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?
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: 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]