Sometimes I see news and update sites listing the latest release of Paint.NET with three version fields: 2.7.2 or 3.0.8, for instance.

It’s actually 3.8 if you look at the version resource in Windows.

In truth, 3.08 really is more of a “3.0.8” release: it’s mostly the same as 3.0, except with bug fixes and minor changes that don’t radically change the user experience. Sure, 3.05 added a new effect and 3.07 added on to the Line/Curve tool. But whatever. In truth, I’d prefer to have called these last releases 3.0.1 through 3.0.8. So why didn’t I?

There are really two questions to answer:

  • Why does the version resource say 3.8 instead of 3.08?
    The reason is simply that you can’t actually express “3.08” in the version resource. It isn’t one number with digits past the decimal place, it’s four separate integers. I had to write custom code in Paint.NET so that “3.8” was printed out as “3.08.” Each number in the version can have a value from 0 to 65535, inclusive. So you can have 0.0.0.0 all the way up to 65535.65535.65535.65535. But if you try to specify “1.01” then the “01” just parses to 1 and you’ll get “1.1.”
  • Why isn’t it 3.0.8 then?
    You get four numbers, or fields, for your version. The fields are for the major version, minor version, build number, and revision. The build number and revision number are auto-generated based on the date and time: the build is the number of days since January 1st, 2000, and the revision is the number of seconds since midnight divided by 2. I think it uses UTC time – it doesn’t seem to reset to zero at midnight local time for me J The build number incrementing daily is very useful, and I don’t wish to override that behavior. So, I simply use the minor version field and use custom version printing code in the UI.

    (And yes, I could have the UI print it as “3.0.8” but then it just gets messy if you want to present the full version string: 3.0.8.2708.22795. Wow, that’s a lot of numbers!)

You might think this could become confusing for users, but really it’s probably more confusing for me! Versioning is really about sending a message, or branding if you will. If an update is just a bugfix release, then I’ll increment the version by “0.01,” announce it as such, and that’s what users will see. If I’m adding features and / or significant UI tweaks, then that’s worth a few more version points. If I were to release “3.1” through “3.9” and then skip to “3.10,” then not only would users be expecting major improvements along the way (while not getting them!) but they would probably expect 4.0 to follow 3.9. “Yay, 4.0 is almost here! …. Aww lame. All we got was 3.10, I feel cheated.”

In the past, Paint.NET had a new version every few months. Lately I’ve been trying to get updates out every 4 to 6 weeks. I think it’s working pretty well: users get bug fixes and small features sooner, and the project gets a lot of recurring attention from outside of the “Beta crowd.” However, it’s about time to get back to working on a larger release, so I think I will cut down on the micro-updates for awhile.

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