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Rolling Releases are the Future

by Manuel Strehl

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The Mozilla developers have received some critics for their decision to remove the version number from future Firefox releases. Many other open source projects, like GIMP, are speeding up their release cycles as well, although not yet going the bolder step to abandon version numbers completely.

When you think of it from a distance, ask yourself: What is the use of a version number on a product?

In pre-update-over-the-net times this question was easy to answer: to get the right version of software X when upgrading. Nowadays, when the upgrades are done often under the hood, the version number is only of technical interest. I. e., people interested in developing for a certain software need the version number to determine a feature set.

And even this is no more true for web development. For a good reason has jQuery switched from jQuery.browser to a feature detection scheme. Try to figure out, what a browser supports, by testing for it. It sounds as reasonable as it is.

Finally there are OS vendors. They will indeed have a hard time coping with rapid release cycles. But then again, there are successful Linux distros with rolling release models, and while it is hard for others following more conservative approaches, forcing them to solutions finally benefits the user.

When I update my software with my package manager, I really don’t care, which version number less has, as long as it does its job. From this perspective, removing version numbers from end user software might look as a venterous step, but it’s only rational.