Version Numbers and User Perception

Jeff Artwood made an interesting observation about version numbers on his blog. He claims that version names which contain a date (eg. Windows 98, Office 2003) are much more intuitive to users than the traditional decimal point notation. Logically, this is a pretty good assumption – a user would probably attach more meaning to a release year than an arbitrary decimal point digit. Hell, they might even know their version number off the top of the head…

Let me ask you this, how many time did a user know their version number of the top of the head? I have yet to get a user who could actually remember the version of MS Office he/she is using between the tech support calls. Usually it goes like this (note – this conversation takes place circa 2006):

Me: Are you running Office 2003?
User: Um… I don’t know…
Me: Ok, are the menus and toolbars blue?
User: Yes!
Me: Ok, good – that means you are running 2003.
User: Oh… Wow… That’s a pretty old version.
Me: Excuse me?
User: It’s, you know, 3 years old. Shouldn’t we upgrade or something?
Me: No, no. This is actually the most recent version.
User: Really?
Me: Yep.
User: Wow… That’s kinda confusing.
Me: Yeah, a little bit I guess.

So marking releases by a year is only useful if you can knock out a stable major release every year. Microsoft abandoned this convention for their OS releases with Windows XP which would have been Windows 2001. Clearly, this is not the best solution either.

I think the whole issue here is conflict of interests between versioning and branding. Detailed version numbers are most useful to developers and tech support people. However these numbers are not always appropriate for including in the name of your product. Jeff is correct when he says that names such as Firefox 2.0.1 are not very meaningful to users. Unfortunately names such as Office 2003 can also be quite meaningless, and confusing as illustrated above.

So I say, keep the two separate. Give each of your major releases a colorful codename (XP, Vista, Leopard, etc..), and restrict the detailed version number to your About dialog, so that it can be used during tech support calls. This way, users only need to know that the most recent version is Vista or Leopard.

Of course using code names means that your naming convention is no longer hierarchical. For example, it is completely obvious to anyone that Office 2007 is newer than Office 2003, but someone who has no clue about OSX will probably have no clue if Tiger is more recent than Panther. So perhaps your code names should include some numeric information. Or maybe not. I think what we have here is a problem for Marketing drones. Let them earn their keep, and figure these things out.

The point is, that once you separate branding and versioning, then your numbering scheme you use is no longer significant. It’s a number that will only be used internally, and only your developers and support call center people need to know how to decipher it. There is no longer a need to standardize it, or to make it into a date based system.

[tags]version, version numbers, versioning, branding, users, office, microsoft, apple[/tags]

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11 Responses to Version Numbers and User Perception

  1. zewrestler UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    dapper drake or feisty fawn?


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  2. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Oh man, I should know this – is feisty before Hoary or after Edgy? Let’s see:

    Ubuntu 4.10 (Warty Warthog)
    Ubuntu 5.04 (Hoary Hedgehog)
    Ubuntu 5.10 (Breezy Badger)
    Ubuntu 6.06.0 (Dapper Drake)
    Ubuntu 6.10 (Edgy Eft)

    So feisty is the current unstable branch due for release in April, I think.

    Then you get your debans:


    Woody was the best codename ever, because of the embedded humor payload! ;)

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  3. Craig Betts UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Mac OS Terminalist says:

    Remember how sun does their OS?

    It used to be easy in the SunOS days . . . MajorRev#.MinorRev#.MaintenancePack#

    Then the went from BSD to System V, thus began Solaris

    SunOS 5.5.1 = Solaris 2.5.1

    Until Solaris after Solaris 2.6 which was Solaris 7
    SunOS 5.7.x = Solaris 7

    Now we have Solaris Express, which is supposed to be the next Solaris, and OpenSolaris.


    I may go load BSD . . . let’s see . . . OpenBSD, NetBSD, FreeBSD . . . AAARRRRGH!

    *pulls out DOS 6.22 disks . . . *

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  4. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Hehe. Java did that to me too. It goes like this:

    Java 1.0
    Java 1.1
    Java 1.2
    Java 1.3
    Java 1.4
    Java 5.0


    I have no clue how do these big version number jumps even make sense.

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  5. Its horrible once you hit the mac platform Especially about 3 years ago when they were having the X problems
    like you have 10.0.2 then 10.1.5 and its just crazy… I think if I have been tracking them properly they have simplified it (I love macs but after I stopped using them… I stopped following as much)
    But I dont know, if you know the software your using well enough… YOu should know the version number like im on e107 v0.7.8. Then again im a support team member and am required to know this :)

    it all comes down to it… some people forget to check if their computer is plugged in, when their computer doesnt turn on… let alone able to know what version of anything they are using… they know they are on windows.. thats it.

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  6. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Not everyone knows that they are using windows…

    I have been told that they were running “The Microsofts”, “Dell” and “Outlook” when I asked them about the OS.

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  7. I have had a few people like that… Luckly for me i tend to only do support for web design and most of those people know what they are doing. But you would be supprised…. “Where do i go to download notepad?”


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  8. I mean seriously how do you buy a website, and everything else… and not know the basics of web design.

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  9. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Where do i go to download notepad?

    Standard answer to that is of course: :twisted:

    Reply  |  Quote
  10. teamcoltra UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    What Is that… it looks like a real text version of

    Reply  |  Quote
  11. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    OMG! You mean you never saw goatsey [wiki]? Just read the wiki. It’s a disgusting shock site.

    Assholes used to post it all the time on popular message boards and mailing lists, usually masking it with tinyurl or something like that and disguising their links as something that seems on topic and relevant.

    But, yeah – the original site doesn’t seem to have the shock image anymore. Wiki has a link to a mirror if you are curious enough to risk being permanently scarred for life like the rest of us. :P Just remember that it’s definitely NSFW.

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