Yesterday, Unity released a minor update to Unity 2018.3. It got me a little excited, I hoped that it and possibly some updates to the SineSpace Editor Pack and client application would help push the latest version from ‘exotic’ (a term I’ll explain later) to stable. As I started figuring out how I would structure that post, it occurred to me that what I really should be writing is a word about bleeding edges.
Update 29 March 2019: Unity has also released version 2018.3.11f1, and the latest SineSpace Editor Pack is still far from stable.
Important Update 10 May 2019: see this post regarding the newly released Unity 2018.4LTS and SineSpace.
To an experienced or hardcore developer, no explanation may be necessary. However today’s world has more new software and game developers in it. And SineSpace is evolving, and as the content creator pool grows, these kinds of terms will be unfamiliar to more people. I feel like I should try and explain it, so it makes a bit more sense when I get excited about a release but then immediately suggest holding off and not yet installing it.
50 Shades Of Beta
If you’re using or making content for SineSpace, you probably know it’s in beta release. The trouble is that the term beta has been used so much that it has lost its meaning. Going way, way back, the terms alpha and beta (first used at IBM) were used for pre-announce and pre-release software. It was often only available to a very small group of users. Company insiders only in alpha stage and also a few trusted partners during beta. The intention was to make sure something worked properly. It was a little like a doctor consulting with a colleague to get a second opinion.
Over time and as more and more different types of hardware configurations were out there, software developers realized that larger pools of people beta testing the software could help them find (and then fix) problems more quickly. That led to more nuanced designations for pre-release software.
And Then Things Really Got Confusing
Alpha was soon joined by pre-alpha. Beta was split into closed (or private) and open (or public) beta. Muddying the waters further, companies like Google came around and started using the term as a marketing tool, which led to the term perpetual beta for software that remained in beta for years on end. In the case of GMail, they kept the ‘beta’ wrapper on the software for more than 10 years after it was available to everyone before finally admitting it was no longer pre-release.
It didn’t stop there. Release candidates (or RC’s) soon joined in. RC is usually used sparingly, but some companies go overboard. I have seen “release candidate 5” builds a couple times over the years. On one hand, hooray for being thorough, but on the other hand maybe they jumped the gun in thinking they were close to release. For a period of time, there were also gold master (or GM) builds. This was essentially the version of the software that had been pressed to a gold disc and sent to a mass duplicator before it was released into the wild.
Regardless of the label, the accepted practice for decades was that you didn’t let the public near it until it was stable and nearly complete. As the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. What Google had discovered, and then capitalized on, was that users thought of beta as limited availability, or exclusive. That created more demand. Small batches of invitations were initially handed out. Eventually it turned into larger batches of invitations for all users, until nobody needed or cared about invitations anymore. It was readily available, but perceived as exclusive and more special. So they left the label on GMail and a number of other web apps for many years.
Cutting Edge And Beyond
People often equate beta software with state-of-the-art or cutting edge technology. That makes reasonable sense. What’s newer than new? Beta or pre-release software, so new it hasn’t even been released yet!
It is definitely possible to take that too far. Since the software isn’t really finished yet, there is a greater chance of crashes, unexpected results, and other problems. The further up the development food chain you go, you go from cutting edge to bleeding edge technology. Simply put, with more bugs and problems it requires significantly more effort to get things working. Yes, it’s newer tech, but the risks are greater and things are less reliable.
Back To The Future
Fast forward to, well, now… and beta is a pretty blurry term. SineSpace has been in closed beta for many years, but the open beta started in November 2016. Having been testing software since the early 1980’s, I can tell you that what they were calling beta back then was closer to a very early alpha. The bare bones were fairly stable, but entire chunks of the feature set didn’t exist and a lot of the tools weren’t quite working as expected. I would definitely describe those first few months as bleeding edge.
Things have become a lot more stable in the last two Editor Pack releases. Most creators can now follow my tutorial and get started easily. The exception is Unity 2018.3. That Unity release is still exotic when it comes to SineSpace.
I use the term exotic to describe something that is somewhere between cutting edge and bleeding edge. Some of it works as expected and you can start working with the latest and greatest features. Other parts don’t work right yet. In those cases little things quickly turn into big headaches. Something that should be straightforward gets held up for days, weeks, or months on end.
You Have Been Warned
All this rambling leads me to where we are now. Hooray, Unity has released 2018.3.10f1. Also, the SineSpace Editor Pack has been inching forward (check the SineSpace Discord server, they post new builds on the #alphas and #betas channels respectively). Things are improving, but as of this writing Unity 2018.3 + SineSpace = Exotic.
As always, make regular backups of your work. You should also be using a separate “non-production” copy of your project. That way you have a way out. If it all goes wrong or it starts to look like fixes will take longer than you are willing to wait – you can go back to your ‘production’ project and create your items using a more stable version.
Yes, I am spending time working in Unity 2018.3 to try testing and creating SineSpace content. It is not for the faint of heart. I am making backups, and I am using non-production copies of my projects, and I have pieces that have been sitting for months waiting for fixes. If you’re familiar with pre-release software, those situations don’t put you off and you’re ready for adventure, then by all means hop on in (and file bug reports on the tracker as you go).