This is a more detailed version of the article posted today on hacks, aimed at a more knowledgeable audience.
New features can only become stable and usable if you test them and push them to their limits. And you can only have fun playing with new features if it’s in a hassle- and risk-free way. You deserve better than a beta, you deserve Aurora.
What is Aurora?
Up to Firefox 4, Web authors only had limited options: either live in the quiet comfort of stable releases and wait months for new features to appear; or play Russian roulette with the nightly builds, exciting but painful. Beta releases aren’t filling the gap if we want to deliver features more often and increase their quality at the same time: we need more people to give us feedback and report bugs earlier. This implies to provide a safer environment to test features and a simpler way to switch to a more stable version of the browser (we call them channels).
Aurora is this safer environment.
6 Week Release Cycles!
New features added to Firefox are delivered on a daily basis through the nightly builds. Every six weeks, a new version of Aurora is delivered: it is roughly a nightly build, stripped of the features that are problematic or make Firefox unstable. During six weeks, Aurora will not be updated with new features, but will be updated with bug fixes on a daily basis. After six weeks, the features that are stable enough will land in the Beta channel, which receives weekly bug fixes. Another six weeks later, the features that are ready move from the Beta channel to the stable one: a new Firefox is born. The strictness of the quality control increases as features progress to later channels.
If you’re into fancy charts and technical details, have a look at the process specifics details. If you’re more into metaphors, think about the journey of a feature as the youth of a bird: engineers are our (free range) egg-laying chickens who want to see their features leave the nest, and you can help by watching over and taking care of the features during the gestation, brooding, rearing, and be as proud as we are to see them finally fly their own wings.
Switching between channels
Once you have downloaded and installed Aurora, you can switch to other channels at will. Simply click on the Help menu and open the About window.