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Quite often, version numbers seem to be random choices of the programmers. There might be a better way.

What's up with labeling seemingly every other update of Firefox a new version? It was years to get to version 3, then in the bat of an eye, we're up to version 11 with little noticeable difference. Any idea what the Mozilla folks are thinking? Seems to cheapen the "V" in version.

In this excerpt from Answercast #12, I look at the new way Firefox is labeling their versions and point out a versioning system that I like.

Firefox version numbers

They actually made an announcement about this about a year ago that they were changing their version numbering of releases of Firefox.

They have their reasons; it's really not important enough to understand why... I don't think.

Version numbers are meaningless

My take on it, in general, is that version numbers are fairly meaningless - other than in comparison to previous version numbers of the same product. So the fact that version 4 came after version 3 is pretty much all you need to know. The fact that version 11 came after version 10 is probably all you need to know.

The nuances of what changed (why it changed; was this a big update; was this a little update) is so inconsistently applied across the industry that it's lost all meaning. In a lot of ways, it's flown the way of the term "beta," which has been abused so much so as to be meaningless in many cases.

So the short answer is, "Yeah, they did; they changed the way they are incrementing their version numbers." They have some consistent rationale internally. For most of us, for the average users, it doesn't really matter.

All you really care about is to know:

  • What version you are at
  • Is it the latest version?

Useful version numbering

I will comment, as an aside here, that the version numbering that I appreciate the most is the one being used by Ubuntu Linux. Their version numbering scheme is not a true numbering scheme. It's more of a date stamp scheme.

For example, Ubuntu 10.04 was released in the fourth month of 2010, so you know exactly how old that version is.

We're coming up, as I'm recording this, in the fourth month of 2012. So I expect 12.04 of Ubuntu sometime this month.

I like that; it gives you a little bit more information about what the product it is; how old it is, just by looking at the version number.

Yes, they have additional numbers that follow that, that typically increment. I like having major version numbers actually have some meaning beyond simply being an incrementing number.

Once it's just an incrementing number, however, the specifics are meaningless; other than to compare it to other versions of the same program.

Article C5256 - April 26, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

April 26, 2012 12:24 PM

When I asked the question, I was mainly curious as to what advantage it is to Mozilla to label updates as new versions. Users once looked forward to seeing what a new version might bring; not so much now. And I'm currently holding off on updating to v12 because it will disable a favorite addon, though I know it means I might be lacking some security patch.

Alex Dow
April 27, 2012 11:27 AM

Try looking at it from the opposite direction.

If new versions/updates came out without any indication of the progression, what would you report faults with reference to?

It could be that you are using an ancient version, which has been superseded by a later one, with corrections already incorporated.

Back when I was working, if someone phoned me about a drawing, I would first ask the Drawing Number, then the Version and Date, to ensure that we both were viewing the same drawing etc.

I am aware of many errors, confusions etc, caused by not doing such simple checks - and at much cost and delay to the company.

Correspondingly when I became involved in writing computer programs, the first section was a series of comments, describing any updates etc.

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