I love open source software. I use a lot of open source software. But there’s something that really bugs me about it: zeros. You know the ones I mean: the major version number. What is the problem people have with declaring a piece of software to be 1.0?
Look, your software isn’t done, we all know that. Software is never done. That’s one of the great things about it. If you write a book, at some point you have to walk away from it and hand it to the printer. You generally don’t get to tweak it some more, fix problems in it, add new content. Sure, some books will go through multiple editions or revisions, but for the most part, writing text is a finite process.
But software is never done. You’ll always find bugs to fix, features you want to add, improvements to make, and so on. That’s what version 2 is for!
Look at some of the Python packages I have installed:
These are all great pieces of software. Some of them have been publically released for years. Just what is this 1.0 nirvana we’re waiting for? Is the goal for the author to press the final Enter key on his deathbed? Here’s an idea: what if we just throw a factor of ten into all of the version numbers above? Then I’d be running version 9.2 of Pyana. Cool!
I don’t mean to snipe. I’ve been there: you have ideas in your head, great ideas that will make your software even better (more featureful, performant, robust, etc). You don’t want to give up on the thought that those great ideas will see the light of day in the future. Keeping a zero version number is a way of saying, “This is a work in progress. Soon it will be even cooler. Come back in a little while and see what I’ve done to it.”
But the zero is also a way of saying, “Don’t take this too seriously. I was only kidding. I haven’t done the final pieces to make it a real piece of software.” At least that’s the impression it gives.
In the commercial world, it’s important to put a good face on a piece of software, and shipping milestones are more formal than in much of the open source world. This makes it easier to decide when to call something 1.0. But the ease of releasing open source software shouldn’t keep us chained to the amateurish zeros.
Own your work! Declare it to the world! Stand up and say, “This is good. It’s real. I think you should use it.”
If you have a piece of software that you think is useful enough to release into the wild, call it 1.0. Then later we can talk about how to decide when it’s 2.0...