An update to the Android flavor of Firefox left fuming punters thinking a bad experimental build had been pushed to their smartphones. In fact, this was a deliberate software release.
A Reg reader yesterday alerted us to an August 20 version bump that was causing so many problems, our tipster thought it was a beta that had gone seriously awry. "To sum it up, on 20th of August, Firefox 79 was unexpectedly forced on a large batch of Firefox 68 Android users without any warning, way to opt out or roll back," our reader reported. "A lot got broken in the process: the user interface, tabs, navigation, add-ons."
Meanwhile, the Google Play store page for the completely free and open-source Firefox has a rash of one-star reviews echoing similar complaints: after the upgrade, little seemed to work as expected.
This is the worst 'upgrade' I've ever experienced
"This is the worst 'upgrade' I've ever experienced," said netizen Martin Lindenmayer. "My main gripe is that there is no back button (to return to your previous page) anymore."
"I have used Firefox since before it was called Firefox," added Ace Medlock. "Since the update on Android yesterday, it has become unusable – it crashes every few minutes – when trying to search Google or DuckDuckGo, or (ironically) when I click the Crashes link in the help pages."
"Firefox has been my browser of choice for several years, across different platforms and devices," chimed in Filippo Conter. "The (forced) August 20th update made the Android version utterly unusable for me. It's missing support for extensions critical to my needs, it has bare bones settings and doesn't let me fine tune."
Unfortunately for our source, and the other Firefox for Android users, this isn't a mistaken release or a broken beta build: it's the new version of Firefox for Android, and it's set to hit the UK today, August 25, and the US on the 27th.
What's happened is this: the last stable version of Firefox for Android was version 68, released in 2019. For over a year, Mozilla has been working on an overhaul of its browser in a project code-named Fenix. Moz has slowly rolled out the result of its work to netizens in preview and beta form – and since the end of July, as a proper release: version 79.
This new stable version is what appeared on people's devices. As well as changes to the user interface and many new features that have thrown some users, it is also missing support for all extensions. In fact, by last count, only nine add-ons are supported so far, though this is expected to increase over time. The browser has also adopted Mozilla's GeckoView engine.
Here's how Mozilla put it to The Register in a statement last night:
We started to roll out the new Firefox for Android at the end of July 2020, making it available to users in Germany, France and the UK on August 25. Rolling out an entirely new product to a large group of users is a complex process that can easily result in issues when executed too quickly. That’s why we decided to roll the new Firefox for Android out gradually in order to provide users with a positive transition experience.
At Firefox, it’s our goal to enable users to be in control of their online experience while enjoying all the benefits of a modern, fast and secure browsing application. That’s why we revamped the Firefox for Android to be the most private mobile Firefox so far, powered by our own mobile browsing engine GeckoView for the first time. GeckoView is the only independent alternative to Blink, Chrome’s mobile browsing engine.
It allows us to be completely free of bias when it comes to implementation of standards and features, lets us create a user interface that, combined with an overall faster browsing pace, enables unprecedented performance and also protects our users from security issues in Blink that would affect all other major mobile browsers.
Those who want to know more about the upgrade process are advised to check out the browser's FAQ page. If you want to roll back the update, "no, once you’ve upgraded to the new browser, you won’t be able to return to the old browser," Moz says.
The gripes about the update land at a particularly inopportune time for Mozilla: a round of layoffs earlier this month hit roughly one in four Mozilla employees, leading to the Rust Project – raised and nurtured by Moz – considering forming its own foundation. ®