users have a responsibility to each other and the larger ecosystem.

    Just as we expect that someone with tuberculosis to not get on an airplane, so we must also expect computer users to be responsible to not become vectors for computer viruses or other more serious computer attacks.

    In that context, it becomes not just an individual choice to run outdated and insecure software but part of a negotiation between the individual user and the rest of the Internet.

    What needs to be determined, then, is what roles and responsibilities do each of the participants in this ecosystem play. How much should software vendors be responsible for the health of the Web. How much responsibility falls on the user who may not even understand the consequences of her participation. How much falls on the increasing number of manufacturers of non-PC devices with embedded and not even user accessible internet connections.

    – A

  3. Well said. It’s even worse for Firefox users because any major update can break the add-ons they are used to using. Also, I’m concerned that the new rapid release schedule will instill an “update fatigue” on most users.

  4. James, more and more add-ons are moving to the Add-ons SDK which won’t cause breaking with every release. Also, Mozilla is doing more automated analysis of code that changed that might have broken add-ons and automatically bumping the compatibility version when the add-on should work. Finally, the update notifications and other update signals are going to be phased out so that updates aren’t something users see and that should help ameliorate the “update fatigue” you are concerned about.

    – A

  5. What version is Firefox at this week? 13? Funny, it doesn’t seem to have any new features and all my extensions are only compatible with 4.


  6. The Internet is changing fast and it is in everyones (developers, users) interest to keep up.

    Active users of an Internet service will benefit from the latest updates. And frequent (useful) updates are fine. Assuming these updates don’t keep breaking the service.

    Those who don’t use the service actively won’t care about the updates.

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