Question: When should a product have a “major release” vs. a “dot release”?
Are there any general rules for when to move to a major (.0 release)? My experience has been that if there is a major functionality change or a new interface or product overhaul, it is good to move to a “.0″ release. Customers plan differently for a major release ,and if we slip a 3.4 release in on them when it is a major change, they will be frustrated, so calling it a 4.0 would be better.
Plus, there is the entire marketing side of things. Can you offer some advice or point me to somewhere to read up on this? Specifically, we just came out with 3.0 of my product back in January — and have released 3.1, and soon 3.2 — and we are overhauling the interface in Q3. I really want to call it 4.0. What do you think?
Answer from Nick Coster of brainmates: I would suggest not to get tangled up on a product’s version number when communicating it to the market. These are useful for support and software development versioning control. In isolation, however, they are irrelevant to a customer.
What is relevant to a customer is what new problems can be solved with the updated product. You can see a trend developing with many software providers like Symantec, Microsoft and Apple who use dates (2003, 2007) as the version number — or, in Apple’s case, types of big cats (leopard, tiger, etc). This breaks away from the successive versioning and the hassle of tracking point releases of software in the product name.
For a new and significant release you should be looking for one or two key new customer benefits that will differentiate the product from other offerings. If your case, ask yourself: “Does the interface improvement solve any new customer problems?” This should not include problems introduced by the previous interface.
For existing customers, what is the benefit of updating their software from a previous version — stability, simplicity or a new solution? Whatever it is will have to outweigh the customers cost of performing an upgrade.
Consider a version re-name or re-number when you are adding significantly more value to the customers. This is when you will have a product change that is worth talking about. Make it count.