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Fear of 1.0

April 25, 2008

I like to install and play with a lot of different software. Even if I’m happy with an application I have, I’ll install 30 other apps that do mostly the same thing just to see if one of them works better for me in terms of functionality or workflow.

One trend I’ve noticed over the past couple of years is a growing fear of the number “1.0”. The majority of apps I see anymore are version 0.2, or 0.2.1.4 or something like that. It seems that more and more developers are fearing a 1.0 version. Why is this? Are developers afraid of support questions? Do they think that if they stay under 1.0, they can continue to call their work “beta” and therefore not be held responsible, financially or morally, for any damage caused by their app?

I mean, in my mind, you release the “under-1.0” apps for beta testing for a few months. If there are no major bugs, you release a 1.0. That is the version that you’re satisfied with enough to release it to the general public. It may not have every feature you want to put in the app, but it’s a functioning, relatively bug-free app. You add some minor features, you go to 1.5. You add some bug fixes, you go to 1.5.1. You add some major new features, you go to 2.0 beta and then 2.0 final.

I never saw this in applications until just a few years ago. The problem is obviously most rampant in freeware or open-source projects. Hell, half the apps or utilities you install in any version of Linux are going to be under 1.0. Commercial apps are just the opposite and love to jump up to new version numbers as fast as possible. Going from 1.0 to 2.0 means you can charge all your customers to upgrade to the newer version! But the freeware/open source people don’t have that commercial drive to push for solid version numbers, so they continue to pussy-foot around at 0.8.

The problem is so bad, I’ve seen apps that are 0.9.9.5.1. Seriously, do we, as the general public, need all those decimal places? We don’t care. Use your decimal places for your own reference, internal testing or beta testing. Don’t release software to the general public like that. It just pisses me off and shows that you have a general lack of commitment. Go to 1.0, already. It’s a brave new world!

Update: I just asked this question of a friend of mine who’s been a developer for about 15 years now.  He mentioned a very interesting theory that it’s all psychological for both the developer AND the end user.  Due to companies like Google and Firefox constantly having their apps in “beta” status (Gmail was in beta for YEARS), it seems like the trend for developers is to perpetually be in beta.  However, my buddy also posited an interesting theory about “under-1.0” version numbers for end users.  When a product is under 1.0, a user feels special and feels like they’re on the cutting edge.  They feel like they’re getting in on the ground floor of something that could be big.  This makes sense.  Go on any Firefox message board and you’ll see people bragging about how they’ve been using Firefox since 0.6 when it was called Phoenix!  It’s bragging rights to say that you knew about something before everyone else did.  Maybe users lose that feeling of superiority when they merely use a 1.0 product.  Very interesting theory.

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