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Tigers and Mustangs and Dolphins, Oh My!

Posted by mreinhold on September 30, 2004 at 2:18 AM PDT

Tiger is done.

Whew! I can just about hear the collective sigh of relief from
everyone, both inside and outside of Sun, who contributed to this amazing
product. We hope you enjoy working with it. As href="http://weblogs.java.net/blog/mreinhold/archive/2004/09/tough_and_trust.html">
I've said before, I think Tiger is the highest-quality JDK that we've ever
built -- and I've been helping to build these things since
JDK 1.1.

This seems an appropriate time to look forward, and in particular at some
changes that we're making to the J2SE release model.

The current model has three kinds of releases:

  • Feature releases are the big ones
    (1.3, 1.4, 1.5 5.0), with tons of bug fixes and lots of new
    features. These have generally been about 24-36 months apart.

  • Maintenance releases, the so-called
    "dot-dot" releases (1.4.1, 1.4.2, etc.), have lots of bug fixes but
    no new API features. Lately these have been about 8-10 months apart.

  • Update releases, the so-called
    "underscore" releases (1.4.2_01, 1.5.0_01 5.0 update 1), which
    contain a very small number of bug fixes (typically around 100) carefully
    chosen to meet urgent customer needs. Sun has shipped these about every
    3-4 months.

Going forward we're going to simplify this model and increase the rate at which
we ship releases. In particular:

  • Feature releases will ship every 18-24
    months.
    This will allow the platform to evolve more rapidly so as to
    better meet the needs of the developer community and compete
    with .NET.

  • There won't be any more maintenance
    releases.
    Starting with Tiger (5.0) there won't be any more releases
    the size of 1.4.1 and 1.4.2, i.e., with 1500-2000 bug fixes. There
    still might be a release called "5.1", but it will just be a special update
    release.

  • Update releases will ship every 2-3
    months.
    This will make it possible for critical bug fixes to be
    delivered to customers in a more timely manner.

Changing the release model is not something we've done lightly; this is the
result of several months of investigation and many conversations with partners
and developers in the community. A couple additional expected benefits of
these changes are:

  • Releases will more likely ship on
    time.
    Within the J2SE engineering organization we've long wrestled with
    the difficult choice of making the current maintenance release as perfect
    as possible versus working on great new features for the next big feature
    release. This conflict has been the proximate cause of many schedule slips
    over the years. The new release model finally resolves this fundamental
    tension: J2SE engineers will, by default, always be working on the next
    feature release. There will be times when they're asked to fix a critical
    bug in an update release, and even rarer times when some nontrivial work
    (e.g., to improve performance) will be done in an update release,
    but these will be the exceptions rather than the rule.

  • Release adoption will improve. The
    existing medium-sized maintenance releases have long been a big adoption
    barrier. Due to the level of change in these releases many users have only
    been confident enough to adopt them after requalifying all of their
    applications -- in other words, by treating them much like
    feature releases in terms of testing. Most users are confident enough in
    the update releases to just "drop them in" without doing a lot of testing;
    now they'll be able to do so for a longer time in between feature releases.

These are not easy changes to make. We're still in the middle of figuring out
a bunch of the details, so reality over the next couple of years might not
exactly match what I've described above. Overall, however, we think that the
improved focus and increased agility of the new release model will bring big
benefits to the platform and to the Java community.

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