Minor releases and bugfixes don’t generally make CDM news, but this is a special occasion. Ableton founder and CEO Gerhard Behles got everyone’s attention this week by making the rare public announcement that Ableton’s development team was temporarily halting work on new features to focus on fixing bugs. That has prompted some seriously impassioned discussion, on the Ableton forum but also here on CDM. Look past some of the hyperbola and name-calling, and you’ll see some insightful comments on both sides. In fact, the whole affair reveals a lot about how music software customers view bugs, updates, support, release cycles, and pricing – developers, take note. Naturally, some of the disagreement comes from whether or not users are experiencing bugs: those that aren’t, as always, are happier. But there’s some common ground, too.

Also sobering: read further into comments, and you’ll see who can really lose out in credibility when stuff doesn’t work the way people expect, even more than a developer – music tech journalists (so, um, yes, folks like me). Not to apologize for myself or my colleagues, but one challenge has long been that it’s difficult for one user to find reliability issues. As the comment thread itself demonstrates, some people are blissfully happy whilst others are in absolute agony; look through the specifics of the changelog, and you’ll see why. One person, based on their behavior in the software, could see dramatic, regular crashes, while another sees nothing at all. Now, CDM has an advantage there – we can operate 24/7/365, we don’t have a weeks-long delay waiting for print, and we have a complete feedback loop with you. If you’re finding issues, I want to hear about them.

New release: Late yesterday, the 8.1.1 release moved from beta to final release, meaning you can go grab it now from the latest releases download section. Synthtopia has posted the full changelog.

Some highlights:

  • Fixes various problems with the integration of Novation’s Launchpad
  • Fixes a number of somewhat specific but showstopper crashes, like “Loading a Max device would crash if Pluggo was already active. I count fifteen instances of the word “crash,” which is a serious issue.
  • Begins to address some reliability/performance issues with Drum Racks; specifically, “Having a Live set with particular Drum Racks could increase the CPU usage of the main thread, which would result in very slow graphical updates.” Because of our fondness for Drum Racks, both Dave Dri and I have run into performance problems that would lead us not to use this feature onstage.

I think it’s difficult to make a sweeping statement about something as relative as the reliability of the software. What you can say is that Ableton themselves have acknowledged this set of releases isn’t up to their own expectations, they’re committed to working on improving the situation in exclusion of other factors, and bug fixes are now coming in a steady stream.

In fact, “beatsme” in comments counts up the fixes since the Live 8 release on April 2 of this year, marking 42 improvements (0.16/day) and some 261 bug fixes (nearly one per day). You can read into that whatever you like, but the bottom line is, those issues are now fixed.

8.1.1 is apparently not the release to which Gerhard was referring when he talked about halting forward development; we expect fixes to continue to appear over the coming weeks.

Of course, all of Ableton’s DAW competitors release similar point updates, so any question about the relative reliability of Live should also be asked of other software, as well.

I do have one concern, too: with so many fixes relating to the integration of Ableton’s Launchpad and APC40, why not focus controller features on tools that will work with any hardware? And why not allow users to customize scripts? Many in the Ableton forum are capable of devising their own solutions and providing their own support for those solutions. I don’t think that’s unreasonable to ask, because many applications have focused hardware controller support on generic solutions in this way. I don’t believe there’s a “right answer” to that question – Ableton has made a decision they think makes sense, and that allows them to devote resources to supporting certain hardware units above and beyond what they previously had basic MIDI controllers. But I would still like to see controller support in Live in general mature beyond where it is today.

About those new features… Many readers have asked whether the emphasis on bug fixes will have any bearing on announcements at the NAMM conference in January. I haven’t heard any indication of that; Ableton is planning a party with Serato, and I still expect we’ll see an Ableton-Serato announcement on Thursday, January 14. I’ll be meeting with Ableton at the show to talk about that and any other news.

Other releases: We’ll keep an eye out for other releases, and will check in with Ableton for a big picture of the situation in a couple of months after some of the development dust settles.

Your mileage may vary: Please, if you’re testing new Live versions, let us know your experience. Be specific. And be sure to follow up with whether a thread tracking this bug is open on the Ableton forums.