Most of the Alchemy Mindworks applications are updated several times a year. A few of the more active ones – Graphic Workshop, GIF Construction Set, PNG MNG Construction Set and so on – have seen upgrades once a month.
Users of these products have at times inquired whether it’s necessary to install all the updates, and how important these updates really are to the functioning of the great cosmic clockwork that drives the universe as we know it.
It would be presumptuous of us to speak to the issue of the great cosmic clockwork, but we can address what these software updates are really up to.
Software updates typically address several general issues:
- Library enhancements or improvements.
- New features or functionality added to the software.
- Fixes for known or theoretical security issues.
- Format or Windows issues.
- Bug fixes.
In ascending order of frequency…
Without wishing to seem too full of ourselves, bug fixes are the least common reason for software updates as of this writing. The current slate of Alchemy Mindworks software is fairly mature, and most of the significant bugs were squashed, scraped up and dropped surreptitiously into a nearby potted plant ages ago.
While they often seem to be bugs, format or Windows issues are typically caused by new graphic file format variations appearing – necessitating that those of our applications tasked with opening or importing them be updated to address them – or Windows’ system libraries changing and breaking something.
Security issue fixes are easily the most mysterious of our updates, as we never tell anyone about them. From time to time, we learn of potential problems with the way some graphic files are read, which could allow a carefully-crafted malformed graphic object to execute embedded code, or otherwise compromise the security of the computers running software to open them – possibly only in an alternate universe run exclusively by hyper-intelligent penguins. Hyper-intelligent penguins or not, we take these threats seriously. In that we can see no good reason to let the cybercretins know what we’re up to in this regard, we don’t announce security fixes as such.
Our favorite reason for releasing software updates is to add new or enhanced functionality to our products. With the recent and ongoing switch to our version 4 architecture, a lot of ideas for new features that were hitherto impossible to implement have seen themselves dusted off and dragged, howling and clawing, into reality.
Finally, the most common reason for updates are library enhancements. Alchemy Mindworks’ software is built against a large library of functions that do graphic rendering, user interface management, GDI interfacing and innumerable other bits too complex to discuss here or too difficult to spell correctly. Improvements to these libraries improve everything they touch, and as such, they’re the object of almost constant attention. In some cases, these incremental enhancements result in noticeable improvements in the performance, memory footprint or resource consumption of our software. In some cases, they just make the development people happy.
The Big Click
In that Alchemy Mindworks’ applications are distributed electronically, we can release updates at effectively no cost to anyone. Bug fixes, new features and performance improvements aren’t actually worth much until our users have access to them, and as such, we like to get them out into the world as soon as they’re available.
Users of our software are free to download them and install them or not, as they see fit. Every release of an Alchemy Mindworks application includes all the previous updates built into it. As such, if you choose to skip one of the updates, you’ll catch whatever it included at such time as you download and install one of its descendents.
It’s probably also worth mentioning that we tend to stagger the releases of updates, such that you’ll typically see one or two per week. This is at times attributed to the general level of screaming that ensues when the development staff are called upon to build and test large numbers of installers in a short time – a sound often likened to the noise made by thousands of recently airborne lemmings  who, having just abandoned their favorite cliff, are becoming disturbingly aware that their putative ability to fly was someone’s idea of a joke in extremely poor taste. More to the point, it allows us to spread out the demands upon our web servers, such that they don’t get maxed out and cause our users to sound like outraged lemmings as well.
As a final note, we’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who’s come to terms with the more elaborate installation procedure that wraps up our version 4 software. If you haven’t already done so, you might want to have a look at the Version 4 Updates in 30 Seconds posting to this blog, which will both explain why we may appear to have embraced the dark side, and how to minimize your time and mouse mileage when you decide to install one of these puppies.
 Far too weird a detail to ignore, the propensity of lemmings to hurl themselves from the nearest cliff is at best apocryphal, and in broader terms, pretty much nonsense. Wikipedia notes, in its entry dealing with lemmings, “… the 1958 Disney film White Wilderness, which won an Academy Award for Documentary Feature, in which staged footage was shown with lemmings jumping into certain death after faked scenes of mass migration. A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary, Cruel Camera, found the lemmings used for White Wilderness were flown from Hudson Bay to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where they did not jump off the cliff, but were in fact launched off the cliff using a turntable.”