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What point what?

So KDE 4.0 is out now, prompting a swarm of disagreements about its purpose. The confusion stems from project members’ simultaneous vaunting and celebration of the release and warning the public that it is a developer-only, development version that they shouldn’t expect to work smoothly — conflicting messages from the same source, and more importantly the source that should present the authoritative message on the release.

The trouble is that tagging the build N.0 leads users to think that the release is a tested, stable, and finished project, when evidently it isn’t. That raises a secondary question about whether (a) 4.0 was meant to be stable and finished, but was just released with some flaws, or (b) what we call 4.0 should have been named something else, like 3.99 or 4-Preview. Who knows?

The dilemma is unenviable. If the answer to the above question is (a), then it’s a potential disappointment — you have a buggy release. If it’s (b), then you have far less of a story — the non-developer public at large may not be interested in a preview release.

Unfortunately, this release was in a bind brought about by publicity. Once you’ve committed to a release date, you have to go with it. Announcements have been going out for months now inviting the press and the public to release parties around the globe, which would be difficult to push around on the calendar and potentially costly to cancel. And it was already named. Changing the name from 4.0 to 3.999 after the release event was scheduled would sound like a last-minute change of direction (or worse, loss of confidence).

Neither optimal, but at least the second option would have preserved sanity in release naming, and not require any eleventh-hour “that word doesn’t mean what you think it means” revision.
Isn’t it weird how many problems can eventually be boiled down to something as simple as numbers?

It’s been two and a half years since I first wrote about the consequences of poorly selecting your version numbers, yet so many people still haven’t learned to anticipate the inevitable problems. Which isn’t to suggest that I thought that they would go away, it’s just surprising to see that people are still surprised by the same old problems.

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