What is a software release?

By | September 26, 2021

According to ELECTRONICSMATTER, the software release is perhaps the decisive step in the development stages of a software, because the development is initially ended with the market release. Due to the digital distribution, however, there are new release models and development stages.

In German usage, every software version that is published for the end customer is actually the current release version. The software release is basically the same as the start of sales.

Thanks to digital distribution models, the software release no longer has to mark a final version number, which is then updated through patches and hotfixes. The best way to understand the software release is to take a look at the different development stages, which are still relevant for modern digital storefronts.

From pre-alpha to release version – the path to software release

Publishable software is a huge chunk of work and not only requires long development work, but also requires rigorous testing. The path from the concept to the release version is anything but linear and ultimately leads to software release via various builds . These builds are also a simple overview of what phase of development a software is in.

For example, a pre-alpha version is a very early preview that is not yet intended for the public. This is a developer preview in which elementary errors can still be present. Only a rough framework of the software is in place at this point, crashes and missing functions and interfaces are more the rule than the exception here.

In the alpha version there is a first compiled build, which is still very buggy and only has to be representative for the final software to a limited extent. Normally, alpha versions are only made available to very limited user groups (mostly other software engineers). With the next big leaps towards the beta version, the test groups will be gradually expanded.

The beta version should then be significantly more functional and stable than an alpha, but it can still be very incomplete and contain major errors. Often there is provision for software to go into public beta and thus tested by a large number of users before it is released.

This model not only provides developers with abundant data, but also valuable feedback to revise their software. The “Early Access” release model is also an option here, in which users can purchase software before the software release (usually at a reduced price) and then receive access to a public beta.

Derived from the beta version, which will be further developed until the final release, is also the “Perpetual Beta” (eternal beta). From web development, this term is an allusion to the constant development and improvement of software such as websites. So these are ultimately never completely finished and are in an eternal beta.

“Regular” software is further developed from the beta version in such a way that one or more release candidates are available. These development candidates are close to the quality required for a software release; the only thing that matters here is the right level of quality assurance .

The software release in practice

If a release candidate is approved for the software release, this version, called 1.0 (even if it does not always have to be software version 1.0), enters the necessary distribution channels. Up until the 2010s, this meant creating a master disc in order to burn the necessary DVDs and serve the end customers from the press shop.

With digital app stores, this is no longer necessary, only the distribution channels still have to approve the software or it is marketed via the company’s own website. As a result, the actual software release has lost its importance, because customers no longer have to be supplied with updates via physical media or laboriously search for patches and updates. Customers can always purchase the latest version digitally, and automatic updates provide customers with the latest version quickly and automatically.

In models such as Software as a Service (as practiced by Adobe with the Creative Cloud, for example), customers use a subscription model and always receive the latest version number. Major updates are also included in this subscription. For example, when the last software release of a full version of Premiere or Photoshop was, de facto no longer matters.

Apple uses a similar model for creative software such as Final Cut Pro X or Logic and also provides major updates free of charge after a one-time purchase. In the games industry in particular, public beta or early access is now commonplace; real software releases can be postponed over the years.

But the consequences of flowing distribution are not always positive. Day One Patches describe a now common practice of publishing software more or less unfinished and faulty and of requiring customers to download large patches or completely new versions.

What is a software release