Microsoft and Mozilla plan new upgrade tactics for Edge, Firefox

Microsoft and Mozilla plan new upgrade tactics for Edge, Firefox

Edge users in IT-managed environments will continue to get all updates via established IT-directed channels. Meanwhile, Mozilla is rolling out a new background update process for its browser.

Credit: Dreamstime

Microsoft and Mozilla have spelled out steps they plan to take to streamline the upgrade process for their browsers, Edge and Firefox, respectively.

In March, Microsoft announced it would change how the company updated Edge, noting that the current method, which relied on a utility best known for keeping Office applications up to date on Macs, would be awarded a browser-specific servicing module.

"It will solely be responsible for updating Edge-related products and will not be affected (e.g. blocked) by other pending product updates," Olivia Zhang, program manager, wrote in a March 10 post to a company blog. "Updates will happen automatically and silently, and no out-of-Edge notifications will be shown."

On unmanaged PCs — those not under the control of an IT administrator — Microsoft now upgrades Edge from one version to another using a tool named Microsoft AutoUpdate, long used to service macOS Office applications like Word, Excel and Outlook. On Windows devices, Edge is serviced by Windows Update, as are all Microsoft products.

Transitioning from one Edge to the next — a process that will accelerate to an every-four-week cadence this fall — will also be slightly more graceful. "When you restart the browser when an update is available, your browser will now instantly relaunch with the updated version rather than wait for update to be applied," Zhang said. Gone will be the delay while the user watches the download occur before a restart is possible.

Enterprise users of Edge, said Zhang, would not see the new upgrade behaviour; nor would Windows users of the browser. In other words, current processes in managed environments will continue to receive all Edge updates via established IT-directed channels, like Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), Windows Update for Business (WUfB) and Endpoint Manager's Intune and Configuration Manager.

Microsoft did not say when the new Mac update scheme would go public in the production-quality version of Edge, designated as Stable. When Zhang penned her post, the functionality had been added to Edge Dev, version 91. As of May 5, the new upgrade process was included in Edge Dev, version 92 (but not the more stable Edge Beta, version 91).

Bottom line? The earliest this Edge upgrade process could reach Macs would be version 92, slated to debut on July 22.

Mozilla has new plans for Firefox, too

More recently, Mozilla outlined a new background updating process for Firefox. In an April post to the browser's development forum, Nick Alexander, a software engineer, described the new mechanism being added to the Nightly build channel for Windows.

"Updates when Firefox is not running work as follows: the default Firefox profile ... will schedule OS-level tasks that run periodically [then] these tasks invoke Firefox in a stripped-down headless 'background task mode' that pumps the update cycle before exiting," Alexander wrote in the April 12 post. previously reported on the upcoming change to Firefox. Since Alexander's initial post, the background update has been baked into Firefox Nightly.

Currently, Firefox updates itself only when the browser is running. Much like rivals, including Chrome and Edge, Firefox looks for pending updates and upgrades when it's launched, even downloads them in the background.

However, the update or upgrade is not installed until the browser is next restarted. Users who leave apps open indefinitely or spend weeks between system reboots, then, can be running an insecure version even though a patched edition is available and already on their machine. Enterprises will be able to disable background updating using the BackgroundAppUpdate group policy.

According to Alexander, background upgrades will be integrated with Firefox 89, which is scheduled to debut in Stable on June 1.

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