Version numbers have become meaningless

Mozilla's version numbering for Firefox is becoming a joke

Time is a funny thing, and the older you get the funnier it becomes: summers pass in the blink of an eye, and entire years vanish before you even noticed their arrival.

It's happening to me, too: the release of Firefox 12 feels as if it happened just days ago, and yet here I am, looking at a press release announcing the beta release of Firefox 13.

The reason it seems as if it happened just a few days ago, of course, is because it happened just a few days ago.

I know Firefox is on a rapid release cycle these days, but there's rapid and there's *rapid*.

So what's new in Firefox 13? I called my imaginary friend Mr Browsy and asked him.

"Well," Mr Browsy said, "there's a redesigned home page."

"Okay," I replied. "What else? What else that's really, really big?"

"Are you sitting down?" Mr Browsy asked.

"Yes," I said.

"There's a redesigned new tab page too. Not only that, but there's the ability to load tabs on demand when restoring a previous session. Oh, and support for the SPDY protocol."

"Anything else?"

"Not really."

Still, at least Firefox 12 was an enormous revolutionary upgrade, just like the move from Chrome 17 to Chrome 18 was.

Wasn't it?

Version on the ridiculous

Software version numbers are important, because they tell you what's happening. Version 1.0 means "run away! run away!" because you just know it's got more bugs than a tramp's pants. Version 1.1 is the first big bug fix, 1.5 is the first reasonably stable one and version 1.10313112 is numberwang.

With browser numbers, though, it's all gone to pot. While Microsoft, Opera and Apple generally keep the big numbers for big releases, Mozilla and Google have gone crazy. Now, a brand new version number doesn't mean oodles of new features; it means that the browser maker's fixed a typo in the About page and slightly rounded the corner of an icon.

The problem, I think, is that all the really big stuff in browser development has already happened: browsers are fairly mature technology now, whereas in previous years you'd get genuinely new and big stuff such as tabbed browsing or dramatically faster rendering engines.

Now, though, any developments are incremental and under the hood - and that means that the different versions all blend into one another. By giving each minor update a major revision number, though, it's all gone a bit playground. "What version is your browser?" "Nineteen!" "Well, screw you! Our one's number eleventy-two! And my dad's a policeman!"

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.