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Windows, Mac, and Linux version naming schemes explained

Kevin Purdy | Sept. 19, 2012
Do software version names matter at all? Or are we all just curating a rich library of goofy things for future archaeologists to laugh at? Does anybody buy, use, or trust the code on their computer, tablet, or phone based on its name?

Don't believe me? Look at the 10 worst Microsoft product names, as rounded up by Harry McCracken, and tell me that at least a few of those didn't have something to do with the wrong person receiving a bolt of inspiration.

Ubuntu and other Linux systems: goofy, cute, not all that important

One cynical way to approach Linux release naming is that anyone who's decided to install a free, open-source operating system on their computer, and keep it running, won't be swayed one way or another by a particular version name. And in some ways, that's true for Ubuntu, the popular Linux distribution that releases new versions every six months, complete with inscrutable version names.

The first release, 04.10, was codenamed "Warty Warthog" for its warts-and-all nature by founder Mark Shuttleworth. The convention stuck, and now every Ubuntu code name includes a creature and an alliterative description that somewhat relates to the release:

· 6.06 was "Dapper Drake," for its relative polish (as a five-year long-term support release). 8.04, another long-term release, was "Hardy Heron."

· Version 10.10 was a "Maverick Meerkat," which Shuttleworth noted were "fast, light, and social," as were his aims for Ubuntu.

· 12.10 (due out October 2012) is "Quantal Quetzal," "quantal" meaning either "an entity that is quantized," or "something that is capable of existing in only one of two states." A quetzal is an adorable bird.

So you see that some thought, however lighthearted, goes into the version names for each Ubuntu release. But take a look around take the virtual tour, check out the new features, read up on what they're promoting -- there's not a mention of a Precise Pangolin or any other animal. The codenames are meant to give developers a handle on what they're working on, just in case 12.10 ends up missing its October deadline and arrives in November, or somebody makes the easy mistake of mistyping it as 11.10. Codenames, or version names, are for those who are so invested in the system, they're working on making it better.

Like Apple, Ubuntu would like the actual consumer of its goods to think less about versions and more about a continuity of features and connectivity across devices and updates. And that tends to be the case across many popular Linux distributions: Mint, Fedora, Gentoo, and so on. The real name is the brand name, while the version name is just for coders and snarky bloggers (ahem).

What did we learn?

Nobody is good at consistency in the software world, even at big, multi-national firms that make the core software for our computers. No version name is without fault, and any scheme, no matter how clever, will be dropped the moment it seems fun to go with something else. But most of all, it's increasingly rare to buy software in boxes these days, so nobody needs a name that looks good on a box. That's probably a bigger deal than you think.


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