Earlier this year the Mozilla Corporation coincided the release of Firefox 4 with the launch of a new “rapid release cycle”, which meant that from March 2011 onwards the popular web browser would be upgraded every 6 weeks.

The move over to a more agile release process is however, an ambitious initiative like this presents a number of complications for many users. In addition, it has potential ramifications for software testing.

Aside from the need to update the browser on a near monthly basis (a lengthy task for a company with thousands of machines), the biggest complaint is that Mozilla isn’t willing to support the older version trunks, meaning if you are currently still using version 4, Mozilla won’t be providing any further updates to the 4.x trunk.

However, it appears that many have overlooked the benefits the rapid release cycle has to offer, such as a potential increase in HTML5 and CSS3 functionality that will grant Firefox a similar level of support to that of Chrome, but more importantly a potential increase in security.

Admittedly, regular updates may get a repetitive for many users, but it also means that security updates will be easier to come through on a frequent basis. The impact the release cycle may have on the software testing industry must also be taken into account.

Mozilla’s rapid release cycle could perhaps be seen as a natural phenomenon of agile development. With regular releases, it is unlikely that there will be an opportunity to fix eventual problems no matter how serious they are, as the development team will be over-stretched.

Whilst Mozilla and Google seem to be taking the lead on this initiative, few others have dared to commit to such a challenging release cycle.

Despite the controversy, Mozilla should be commended for trying something as ambitious and controversial as the rapid release cycle and it’ll take another year or so to see whether their confidence has paid off