Tech Preview stability, risk of wasting time, and CDs


I had the following exchange with a customer via email earlier today.  I thought it would be of general interest (thanks to Richard for letting me post this).  It explains some of the behind-the-scenes thinking around the Tech Preview, how it relates to our internal builds and external betas, where we want to go with these, and how we might enable customers to make a more informed decision on whether to spend time installing these Tech Previews.  I’m about to be out-of-office for a bit – sorry in advance if I’m slow to respond. 


 


From: Richard


Is there a suite of CD’s that could be rushed to me? 


I greatly appreciate your help in advance.


 


From: Mark


We do not have CDs available for that build.  We will make CDs available though for our beta.  For this tech preview we went with just DVD, partly for the sake of simplicity and partly based on community input.  We made this decision for other developer events recently too.  Unless you are an MSDN/U subscriber, there is no download mechanism. 


 


If you look at this as a mini-beta, there are obvious holes.  But these tech previews are not meant to be that – they are meant to be a way that bleeding edge customers can get greater visibility into our progress and give us feedback earlier so we can do more with it.  There were plenty of challenges with this first one, so we’ve been simplifying where possible – dvd only, no obvious public download mechanism (that’s reliable for such a large download) within MS so we’ll skip that this time, etc..  We’re learning a lot about what’s really necessary, and we’re working on solutions for the holes so that there are fewer each time we do this. 


 


To get back to your specific question – if you really want to install this tech preview, you need to have a DVD reader.  In the long run I really want a public download mechanism in place so that I never have to tell someone “sorry, you can’t participate in our pre-RTM program unless you jump through a lot of hoops”.  Unfortunately, that’s what I have to say this time.  I’m sorry about it, but I hope you at least understand some of the rationale behind why it’s this way now


 


From: Richard


Since I do wish to continue active participation in the preview program, I will purchase a DVD reader so that I can use this build.


 


From: Mark


Good luck!  It’s a little funny – I’ve had a few people tell me “I really want this but can’t get it, and other who say “wow, this is a lot buggier than the alpha – more features but buggier”.  It shows the difference between weeks of testing (which betas get) and essentially one night, which this got.  It’s a glorified daily build.  My hope (and I have someone looking at this) is that some day all daily builds will be available, but right now this is a transition in expectations for everyone. 


 


From: Richard


I am a bit confused by your comments.  Would you recommend that I stay with my older alpha version since you indicate that this new version has many bugs?  I would hope that this new version has repaired bugs that were reported in the older alpha version.  Of course as new features are added, so are new bugs.  Please clarify and give  me your recommendation.


 


From: Mark


Sorry to confuse you.  The quality does not continuously increase during the product cycle.  In fact, right after big checkpoints it tends to go way back down.  Before the release we stop changing things, test for a few weeks and focus on fixing only showstopper bugs.  Right after the release there’s a lot of pent-up change that pours in and quality is very bad – things that worked break, etc..  It stays pretty bad all through the coding period.  It gradually creeps up after that – with significant setbacks along the way – and then rapidly increases as we get close to the next release.  The bits on the dvd are from somewhere towards the end of the “gradual improvement” phase.  This means that some features you used in the alpha will be less stable now than they were.  I hope that an indirect effect of releasing more frequently is that the quality stays better throughout the cycle – internally we can put up with a fair amount but we hate sending out things that don’t work.    


 


It all depends on what you want to do.  If the alpha is working for you and you don’t want to find yourself broken, you probably shouldn’t install the tech preview.  If you have a spare machine and want to see the new stuff go for it.  There’s a gray area in-between where I can’t make a recommendation.  It gets back to keeping the quality higher throughout the cycle.  That’s just hard to do with a big complex product and significant changes/fixes that have division-wide impact.  The one thing I do know is that starting sometime after beta1, the quality should steadily get better as we drive towards RTM.  These pre-beta tech previews are something of a mixed bag. 


 


That’s probably clear as mud, but accurate.  Let me know if you have additional questions.  I’m oof for two weeks starting tomorrow but if you have questions Josh can probably help you. 


 


From: Richard


Thanks for this help.  I just purchased a DVD reader (have not installed it yet).  I will keep my current alpha version and install the new version in a separate area (if this is possible).  If not, I can always go back and re-install the alpha version.


 


Please confirm that I can have both versions simultaneously installed (Whidbey and the new release).  Thanks.


 


From: Mark


Gosh, you’re really motivated and I keep having to disappoint you.  We can’t commit that side-by-side install (SxS) works.  The way we ensure SxS works is fairly exhaustive testing where people across the division install, lots of lab tests, etc..  We don’t do that every night, mostly because we have a lot of dedicated machines.  It gets a ton of focus before major milestones go out though.  Obviously it has a lot of impact on users’ ability/desire to install an interim build.  For this release, we were serious about that disclaimer on the dvd that says in essence this release might melt your machine. 


 


One of the things I’ve asked my team to figure out is how to improve customers’ ability to make better decisions around whether to use their time on builds.  I think there are at least a few customers who have a spare machine and will roll the dice on anything.  I don’t know if this will work but I’d like to see some kind of public categorized voting system where those pioneers can log their experience for the rest of the world.  All you have right now is a DVD and hope – sort of like Russian roulette only perhaps with worse odds.  If you instead had the dvd, perhaps our nightly build results (which are currently inscrutable to all but a few), and the results of 100 customers voting on whether the build is worth getting (perhaps with some subcategorization – vb, SxS, etc.) you could make a much more informed decision.  Do you think that would work?  I don’t know but I want to try that – it can’t be any worse than what we provide now. 


Comments (10)

  1. Ryan Cain says:

    Since this build is primarily avaiable to MSDN subscribers this should be an option…

    I’ve been using Virtual PC for all beta/alpha software testing. This has worked great and allowed me to keep "SxS" installs that definitely don’t affect each other or my main system, since each are in their own little emulated PC bubble. This also limits the need for a spare box for the install. With WinXP and the VPC additions in full screen you’ll be hard pressed to even remember that you’re running in a VM.

    I know this isn’t an ideal testing situtaion for SxS when MS gets to the beta phase and those features need to be tested. But for now it gives a great option for those like myself who want to dig in and start playing with the new features and not blow up their alpha or retail installs.

  2. Rudi says:

    Hi,

    I just got the DVD through the mail, and to my big surprise, there’s 1.5Gb of MSDN content on that disk. And this looks like the 2003Jan distribution.

    If you want to get the next versions of these community drops to be more broadly available for download, I’d suggest to take this out of the distribution. A 2.7GB is a heavy download, saving 1.5GB of that seems very valuable.

    In moving forward, I even believe the distribution should be split up into a base distro (VS-shell, WCU, required common components) and then add-on packages such as:

    VB.NET, C#, J#, C++; ASP.NET, WinForms, Smart Device;

    In fact the actual selection of files to download should look similar to the way you can now select which components to install. Allowing only to download what you intitially need and be able to come back and download some more later.

  3. josh ledgard says:

    Rudi, I work for Mark and I love the idea of saving the help content space for the download since online F1 and help is one of the big Whidbey features. 🙂 I’ll see if we can’t make a smaller download option an option for one of the future drops.

  4. Marlon Smith says:

    Where is the APS.Net Web Services newsgroup?

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    ——————————————————————————

    I surprised that I found productive feature in C# and not

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    —————————————————————————-

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