Killing bugs dead, as pictured in a sign in Ikaho, Japan. Photo: Rick Hall.

New features are great, and yes, it’s often us users asking for them. But reliability and stability are more important to most of us. It’s therefore a welcome surprise to see Ableton’s CEO post the following message on Ableton’s forum today, announcing that the company will put new features on hold until some reliability issues are fixed. For developers other than Ableton, it should be telling to see how users respond — if this kind of frankness inspires confidence rather than concern, it could mean that talking more openly about bugs and how to fix them could open up more dialog between developers and users:

Update, 12/29: One release with some fixes is already available, in the form of 8.1.1. It appears to address a showstopper bug I personally encountered with Drum Rack performance under certain situations. I’m testing that fix and others. I don’t believe this is the only update to 8.x that Ableton is planning, or the one to which this message refers, but it is a start. Check out the downloads page.

Some of you have experienced and reported problems with Live 8 several months ago that we have still failed to fix. This is both painful and necessary for us to discuss. We owe you sincere apologies, as well as an explanation and outlook for the future.

Ableton values quality over innovation. Our engineers will stop whatever they are doing to fix a bug when they become aware of it. They must, however, rely on a process that prepares the incoming information and funnels it to them appropriately. Establishing and maintaining this process is the responsibility of management — particularly us, Bernd and Gerhard — and this is where things have gone wrong while we let our attention divert to ambitious new projects.

Our apologies also extend to both the Ableton developers and tech support colleagues because they want to be proud of software and service that users love.

We have now decided to:

  • suspend all development towards new features while the whole team joins forces to address the current issues. This effort is open ended and will result in a free Live 8 update;
  • make process changes to prevent similar situations from happening in the future.

We hope this plan finds your understanding and agreement. We’d like to wish you a very happy holiday season and a wonderful 2010!

Gerhard Behles, CEO
Bernd Roggendorf, CTO

Pausing forward development to focus on bug fixes in and of itself is not an unprecedented move – it’s just usually not something you talk about. So I have to applaud not only Ableton making the sacrifice to focus on reliability first, but also that they’re being frank about acknowledging issues. I’m honestly not entirely certain just which issues they’re describing, because I don’t have the benefit of the big picture that comes from handling Ableton’s own tech support. Once Ableton does make progress on this upcoming free update, though, I’ll be sure to share what changes are included.

As seen on the Ableton forums, via Bjorn Vayner / The Covert Operators on Twitter.

Clarification: I should hasten to add, as I realized this post could be misread — talking about and fixing bugs is a good thing, but having bugs is not. Ableton, as any music developer, depends on the goodwill and trust of its users. If in fact bugs have made current Live versions less stable, or have adversely impacted the perception of Live, that leaves the ball in Ableton’s court to resolve. To me, the proof is in the release. If you have issues you’ve fully documented that have not be resolved, to which this post may be referring, we’d love to hear about them (emphasis on “documented” and “fully” — let us know exactly the issue and how to reproduce it). Likewise, we’ll watch for fixes. All software has bugs, and being a computer musician means being able to manage reliability and stability to make the computer an effective instrument.