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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Making sure that all methods are used to inform users about patches or dot releases ..

A patch or dot release is typically done by a product team for defects or some improvements that the team would have made over the past period of time. Most people are familiar with the concept of Service Packs released by Microsoft for Office, Windows, and other tools that it has. So a service pack would typically take a number of improvements and defect fixes and make them available for users to download and install on their machines. A patch release in turn is meant for defect fixes that have been deemed critical enough to provide a fix to users. A service pack is typically meant to be a large patch, combining a large number of fixes and optimizations for the application. A dot release is a slightly different animal. Typically, in my experience, a dot release is when the code of the previously released version of the application is taken, the fixes are all applied to the source codes, and a new version of the application is released. This new version of the application is now ready for use by customers; if the released version of the application was 7.0, now the team can take the 7.0 code, add the fixes to the code, and then release a version called 7.1. This new version, with the fixes, replaces the previous version 7.0, and is the version that is available to consumers.
So, now that you have a new version, or a patch, or a service pack, how do you get this to your users. You would want all your users to take the new version, for multiple reasons:
- If you have fixes for problems available in this release, then with customers adopting such a release, there will be lesser need for support for such issues.
- If you get all your customers to adopt such a release, then it is easier to provide technical support. If you have customers having different versions of software such as 7.0 or 7.1, then it gets more complicated to provide support for such cases. In such cases, it would be easier if all customers have the 7.1 version.
- When you provide a new version post 7.1, it would be easier if you have most or all customers on the version 7.1. When a new version 7.2 is releases, there would be need to provide support for customers to upgrade from versions 7.0 or 7.1. When you have software such as Windows or Adobe Reader, on which there can be a number of service packs or patches released, this kind of upgrade support can make things difficult.

Now that we have the background, how can you increase the chances of more people taking the new patch or release ?
- Spread the information about new releases on the company site. As an example, if you take a large company such as Adobe, it has a section of the site called Updates (link). On this site, all the downloads and patches for different products released by the company is listed. Other large companies also follow a similar practice.
- Use social networking to spread the word. Most popular products have their presence on Facebook or Twitter, and companies should release information on these updates along with details of the major changes, and how to install the application.
- Seed support services such as consumer forums, user forums, customer support services, with information about the updates; for customer support, calls on major defects that are fixed with these updates should tell customers about the same.
- Nowadays, most major products have an update service, and the update should provide information to the customers about the desirability of the update and why the customer should do an update of the product.
- And now for a more forceful approach. Over a period of time, in order to ensure that everybody was on the update, product teams have actually terminated support for those users who are not using the latest patch. As an example, Microsoft a couple of years back stopped providing support for those users who were not on the Service Pack 2 of Windows XP.
All these techniques are important to increase the proliferation of updates among the application users.

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