General Software Update Expectations

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Software Update

I read an interesting Google Groups post today that got me thinking about software release expectations. The post is in the Coda group and is titled . This is a fairly common inquiry in many software support forums. There are several reasons why I think end-users pose this question to software creators.

In the case of purchased software there may be is a sense of entitlement. Money has changed hands and the purchaser feels as though they should have more say in the development process and schedule. The customer may also have a desire to validate their purchase decision.

Response from Cabel Sasser, Panic Inc. to a statement that 5 months is a very long time for a shareware application to go without an update:

"You know, this is an interesting point.

A company like Adobe, which has hundreds of engineers working on Photoshop, releases ONE version every two or three years, and maybe a single bug fix release in the interim. For the most part, we're all cool with that, myself included! :)

But a shareware company that has, say, one or two people working on a product, is somehow expected to do releases every few months -- even free major ones -- or people start getting itchy.

I experience this too -- it's pretty interesting. :)

Anyway, we're all working as hard as we can, and the stuff we're adding is not easy, or quick, to do. For the record, at the risk of breaking some hearts, we do not have a release scheduled for the Apple Design Awards. Naturally, we'll let you guys know the second we have something to talk about. :)"

As a software developer I have a fair amount of experience dealing with end-user expectations. It always amazes me when users expect Apple, Adobe, Google or Microsoft quality and quantity from a small team of developers.

The main difference here is that the end-user can more easily influence the independent developer than the giant corporation. Adobe has created a mature image editing application in Photoshop, and they know it. Pixelmator on the other hand doesn't have the luxury of market dominance. They are the underdog who still has something to prove in their pursuit to compete with the big boys. Many customers know this and take every opportunity to attempt to get Photoshop features at a Pixelmator price.

Organizations who are focused on the continued improvement of their applications frequently set expectations for bug fixes and new features through published roadmaps, forum posts, and individual communications. Several that come to mind right now are Magento, Telerik, and Handbrake. There is another, much more unintentional method of setting expectations for new releases. This mainly involves past update history found in a 'Change Log'. The change log contains a list of releases with descriptions of new features and bug fixes.

The following table is an overview of the releases for the Coda application. You can see how a customer who purchased Coda in December likely had the idea that they were paying for an application that was undergoing continuous incremental improvements. This is what I thought when I purchased Coda. It's not like I need an update, because Coda does everything I need. Unfortunately, without intending it Panic has set an expectation for updates.

Release Date Notes
1.1 11/30/2007 Improvements for 10.5
1.0.5 10/18/2007 Bug fixes and general improvements
1.0.4 10/11/2007 Bug fixes and general improvements
1.0.3 06/06/2007 Bug fixes and general improvements
1.0.2 05/17/2007 Bug fixes and general improvements
1.0.1 05/02/2007 Bug fixes and general improvements
1.0.1 04/23/2007 Initial release

When a company hires me to work on a development project they expect to see improvements in the form of bug fixes and features every 4-8 weeks. This is especially true once a product is deemed to be production ready.

Here are the change logs for a few other applications I use. As an end-user of these applications I look forward to performance updates and bug fixes!

MetaX is a meta-data tagger for MP4 files and their derivatives, as well as QuickTime movie files.

Release Date Notes
2.4.5 04/28/2008 Bug fixes and general improvements
2.4.4 04/19/2008 Bug fixes and general improvements
2.4.0 04/14/2008 tagChimp data source, and general improvements 03/19/2008 Bug fixes and general improvements
2.3.7 03/18/2008 Bug fixes and general improvements
2.3.6 03/09/2008 Bug fixes and general improvements to
03/03/2008 Bug fixes and general improvements 03/02/2008 Chapter renaming
2.3.5 02/29/2008 64 bit support 02/23/2008 Bug fixes and general improvements 02/20/2008 Bug fixes and general improvements
2.3.4 02/18/2008 Bug fixes and general improvements 02/05/2008 Bug fixes and general improvements
2.3.2 02/02/2008 Leopard only release
2.3.0 01/20/2008 Bug fixes and general improvements

Pixelmator, the beautifully designed, easy-to-use, fast and powerful image editor for Mac OS X has everything you need to create, edit and enhance your images.

Release Date Notes
1.2.1 06/05/2008 Many bug fixes and general improvements
1.2 05/12/2008 Many bug fixes and general improvements
1.1.4 03/20/2008 Many bug fixes and general improvements
1.1.3 02/20/2008 Many bug fixes and general improvements
1.1.2 01/22/2008 Many bug fixes and general improvements
1.1.1 12/18/2007 Bug fixes and general improvements
1.1 12/06/2007 Bug fixes and general improvements
1.0.2 11/10/2007 Bug fixes and general improvements
1.0.1 10/13/2007 Bug fixes and general improvements
1.0 09/25/2007 Initial release

What are your expectations for software updates? Does your view on updates differ based on the purchase price of an application?


Mark Hill said:

I agree that software companies are setting an expectation of a release schedule with their past updates. Of course you buy an application that does what you need from the get go, so the new feature updates are a bonus.

In some cases I think companies spread themselves too thin and can't handle continued development for their catalog of applications. Apple is a little guilty of this as well (think back to the Leopard delay).

Echosou said:

I purchased Coda because it met my needs at the time, but things change. The more you get into an application the more you want additional features. If Panic doesn't want to keep cranking out state of the art applications someone else will. That's how it goes with software.

Norx said:

Everyone has a different process for selecting their preferred applications. After taking the time to evaluate your options you want to believe that you selected a winner. For some this may mean an application that is maintained by a developer who is focused on continued improvement.

2cool said:

The quote "people start getting itchy" is great. I am getting itchy for updates to all my Panic apps. Is there some new application taking their time away from the other apps? Perhaps something for the iPhone!?!?!?

Sam Carson said:

It seems to me that developers always release more frequently following the initial release because there are a lot of bugs to fix. This is also the time when they make most of their money because all the blogs pick up on the new software and write about it. They might stop developing additional bug or feature releases if they didn't get the sales they were looking for.

DevMind said:

The Pixelmator Team appears to be doing everything right. They built hype for their application with the pre-release private beta, delivered something amazing at the right price, and continue to improve it. Any company looking for success should follow this plan.

Big John said:

MetaX seems to be the extreme case for software updates. It seems like there is an update every time I run that program. I love updates as much as the next guy, but that might be a little too much for that type of application. :-)

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