We’re still trying to figure out what to do with Firefox users on Windows XP.
One option I’ve heard is: Can we just send a Mozillian to each of these users’ houses with a fresh laptop and training in how to migrate apps and data?
( No, we can’t. For one, we can’t uniquely identify who and where these users are (this is by design). For two, even if we could, the Firefox Windows XP userbase is too geographically diverse (as I explained in earlier posts) for “meatspace” activities like these to be effective or efficient. For three, this could be kinda expensive… though, so is supporting extra Operating Systems in our products. )
We don’t have the advertising spend to reach all of these users in the real world, but we do have access to their computers in their houses… so maybe we can inform them that way?
Well, we know we can inform people through their browsers. We have plenty of data from our fundraising drives to that effect… but what do we say?
Can we tell them that their computer is unsafe? Would they believe us if we did?
Can we tell them that their Firefox will stop updating? Will they understand what we mean if we did?
Do these users have the basic level of technical literacy necessary to understand what we have to tell them? And if we somehow manage to get the message across about what is wrong and why, what actions can we recommend they take to fix this?
This last part is the first thing I’m thinking about, as it’s the most engineer-like question: what is the optimal upgrade strategy for these users? Much more concrete to me than trying to figure out wording, appearance, and legality across dozens of languages and cultures.
Well, we could instruct them to upgrade to Linux. Except that it wouldn’t be an upgrade, it’d be a clean wipe and reinstall from scratch: all the applications would be gone and all of their settings would reset to default. All the data on their machines would be gone unless they could save it somewhere else, and if you imagine a user who is running Windows XP, you can easily imagine that they might not have access to a “somewhere else”. Also, given the average level of technical expertise, I don’t think we can make a Linux migration simple enough for most of these users to understand. These users have already bought into Windows, so switching them away is adding complexity no matter how simplistic we could make it for these users once the switch was over.
We could instruct them to upgrade to Windows 7. There is a clear upgrade path from XP to 7 and the system requirements of the two OSes are actually very similar. (Which is, in a sincere hat-tip to Microsoft, an amazing feat of engineering and commitment to users with lower-powered computers) Once there, if the user is eligible for the Windows 10 upgrade, they can take that upgrade if they desire (the system requirements for Windows 10 are only _slightly_ higher than Windows 7 (10 needs some CPU extensions that 7 doesn’t), which is another amazing feat). And from there, the users are in Microsoft’s upgrade path, and out of the clutches of the easiest of exploits, forever. There are a lot of benefits to using Windows 7 as an upgrade path.
There are a few problems with this:
- Finding copies of Windows 7: Microsoft stopped selling copies of Windows 7 years ago, and these days the most reliable way to find a copy is to buy a computer with it already installed. Mozilla likely isn’t above buying computers for everyone who wants them (if it has or can find the money to do so), but software is much easier to deliver than hardware, and is something we already know how to do.
- Paying for copies of Windows 7: Are we really going to encourage our users to spend money they may not have on upgrading a machine that still mostly-works? Or is Mozilla going to spend hard-earned dollarbucks purchasing licenses of out-of-date software for everyone who didn’t or couldn’t upgrade?
- Windows 7 has passed its mainstream support lifetime (extended support’s still good until 2020). Aren’t we just replacing one problem with another?
- Windows 7 System Requirements: Windows XP only needed a 233MHz processor, 64MB of RAM, and 1.5GB of HDD. Windows 7 needs 1GHz, 1GB, and 16GB.
All of these points are problematic, but that last point is at least one I can get some hard numbers for.
We don’t bother asking users how big their disk drives are, so I can’t detect how many users are cannot meet Windows 7’s HDD requirements. However, we do measure users’ CPU speeds and RAM sizes (as these are important for sectioning performance-related metrics. If we want to see if a particular perf improvement is even better on lower-spec hardware, we need to be able to divvy users up by their computers’ specifications).
So, at first this seems like a breeze: the question is simply stated and is about two variables that we measure. “How many Windows XP Firefox users are Stuck because they have CPUs slower than 1GHZ or RAM smaller than 1GB?”
But if you thought that for more than a moment, you should probably go back and read my posts about how Data Science is hard. It turns out that getting the CPU speed on Windows involves asking the registry for data, which can fail. So we have a certain amount of uncertainty.
So, after crunching the data and making some simplifying assumptions (like how I don’t expect the amount of RAM or the speed of a user’s CPU to ever decrease over time) we have the following:
Between 40% and 53% of Firefox users running Windows XP are Stuck (which is to say, they can’t be upgraded past Windows XP because they fail at least one of the requirements).
That’s some millions of users who are Stuck no matter what we do about education, advocacy, and software.
Maybe we should revisit the “Mozillians with free laptops” idea, after all?