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What software version numbers really mean
September 29, 2003 7:14 AM   Subscribe

What software version numbers really mean. Not sure who started the latest trend of dropping version numbers from software. We could always blame Microsoft with Windows ME . But Macromedia is at fault too with the whole MX thing. And MX doesn't even stand for anything. Now Adobe is getting into the mix. There will be no Photoshop 8 or Illustrator 11. Just CS . So is this a good thing? Version numbers may not be exciting but it sure did make it easy to keep track of the latest upgrade.
posted by jeremias (42 comments total)

 
Cubase SX = Cubase SiX.

And now we take the version numbers from there. Cubase SX 1.0, 1.01, etc...
posted by jon_kill at 7:18 AM on September 29, 2003


Wasn't it Microsoft with Windows 95? That wasn't a real version number.
posted by mopoke at 7:34 AM on September 29, 2003


I'm just waiting to see what Apple does once OS X reaches version 11.

I think all this version number ambiguity is a pre-cursor to software subscriptions..
posted by Space Coyote at 7:34 AM on September 29, 2003


It can only be a bad thing from the users and system administrators perspective. It's a gamble on the part of the companies involved that it will be a good thing from a marketing perspective. Of course in my opinion the marketers and advertisers are sniffing glue. At least in the case of Adobe's products they already have dominance in the market they're targeting so it's not like they'll sell enough extra copies to justify the ad campaigns expense. I will bet, that like Cubase SX, the SX will become part of the product name. So look forward to PhotoShop CS 1.01 for it's first patch.

The only real way that Adobe could increase it's market share would be by expanding into new markets. This is difficult because they already dominate the one market where the return on investment justifies the price. They could try an approach similar to what certain compiler vendors do. One price for professional use, another price for non-commercial home users and a third price for educational. Of course most people will just download Adobe PhotoShop CS off of a file sharing network a week or two after release (that's the maximum length of time I'd wager it will take for a crack to be published)
posted by substrate at 7:36 AM on September 29, 2003


Brought to you by the same thinking that now brings you the Pentium 5. Or V, I guess.
posted by nagrommit at 7:41 AM on September 29, 2003


Too bad they can't be based on the date.

If some software comes out in November of 2003, then they could call it 0311, or 1103, or whatever floats their boat.

And the government should enforce it? God, my heart bleeds easily these days.
posted by jon_kill at 7:54 AM on September 29, 2003


...so what does the SL in Cubase SL stand for then?
posted by ricecrazy at 7:57 AM on September 29, 2003


Adobe did the year thing first, with Illustrator 88. I don't mind the demise of the old system -- version numbers have been manipulated for marketing purposes for years anyway.
posted by jjg at 7:57 AM on September 29, 2003


mopoke is right, Windows 95 was the first major piece of software to drop the version/release numbers for another identifier. If you recall, Microsoft's thinking back then was that by making the age of the version so prominent, consumers would be more likely to upgrade to a newer, cooler version. And that did make a lot of sense, but they turned around and released ME and XP which effectively obfuscates the age of the software again.

From an engineering perspective, the year-naming made the most sense: version/release numbers are irrelevant to an end-user and their inclusion in the marketing was actually harmful to the idea of the version number itself: we now have products jumping major version numbers just to keep up with the version numbers of the competitors (Linux distros are especially bad at this). And there are dozens of cases where a major re-write of the app was a minor version number change just to keep up appearances (Windows 3.1 comes to mind).

Year-naming makes sense to consumers used to track car updates by the model year, and allows the software maker to keep release numbers for internal purposes. It's a pity we're now in a race to include as many acronyms including the letter X in software products as humanly possible.
posted by costas at 7:58 AM on September 29, 2003


I dearly wish that, say, Apple would use year-naming for its actual hardware. Admittedly it's much easier to keep track of its machines now than in the Performa era, but arcane terms of art like "Quicksilver" aren't much good either, since you have to delve into tech-support geekery to determine if your peripheral will work with your computer or what kind of RAM you need.

Also, what are they supposed to do, 35 years down the road, have Photoshop 23.2? I can see why they'd do this.
posted by furiousthought at 8:42 AM on September 29, 2003


I started to get annoyed when AOL starting claiming every release was a major release. "try AOL 6.0, it's exactly the same as 5.0, but we won't tell you that". Microsoft just doesn't advertise their version numbers, but they're easy enough to find out.

And costas, I'm not sure what's worse, all the X's now, or the i's that started coming out during the net boom. Applications that had absolutely nothing to do with the internet starting put an "i" in there version number to give the appearance that it was a new "internet" addition of the software. Marketing at its finestworst.
posted by turacma at 8:42 AM on September 29, 2003


I think there was a bit of a backlash against the year as release number, with people feeling like MS would just put out a new version every year without it needing to be a true major update. You don't buy a new car every model year, after all.

Probably also MS' infamous changing release dates played a part in the abandoning of that strategy.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:44 AM on September 29, 2003


Also, what are they supposed to do, 35 years down the road, have Photoshop 23.2? I can see why they'd do this.

Yes, I can see the need for change, that's why I was curious to see what Macromedia would do, for example. The link in my post to Macromedia is their latest version of MX, which they are now calling "MX 2004". So they are taking the meaningless product name "MX" and adding the year. Although they seem to have been a few months premature ; )

Also, at the risk of de-railing my own thread, I noticed in the trackback that the Windows version of Photoshop has stronger anti-piracy measures with product activation . Does that change the parameters of your wager substrate?
posted by jeremias at 8:59 AM on September 29, 2003


also food for thought, what will the marketeers try next?? we saw the pentium 3 turn into the pentium!!! in ads. apples calls its OS upgrades animals. maybe the marketers will decide that a version number change isnt enough, so the next version of photoshop will be called @dobe Ph@t@sh@p.

Maybe celebrity endorsements will be taken to a new level, giving us Windows Justin Timberlake. Whatever it is will be scary, but drummed into our heads just the same.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 9:07 AM on September 29, 2003


Maybe celebrity endorsements will be taken to a new level...
Well, there was the Claudia Schiffer Palm Vx.


It would have been nice for MacNN to mention what CS stood for in the article. I had to dig for "Creative Suite." Although I thought of a couple other options while looking:
- Customer Service
- Computer Science
- Christian Scientist
- Charlie Sheen
- Crap Shoot
posted by me3dia at 9:10 AM on September 29, 2003


Marketing = Bollox (Or BX™.)

You think software names take the cake, but seriously: graphics cards do my head in. I lost the plot with the nVidia FX 5nnn series, and am just kind-of getting my head around it now. But that's nothing compared to the names the franchisees give their versions of the card.

I couldn't find the article I was thinking of, but I'm sure it was called a Gainward Golden Sample Heavenly Triangle FX 5900 AA++ Would Buy Again!!! Super Wonderousness DoublePlusGood with DVI/TV Out. Or something f*cking insane.
posted by Blue Stone at 9:17 AM on September 29, 2003


IMO, this is all because products like Photoshop reached their potential a long time ago, and subsequent releases have been minor feature additions, not full point updates. GPUs are another good example. Most of what's available out there is far beyond the needs of the majority of users, even a lot of 3D gamers. I think the marketers also realize, as they approach the number 10, that the numbers lose impact. Actually I think most of the impact is gone after the number 3. "Photoshop 8" has all the branding appeal of "Yet Another Photoshop." So they borrow from the auto makers, who use spiffy 2-letter codes for models. Dreamweaver MX. Photoshop CS. Macintosh GT. Quark EX.

I'm still holding out for Windows XXX.
posted by scarabic at 9:31 AM on September 29, 2003


Wasn't this done back the the 80s with Fortran? I don't think that we can really blaim it all on Micrsoft although they are probably to blame for making X the popular buz-letter.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:28 AM on September 29, 2003


jjg, I was also going to mention Illustrator 88.
And, by the way, I still consider Illustrator 1.1 the most elegant software ever created. And it still works, the last time I tried it.
posted by HTuttle at 10:49 AM on September 29, 2003


MX = Mighty Xpensive

I think Apple is the only OS to keep the numbering system straight.....well, pretty much.
posted by ericdano at 10:52 AM on September 29, 2003


"Photoshop reached [it's] potential a long time ago"

Speak for yourself. The new features in Photoshop CS will be the best new stuff in a long time. RAW file processing and 16 bit layers aren't minor. They will change my workflow and (probably) the quality of my output. I will be all over this upgrade as soon as it hits the shelves.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:47 AM on September 29, 2003


hmmm... This PhotoShop CS "activation" thing sounds pretty hinky, though. This, for example:

Q: What about customers who have more than one computer at home? Will Adobe be offering a “family license”?

A: Adobe is committed to offering the most flexible user options. Product activation opens the door for Adobe to offer more tailored terms to our customers and we will be evaluating all possibilities going forward.


and this:

Q: What usage of the product does Activation allow?

A: Activation allows for everything you are allowed to do under the Adobe Product License Agreement. The process allows minor hardware configuration changes without requiring re-activation and is tailored to customers' usage and habits.


So, if you have more than one computer you have to choose which one to activate? Or possibly buy a "family license". If you buy a new computer or make any major upgrades, you have to reactivate? This sounds like a mess...
posted by taz at 11:55 AM on September 29, 2003


Yeah, taz. Not to mention graphic designers et. alwho have been used to putting one copy on their desktop machine and the other on a laptop. In that situation I wonder if you now have to buy two copies at the full price. Probably not, but whatever the cost, it'll hurt more than it does now.
posted by jeremias at 12:45 PM on September 29, 2003


Or will it be like Windows XP, were the customers just get screwed around with by the activation, while at the same time pirates get the product weeks earlier with less hassle.
posted by Iax at 12:58 PM on September 29, 2003


apples calls its OS upgrades animals
Well, yeah, sorta. Animal names are the codenames for the 10.x releases, but the products still have canonical numbers, so Jaguar = 10.2, Panther = 10.3 (I'm sure there are codenames for the dot-dot releases, but I don't know them).

What's interesting is that Apple apparently noticed its more enthusiastic customers were on top of the codenames, and decided to incorporate them into their marketing.
posted by adamrice at 1:01 PM on September 29, 2003


Heh, that's great link adamrice. It makes me wanna go on Ebay and buy a Mac Plus just so I could have a "Mr.T"

The fact that my Mac Se/30 was a "Fafnir" leaves me with issues of inadequacy.
posted by jeremias at 1:13 PM on September 29, 2003


Are you kidding? Fafnir could whip Mr T's ass any day.

And the SE/30 was a great machine, back in its day.
posted by adamrice at 1:23 PM on September 29, 2003


Do people actually call Mac OS X "mack oh-ess eks"? At least to me, it's "oh-ess ten". I certainly agree the two-letter initial/abbreviation version monikers are silly and are as annoying as the "extreme" marketing hype, but OS X doesn't really fit here...

And no, I'm not a Mac zealot, i'm a Windows... XP (groan)... user. Apple's iThis, iThat is annoying too.

Back to these stupid abbreviations, there's gotta be some psychology crap that plays in to this. People must think "CS" or "XP" sounds cooler or means more than "version 8.1". Same reason car companies have models with "fast" sounding letters -- SS, R/T, GT, GT-S, GT-R, SE-R, Type R, Type S, WRX, RSX, RX-7(8), etc...
posted by bhayes82 at 2:56 PM on September 29, 2003


Man, if I could get a Photoshop GTO, that would be so sweet!

Your right about X=10, but it's kind of annoying nevertheless because Apple has used "X" to visually brand its current generation of OSs, leading to official verbiage like "OS X version 10.2" I do wonder what will happen after version 10.9, or as snarkmeisters might put it, version X.IX.
posted by adamrice at 4:02 PM on September 29, 2003


The letters in car model names once meant something and defined particular variants of a model - GT = Gran Turismo, S = Sports, L = Luxury or Limited, SL = Sports Luxury etc. Nowadays, they seem to be just used for the way they look or sound. I think the same is happening with software, in that the letters after the name are just used for effect and have no real meaning whatsoever.

I don't know whether it is related, but I believe that the reason Intel stopped using the X86 names and changed to Pentium X for processors was because the numbers could not be trademarked.
posted by dg at 4:04 PM on September 29, 2003


Do people actually call Mac OS X "mack oh-ess eks"?

I do, mainly because it got lodged in my head back when most people still called it Copeland. Besides, it's silly to say 'oh ess ten ten point three.' That would be like saying "Solaris seven two point seven," or "Windows eks pee five point one point twenty six hundred." Perhaps factually accurate but awkward to say.
posted by majick at 7:55 PM on September 29, 2003


I heard that Microsoft's next release will be called Windows Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment.
posted by mcguirk at 7:59 PM on September 29, 2003


Better than the revision numbers for most open-source software. 1.8.2b1-r3, anyone?
posted by Eamon at 9:09 PM on September 29, 2003


Eamon, are you referring to fnoobd 1.8.2b1-r3pl4, or 1.8.2b1-r3pl3-CVS?
posted by dmd at 11:54 PM on September 29, 2003


I think all this version number ambiguity is a pre-cursor to software subscriptions.

Bingo!
posted by timeistight at 12:31 AM on September 30, 2003


bhayes82: Same reason car companies have models with "fast" sounding letters -- SS, R/T, GT, GT-S, GT-R, SE-R, Type R, Type S, WRX, RSX, RX-7(8), etc...

There's some interesting marketing differences between car markets, especially Japan and the US.
For instance, there is no Lexus, no Acura, no Infiniti in Japan. Those cars go by their corporate parent names of Toyota, Honda and Nissan, respectively.
Then there is the fact that most cars in Japan have names whereas the trend in the US has been to move from names to numbers or number and letter combinations.
Here are just a few examples:

Lexus RX = Toyota Harrier (tell me Harrier isn't the cooler name)
Lexus IS = Toyota Altezza
Lexus GS = Toyota Aristo ("Aristo"cats! :)
Lexus SC = Toyota Soarer
Nissan 350Z = Nissan Fairlady Z
Infiniti G35 = Nissan Skyline

While I like names more in general, there are too many car models in Japan and Japan has too loose of a grip on the English language that there are a number of funny names for cars.
Honda is actually pretty good about using the car model names globally with the exception that some of them are marketed as Acuras in particular markets. The car names stay the same for the most part.
posted by gen at 1:52 AM on September 30, 2003


I think it is widely accepted that the Japanese luxury brands (once they re-marketed themselves) went to number-letter combinations for car model names because the German competition (M-B/Audi/BMW) had been doing that for quite some time. Seems to have worked for Lexus.
posted by gen at 1:56 AM on September 30, 2003


"Realplayer One Version 2.0"

Halfwits.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:07 AM on September 30, 2003


Actually OS X really isn't a version of the Same OS from Apple, it's truly a whole new operating system. (Plus I think the "X" is a bit of a marketing play since it's the 10th version and based on uniX).

I was always amused by Netscape just skipping the version 5 of their browser and going straight to 6 in order to hopscotch IE.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:10 AM on September 30, 2003


"Realplayer One Version 2.0"

You mean RealOne Player version 2.0. RealOne is the name of the player. You know, as in, it's the real one.

I was always amused by Netscape just skipping the version 5 of their browser and going straight to 6 in order to hopscotch IE.

Tried to, anyway. IIRC, by the time Netscape 6 was actually usable IE 6 had already been out for a while.
posted by kindall at 12:31 PM on September 30, 2003


Also, at the risk of de-railing my own thread, I noticed in the trackback that the Windows version of Photoshop has stronger anti-piracy measures with product activation . Does that change the parameters of your wager substrate?

Why would it change? Do you honestly think that the product activation crap actually makes a difference? It took a whopping 24 hours or so for macromedia studio mx 2004 to be cracked, somehow I doubt it's going to take much longer for photoshop. Either that or people will do what's been happening with the microsoft products, and pirate the volume license media, which doesn't have the activation stuff (both macromedia and photoshop list that the volume license media won't have the activation stuff).
posted by piper28 at 12:34 PM on September 30, 2003


Lexus SC = Toyota Soarer
So you can imagine how the people in Australia who bought Lexus SCs as prestige luxury cars and paid in excess of AUD60,000 for them felt when importers started bringing in Toyota Soarers that were identical in all but badging and sold them for under AUD30,000.

I imagine the reverse will happen when Pontiac release their new GTO, which was designed by Holden Australia as the Monaro, as it will no doubt be sold at a much lower price than the original.
posted by dg at 3:03 PM on September 30, 2003


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