Monday, 14 November 2011

Continuous receipt - sacrificing versions

Last week I received an email that convinced me that the way we think about versioning has irrevocably
changed. Here is the meat of the mail:
IntelliJ's Perforce plugin now has job support.
While this is a valuable feature for me in my current project, it's hardly a major event for software in general.

What struck me was the author's implicit assumption that IntelliJ is a single continuous entity that changes state. IntelliJ "now" behaves differently to what it did a month ago.

To a user, "IntelliJ" is becoming less a description of an immutable executable than the name of an evolving organism of features. Whereas once we spoke of the 2010 incarnation of a product verses the 2011 product, soon we will speak of how a piece of software behaved in 2012 compared to 2013.

Web applications like Facebook, Twitter and Gmail have been doing this for some time. It's becoming the norm for desktop apps too.

The frantic pace of continuously delivered versions is obliterating the end-user's concept of a version altogether. Where previously we expected to pull new features by explicitly choosing to upgrade, we now accept that our software will frequently be pushed changes - almost in real time.

This large number of minutely differing versions is similar to how animation generates the illusion of motion. The more frequent the changes, the smoother the effect. As video games have increased their frame-rates they have made older games look clunky and awkward by comparison. Publishing games with 1995's industry standard frame-rate would put a studio at a serious competitive disadvantage today.

Developers who are unable to embrace the concepts of continuous delivery will find users perceive their software in much the same way.

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