On release cycles and deprecating stuff

From “What Really Happened with Vista: An Insider’s Retrospective” by Ben Fathi:

The three year release cycle meant we rarely knew what the competitive landscape and external ecosystem would look like when we started a release […] What we thought we knew three or four years ago when we planned a given OS release was laughably outdated and sometimes flat out wrong when the product finally shipped.

The best thing we could have done was to enable incremental and friction-free delivery of new cloud based services to an ever-simplifying device. Instead, we kept adding features to an existing client-based monolithic system that required many months of testing before each release, slowing us down just when we needed to speed up.

This is precisely what I love about the web: you can have multiple releases on a (more than) daily basis, pushing out small incremental changes.
The end user always has the latest version.

Thankfully we’ve also moved this way when it comes to software: things like evergreen browsers which update themselves, and automated build pipelines continuously delivering changes to your test and end users (think of your Facebook/Instagram apps updating on a bi-weekly basis) are common nowadays.

When it comes to an OS and/or software libraries it becomes more complicated though. As Ben put it:

We didn’t dare remove old pieces of functionality which were needed in the name of compatibility by applications already running on previous releases of Windows.

I especially like how the React team is handling these kind of breaking changes: a feature is first marked as deprecated for 2 release cycles before it is actually removed, giving you – the developer using it – the time to adapt:

Of course it’s not really fair comparing OSes to React: developers using React can opt-in to upgrade to a new version. When it comes to an OS it’s the user – not the developer – that decides to upgrade or not. However, if you’re making software for a living you should prepare yourself for things like this (knowing that breaking changes in OSes are prevented as much as possible) and build things as Future Friendly as possible.

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