Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Matlab 2006a released

Mathworks have released a new version of the Matlab product family.

The release itself is not very exciting, Mathworks has not even listed it in their "news" pages. The top Matlab new features are Windows 64 support and a new differential equation solving method.

What is very impressive is the meticulous documentation of the minor enhancements. While this is good marketing, as it makes the release look more significant, it is to be applauded as an irrelevant change for one person, is a compelling feature for another.

An interesting strategic change, is the shift to a planned two releases per year. Mathworks are showing some confidence in the plan by suggesting which months one should expect the release - and software releases are notoriously hard to predict.

While the virtues for the user in predictable release cycles are clear - user planning for deployment, shorter time to getting bug fixes - the benefits to Mathworks are also clear - a more compelling reason to pay for service rather than upgrades, and less "intellectual stock" tied up in development rather than in the market being sold.

This is the first release on this schedule, so they may not turn out to be as predictable as they hope. But while that might be embarrassing, it loses nothing. Greater pressure to release on time will be a positive drive on R& D but if too much importance is given to the deadline, then there will be pressure to cut corners - release unfinished features or buggy code.

But my biggest fear for this approach, is it makes big features- long term projects - harder to implement when you have to maintain several branches of code for different releases at the same time. We may see many more of these small incremental releases, and fewer "big new technologies" in the core products.

Did scientific computing just get a lot more boring?

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