More and more of the software I’ve been using lately has been open source. With this shift comes a different approach to releasing updates and to version numbering. Following the “release early, release often” mantra canonized by Eric Raymond in The Cathedral and the Bazaar, many major open source projects like Mozilla release “nightly builds” throughout the development process.
The practice isn’t unique to open source. While they don’t release them, Microsoft does nightly builds of developing versions of Windows. The developers of the closed-source RSS reader I use on Windows, NewzCrawler, have be releasing frequent “beta builds” publicly.
I remember an old article in Windows Magazine (I think it was by Fred Langa) that worried that delivery of software over the internet rather than on physical media would lead to “dribble-ware” – software that was let out the door before it was ready, only to be patched after the fact (sound familiar?).
With all of these changes, I’m beginning to wonder if major version numbers are loosing their significance. Three applications that I am relying heavily on these days are all significantly pre-1.0 (Mozilla Firebird – 0.6, Mozilla Thunderbird – 0.2, and Gaim – 0.7). Having been released frequently for months (years) already, I doubt that these applications are any less complete or stable than most “1.0” software.