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Do version numbers still matter?

Justin James notes that distributing an updated version of the application is much easier compared to pushing out a new desktop application. Take this poll to let us know whether you think version numbers still matter.

One of the interesting angles of Web applications is the deployment model. "Deploy once and run everywhere" or something along those lines. As a result, distributing an updated version of the application is much easier compared to pushing out a new desktop application. In a clustered environment, the transition can be invisible to end users, even if something goes wrong.

The end result is that Web applications tend to slowly morph over time in comparison to desktop applications, which go through the giant leap known as version upgrade on a periodic basis. Over the years, desktop applications often started getting year numbers instead of version numbers (at least not in the product name, although it's usually still buried in the About window). And when applications get released every year, they often lack reasons to upgrade.

J.Ja

Disclosure of Justin's industry affiliations: Justin James has a working arrangement with Microsoft to write an article for MSDN Magazine.

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

15 comments
RealGem
RealGem

With web apps, the version of the code you run on the desktop doesn't matter as long as the version of the communications protocol is supported at the other end. If the app on my desktop cannot use the new version of the XML document being sent, we have a problem. But as long as it can do that, who cares version the app is at? This is a design problem. If the app is designed to be completely independent (remember the concepts of coupling and cohesion?), then this can work. Your target is to have a bunch of "black boxes" connected by "black wires". Now, of course, support muddies the picture. Who wants to support 30 flavours of the same code? Nobody! That's why support organizations try to herd customers onto a small number of versions. But, if you don't support what you distribute, then there's no problem.

jwilsonjx
jwilsonjx

I would have to say a resounding YES, the version number matters. We have users that still require Microsoft Access 97. If the user submits a request for "Microsoft Access" without specifying the version, they will get the latest version and not the version they need. The same thing applies for the various Java versions, browser versions, etc.

Jaqui
Jaqui

while a good one in principle, fails in the detail. any properly formed XML document will include a schema that tells the client app how to handle it. so it doesn't matter what version of app or xml is used, the DTD enables the app to handle it right. [ after all, with xml documents, it is only listing what elements are allowed in the schema, it's the CSS that controls the display property ]

TechRepublic
TechRepublic

>Now, of course, support muddies the picture. [....] But, if you don't support what you distribute, then there's no problem. Ahhhh... RealGem has just found me in my happy place where I write code, but don't actually support it... [snap] As I snap back into the cruel reality of my existence, I realize that I must eat my own dog food, so I am going to keep versioning my code and making notes on the especially tasty varieties of kibble....

Gopal Saini
Gopal Saini

Yes Exactly.. you are saying the right thing mr. jwilsonjx. becoz through the versions we update secutiry, features and reliablity for working the software smoother. and as u have given the example for access 97... it is similar tally 4.5 only works at win98. we can not run it on win xp... so version detail always matter... it applies on eacha and every application...

TechRepublic
TechRepublic

J.Ja., You bring up a number of different applications in your question, so we probably need several answers as well... On the mass distribution apps, major version numbers are usually good for general troubleshooting: Are you using Photoshop7, CS, CS2 or CS3? But there are times when a particular patch fixes a specific problem - then drilling down to the build or at least some patch-level is necessary. The apps that I write are generally of limited distribution: I know who is using them. Usually I build the date into the version: The app that I updated just before writing this comment was Gaggle v1.5.6.24. 1.5 being the major version, and 6.24 being today's date. It is just easier for me to do it this way. In a team environment, this may not be as practical. For web apps, you are eliminating one support variable: If the person is using the app right now, you know they are on the current build. But versioning is still important for documenting what version is in the sandbox, which version is on the beta site, and which is in production. So I think the answer to all of these types of apps is yes, versioning is important, but often for different reasons: Sometimes it is a marketing call (Server 2008), a convenience factor (Gaggle 1.5.todayPM), or for documenting.

pjboyles
pjboyles

Without versioning, how am I supposed to troubleshoot an end user's issue when they come to me about web application X not working today? This is common sense on ANYTHING that changes.

Justin James
Justin James

Peter - Good point... when I say "version numbers", I mean more than a "build number", I mean something that gets advertised, upgraded to, etc. For example, "Application Version 3" or "Application 2008", not just, "Application" where the build number is an "aside" used for troubleshooting only. Hope that makes more sense! J.Ja

aachour
aachour

Hello, I am afraid I don't agree that a build number is only used for troubleshooting but it's mainly used for the software configuration management process to manage and monitor changes across time. Imagine a build that is developed by more then one developer each one responsible for a number of modules and at the end all the modules need to be integrated into a praticular build. If we had no build version numbers how are we going to manage the implementation and deployment of these configuration items? Regards Dahmane

Lionfan1991
Lionfan1991

I actually create my version numbers based on the release date. Ver 8.6.24 would be the one I released on Jun 24, 2008. If by chance I have to make multiple releases on the same day (during alpha testing for example), I append a fourth sequential # (8.6.24.1, 8.6.24.2, etc).

bboyd
bboyd

I use a cad software that version information is critical, as features are added backward compatibility is lost. It can cause serious problems if one user upgrades prematurely and then saves a file needed by others. Since multiple users access the files version information needs to be plainly known. Users need to know that they are using V.XX and not just the generic name of the program.

robinm
robinm

... on every downloaded app (firefox, google earth, etc). It doesn't have to be a bright red in the face version number, but it needs to be very easy to find if it's not a "version" number. OTOH, if it's only online (gmail, wikipedia), the user doesn't need to know as the version is the same for all users, period.

RationalGuy
RationalGuy

When you have Microsoft Office 2003 and it's 2008, you know your software is 5 years old. It has little to do with anything other than reminding you that your software is out of date. Does that really get in the way of support for you?

pjboyles
pjboyles

Justin, This is a huge pet peeve, application version naming of the type "AppName Year." Just give it the numeric version number and simplify everyone?s life! As an OS support person, I get dragged into many application support issues. Having a clear version number would make things so much simpler. Having that version number right up front makes getting it from the user that much easier. It would also release brain resources used to translate market ploys to actual version numbers so you can get on with working the problem. I would prefer to see a version number in the name. Not only does it simplifies the back line support side, it simplifies self support by the end user. It means when a user looks for help on an issue and the help says it applies to version X, the user knows what version they have. A huge win/win.

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