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Rapid Version Development E-mail
Written by Dean Neitman   
Friday, 09 September 2011 00:00
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Firefox ImageSo, it seems a few software companies have gotten into the race for their next big version. I understand the need for providing user updates especially in the world of internet browsers because of the continuous discovery of security issues and exploits but there is a downside to have such rapid updates. It alienates the third party developers whom can't keep up with the fast changes.

Firefox has recently grown to be one of the top software developers using the rapid version development process. New versions seem to arrive nearly monthly now since Firefox 4. I have quit allowing Firefox to update automatically and opted to instead download new versions without allowing the update and installing them with modified filename so I can have multiple versions of Firefox in my applications folder.

This allows me to retain older versions of Firefox that I may need in order to use some of the many great extensions I have added to Firefox. Otherwise, if I let Firefox update itself each time a new version arrives, I would be left with a dozen or so useless extensions that would need updated. Frustrating when you rely on Firefox because of those extensions. So, I am usually now one to two versions behind in my daily use browsers because of this.

This is where rapid version development is leaving a big gapping whole. Developers that create extensions and add-ons for software that is updated in this manner are being left struggling to keep their software updated. I believe this will create a large group of users like myself that will be now scared to upgrade until they know all their software is compatible.

Firefox isn't the only guilty party to this. Recently, the CMS known as Joomla has taken the same approach. I don't think it has caught up with the pace of development as much as Firefox but they too have started rolling out newer versions at a faster rate. I believe because of this, many people are still relying on builds that are 1-2 versions behind the latest release because of extension support.

Rapid version development in my opinion is not a good idea for any software that relies heavily on third party developers for adding features and expansion. Firefox and Joomla both have a large user base that is in part because of these 3rd party developers. People like having options and the ability to customize their installations. If these products were to loose this extensibility, the product becomes less valuable to the the end user.

I seen this happening a couple of years ago with WordPress. I dabbled a bit with WordPress because it was the hot blogging software of the moment. I liked it and had considered using it to base a photo blog on. While digging around the internet looking for add-ons and themes to convert the standard blog format into a photo blog format, I discovered many options I found were not updated to work with my current install of WordPress.

I was a little disappointed but understood the reason. So, I finally found a theme that worked with my current version and began modding it into the site I had envisioned.

During that time, I was notified by WordPress of an update. Ok, I will let it update. I was impressed that WordPress knew there was an update available and had the option to install the update automatically from the backend which was something I was not used to with Joomla.

So, I made the mistake of letting it update. I said 'mistake' because the update broke my theme leaving my current install with a blank face. The update was not a major update. It only seemed to be a minor version update so I thought it would have been just some minor security fixes but that wasn't the case.

Previously, my work with the CMS Mambo and later known as Joomla was a bit different. The minor version updates never broke a theme or template. It might have created a few issues for some add-on modules or plugins but even 95% of them were always compatible with the minor upgrades.

It was the major updates shown with a larger change in the version number that you had to worry about. Often, it would be 6 months to 2 years before these major updates were rolled out. That seemed to be ample time for most extension developers to get their software updated for the next release. If they didn't have their updates ready immediately with CMS updates, they had them very soon afterwards.

So, I understand the rush to get the latest and greatest version of software available but I think now I have lost some of that enthusiasm that pushed me to get it now. I am no longer eager to allow any program to update.

I am still running OSX 10.6.x Snow Leopard and have no desire to upgrade to the new Lion OSX 10.7.x because of some of the compatibility issues. I have both Firefox 4 and 6 installed. Use 4 daily because it supports my 1Password extension and FireFTP. I am using Joomla 1.5 for my CMS builds and not the latest 1.7 because of lack of support. I gave up on WordPress because many of the templates and add-ons I had collected or found were no longer usable with it's current builds.

I can't be the only person who is seeing this downside to rapid version development. I have heard others mention same issues with some of the above mentioned software. I really think software developers need to stop and think about their base users and surrounding developers who supply the users with extensions for their products. By alienating the smaller developers without allowing enough time to keep their offerings updated along with the base software, it also alienates the end user who becomes afraid to upgrade.



Dean Neitman Written on Friday, 09 September 2011 00:00 by Dean Neitman

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