Friday, April 9th, 2010

Getting Users to Upgrade Their Browsers

Category: Browsers

How quickly do users actually upgrade their browsers? It’s a question that seems to come up frequently and is definitely on the minds of developers who want to know when they’ll be able to leverage the best features for their apps. Overall, I think the major browser makers try to share important usage information but the this specific data isn’t reported often enough. It was great to see that Pingdom did their own analysis of the issue and even offered a comparison of the upgrade mechanisms used by the browser makers.

From the report, it shows that Google’s Chrome has by far the fastest upgrade time of all the browsers, generally converting users within a month of a new release. This is very impressive and primarily due to the browser’s use of automatic updating.


Microsoft, Mozilla, Apple & Opera all take a milder approach with Mozilla being slightly more direct using user prompts that try to explain the benefits of upgrading instead of forcing them to.





It’s certainly a balancing act between keep users up-to-date and allowing users to have a choice. What do you feel is the best update solution?

Posted by Rey Bango at 11:13 am

4.8 rating from 24 votes


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Force them, as long as it’s painless. Google chrome is PAINLESS to update. I don’t use firefox, so i can’t comment on their upgrading, but IE is the worst because you update it, then go through some 8 step wizard to set it up. In IE’s defense, you only have to do that every 6 years XD

Comment by DarrenKopp — April 9, 2010

Every browser should do like Chrome! Web Devs just have to follow the Google Chrome Releases blog to stay informed of bug fixes and new features and code for the latest version.

Comment by tbroyer — April 9, 2010

Upgrade patterns are not about choice, they’re about awareness. Most people would upgrade in a flash if they were aware that an update existed. If I didn’t follow tech news, I would never know there was a new version of Firefox released until 8 months after the fact.

Everyone should be like Chrome. Force users to upgrade. It’s better for all of us.

Comment by Baryn — April 9, 2010

“What do you feel is the best update solution?”
Chrome, hands down.

Comment by WillPeavy — April 9, 2010

There’s something that’s often overlooked, which may account for a significant bit of why Chrome gets updated more often: By default it is installed in user-controlled file space. There’s no permissions to wrangle with or anything, because the entire program can be installed by a user without administrative priveleges.

Comment by SirClueless — April 9, 2010

I can see issues with forcing upgrades to certain browsers when:

1. You make the user wait for a download – especially if at the moment of install, they are in a rush (looking up directions, checking a quick email, in the middle of testing, etc)
2. Upgrades can break extensions/add-ons. Especially with larger upgrades, such as Firefox 2 to Firefox 3, when many add-ons weren’t supported for 3 yet. An example was with the firebug extension – which wasn’t immediately available for 3 when it was first released, causing me and I’m sure others, to wait to install 3 and keep using 2, cause of a heavy dependency on that tool.
3. There are significant design/interface changes to the browse – causing users confusion on where controls are for their browsing experience. Such as making tabs open to the direct right of the current tab instead of the end. Or changing the color of the toolbars. To have to take the time to re-learn a browsing mechanism should be the choice of the user. Something that might seem easy to a very seasoned web user, might cause many unwanted obstacles for a user who is not too familiar with computers.

Comment by jenn — April 9, 2010

Notify, don’t force. If a bug or security hole is introduced, you just forced it on everyone.

Comment by TNO — April 9, 2010

Chrome should force the update by default, and let power users change this behavior. This way YOU power user will decide, THEY casual users will just get the newest they can have, which is usually the safest and fastest.

Comment by bfred — April 9, 2010

I think the graph for Opera is odd because it ignores the release of Opera 10.5, which would explain the drop in 10.0’s usage share.

As a Web developer I’d love a force, I know that this isn’t even remotely realistic. Large organizations like to standardize on software so that they can know and support it better. Sure, newer browsers will be more secure but they are also harder on large organizations to adapt to. Look at all the hell MS gets about “breaking the Web” by releasing new versions of Internet Explorer.

Comment by blepore — April 9, 2010

I totally agree with what Baryn said in the comments. upgrade should be notified “heavily” upon the user. I hear some older users saying things like they’re “emotionally” attached of some sort to their browser, and will not upgrade. if they come across a website that looks screwed on their obsolete browser, they truly believe that the website itself is the source of the problem.

with Microsoft the problem is even larger. I don’t know whats going on with the latests editions, but for years they never notified anyone using IE6 about upgrading! what a total madness. IE6, totally buggy software, released once, and thats it. if there are bugs, let them stay, they have to say in microsoft. “we don’t care about fixing bugs, screw those users, we rule”. i can imagine the IE teams thinking this out loud.

Comment by vsync — April 9, 2010

Browser vendors should fully separate UI updates from security and rendering engine updates. UI updates should be presented as a choice to users, while security and rendering engine updates should be automatic and no opt-out should be provided for these automatic updates.

Rapid deployment is a matter of fact on the web, it only makes sense for browser vendors to follow suit. UI changes, on the other hand, affect usability and user experience; even many major web applications (for instance, Gmail) respect this and provide older UI versions while continually upgrading internals.

There is really no reason at all that the two codebases can’t be updated separately. And there’s really no reason for web developers to care whether UI updates are received, we’re only targeting the rendering engines and depending on security.

Comment by eyelidlessness — April 9, 2010

I read the pingdom article and one thing that was missed is that Google’s 1.0->2.0->3.0->4.0 is really (if you look closely) just a set of modest updates to its external product and none of those upgrades in the past year is anything like the transition from IE6 to IE7 to IE8. Those were TRUE MAJOR releases. Unfortunately there is no universal release numbering scheme so you have to look at the actual changes to discern whether the release changes between two different products are comparable (by comparison in the database world, most of the major database companies seem to understand the difference and number accordingly – Oracle 9/10/11 and MySQL 4/5 were true major release changes).

Eyelidlessness also made a good point about splitting up internal security and rendering changes from UI changes. Most of us would WANT to get the latest and greatest things that are “invisible” but critical, but when MS (or Google or Mozilla) make radical changes in the way the browser looks and works functionally, that should ALWAYS be an option (or at least the new version should have a “compatibility” version or option so that you can continue to work with the older approach). This was REALLY awful when MS introduced its 2007 Office abomination that completely (and arbitrarily) changed the UI so radically that it was almost impossible for a long-time user to know what to do, even for the easiest things (for the first few hours, I couldn’t even figure out how to print things).

Comment by bleurose — April 9, 2010

Oh, and yes, although from a developer perspective, forced updates are a terrific idea, from a user perspective, I think that is a problem. If Google ever made a radical change like MS did with Office and several browsers (and countless other products), I would simply stop using it and look for another option. Forcing a user to change is NOT a very “open source” approach to upgrading.

Comment by bleurose — April 9, 2010

I think the best approach is a mix of what bfred and eyelidlessness have said, which is to have Chrome-style automatic updates that can be turned off by power users and IT admins, and also to separate UI updates from security/rendering updates.

Like vsync, I have seen many a user refuse to upgrade because they are attached to the interface of their version. If users aren’t afraid of losing their UI, they will update much more frequently.

Comment by jlizarraga — April 9, 2010

As a web developer working in a cutting edge ajax environment, I heavily recommend automatic updates. Especially updates that have no effect on the browser’s UI should be automatically applied (e.g. to improve security, performance). It’s a pain to permanently spend time and money for implementing and fixing features for IE6 users.

Comment by maze — April 9, 2010

Coming ever-so-slightly to IE user’s defence: IE is the employee corporate standard at many large unweildy companies. Employees are not allowed to upgrade until it is company policy – often they aren’t even allowed to download new software at all. Chrome on the other hand is at the other extreme – I bet there is not a corporation in the world that forces their employees to user Chrome

Comment by AngusC — April 9, 2010

Chrome is the best. We have so many browsers already to test against. Chrome is at the same time responsible for that. They cannot afford to have regressions or security holes. Someone said that you cannot avoid a new security hole, but in a day or two the security hole would be fixed already. Those who upgraded may take some time to get the next, but many people would skip one update and get the next. It’s not a real concern in my opinion.

Firefox has a problem with the extension model. Jetpack aims to fix this and provide seamless update between versions of Firefox. It’s been posted here on Ajaxian already and I think it will work quite well. I hope that once the majority of extensions migrate to Jetpack, that they start pushing updates without user intervention.

IE is lame. That pages that has “update your browser” should remove IE8 from there. It’s a pain to install this thing. In XP with IE6 you have to install extra security updates and restart your computer and some 10 ou 12 step install. I hope IE9 installs itself on the background and them asks no restart. Just like Chrome!

Also, I delay the Safari install a lot. My Mac’s uptime is something like 2 weeks. Sometimes I have to restart quicklly and forget to install the update. Damn, Apple! Why restart my OS for this silly point release of Safari? I get even a month before applying updates that require restart.

Comment by Irae — April 10, 2010

Google Chrome does it best, and it seems most agree. Why is it still an issue to force people to upgrade? An automatic, in the background, upgrading system bothers no one, Google is obviously proving that. So why don’t all browsers get straight and copy Chrome? Please. :D

Comment by Figaro — April 10, 2010

Any argument against auto-upgrading the way Chrome does is completely bunk.

Two main arguments I’ve heard:
1. They’re gonna push buggy code to my computer.
2. It’s a security issue.

Both arguments are redonkylous! Here’s why:

Chrome has 3 release channels. Dev, Beta, and Stable. If you’re on the stable branch (like the vast majority of users will be) your stuff is going to be stable because nerds like me have been hammering features in the dev channel for months before it hits the stable branch. Not to mention, if a security vulnerability or big is discovered you can push a fix waaaaay faster than any other model because most users (who, by the way, really couldn’t care less about a vuln they don’t even understand) wouldn’t even realize it.

It’s hands down the best method for handling upgrades I’ve EVER seen. My non-techie parents and wife deal with update prompts by ignoring them. You can thank Microsoft for this because Windows gradually taught people to ignore system messages because they overwhelmed us with them.

If you want non-techie people to always have the latest version there IS NO OTHER VIABLE OPTION. Otherwise the web as a platform will struggle to keep up with sexy new closed systems like iPhone/iPad just because web developers can’t yet use cutting edge APIs.

Comment by HenrikJoreteg — April 10, 2010

There’s one huge problem with Chrome’s update model, and it’s the reason I suggested above separating UI changes from rendering/security changes. Keeping all users on the same rendering engine with the same security is wise and has no drawbacks for usability and workflow. But as forced UI updates in web apps (like Facebook, for example) have demonstrated, unexpectedly and irreversibly changing users’ workflow is harmful and will at least make for frustrated users.*
The challenge that Google faces with this model is that they have cornered themselves with only two choices for UI changes:
1. Push major UI changes that users can’t opt out of, breaking workflows and possibly driving users to other, more stable solutions.
2. Foregoing major UI changes over the life of the Chrome product.
Neither of those options are acceptable, and I’d suspect web developers will grow annoyed with this challenge as Chrome either stagnates or becomes a non-viable target in the long term.
I hope the browser vendors have people reading this. There’s a clear safe upgrade path: always silently force security and rendering updates; never force UI updates, but always present an option to the user which can be dismissed.
* With Facebook being an excellent example because their rapid, sometimes radical, UI changes have caused so much cognitive dissonance among their users that thousands of them were able to believe that an article on ReadWriteWeb about Facebook was “the new Facebook”.
Postscript: dear Ajaxian, when asked “What is the name of Mozilla’s browser?”, the answer “SeaMonkey” should be permitted.

Comment by eyelidlessness — April 11, 2010

Since old browsers like IE6 have lots of security holes, you could just develop a virus to take control of that user’s computer and force that user to upgrade or install chrome frame.

Personally, I am not a fan of viruses or forcing people to upgrade/download stuff, instead users should be able choose for themselves.

I rather like how it works on Ubuntu, you just open up the Update-Manager every once in a while and Firefox and all your other stuff updates.

Comment by jhuni — April 12, 2010

“Since old browsers like IE6 have lots of security holes, you could just develop a virus to take control of that user’s computer and force that user to upgrade or install chrome frame”
Haha! Awesome.

Comment by WillPeavy — April 12, 2010

Do people here really think people have a choice to run IE6? I bet 99% of the users that come to your site with IE6 are forced to use that browser by their company. I know when I look at the weekday numbers versus weekend numbers for browsers you can see a drastic difference.

Auto Updates are really great for non computer savvy people, but it is also horrible if the update just breaks things and the user is in the dark. As a developer silent auto updates drive me insane when the code that used to work just breaks.

Comment by epascarello — April 12, 2010

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