As an owner of a software project, one trap that’s easy to fall into is that of adding more and more features. Quite often these features do in fact add value, but there’s a certain point where adding features ends up being superfluous and actually has a negative impact. At that point, adding more features is akin to "more cowbell," as made famous by the Saturday Night Live skit with Christopher Walken and Will Ferrel. When it comes to deciding on the feature set for a new release, you should ask yourself: "Is this feature necessary? Or is it just more cowbell?"

With Paint.NET, I believe that I have, for the most part, avoided the trap of "more cowbell." However, it’s becoming more difficult. It is very easy for me to add new effects and adjustments and to then put out a new release which results in a spike of downloads, media attention, popularity, and of course … cash. Never underestimate the power that cash can have on the owner of a software project. If there’s no cash involved at all, then progress is slow and at one’s leisure. Too much cash and it becomes easy to fall into the trap of putting out "cowbell releases" because they’re easy. They make money. Apathy can then set in because, hey, rich people don’t have to care, right?

The work that needs to be done for Paint.NET v4.0 is, honestly, quite enormous and even intimidating. And while I’m working on it I need to have at least a trickle of releases using the v3.xx code base in order to keep public attention alive, and also to keep the money coming in. But, I don’t want to make any major changes in the v3.xx design or architecture because then that adds more stuff I have to rewrite or integrate in to v4.0. So, the natural thing to do is to add more effects or adjustments — because of the way these all use the same underlying hosting and execution system, I can literally add tons of these without adding extra work to v4.0.

However, doing this immediately puts Paint.NET into "cowbell territory". I was just thinking about the feature set I’ve made for v3.30, and I’m realizing that it’s teetering on the edge of this. The ability to save in new bit-depths with PNG is useful, but I’m also adding a big group of new effects that, honestly, I’m realizing mostly serve to make the release appear more feature-laden. In fact, I don’t think Vignette and Posterize are really that important, and so I think I’m going to cut them from this release. If you want them then you can download them in Ed Harvey’s plug-in pack from the forum.

So, as 2008 continues to progress, I’m still trying to figure out how best I can get more time to work on v4.0, while continuing a trickle of v3.xx updates, while also minimizing my engineering investment in it, while also avoiding turning those updates into "cowbell releases." One way that you can help is to point out when or if you think you see "cowbell" in Paint.NET!