Convincing Users to Download Your New Build

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Let’s say you’re a project lead overseeing the creation of an enormous piece of software. The project is already generating intense interest from consumers; every time you Google its name, you see blog posts dissecting the latest rumors about its features.

Intense interest, of course, also has a downside, including unauthorized leaks. Ask any developer or project lead how they felt about their code escaping into the wild, and they might look at the ceiling and scream.

Every software team handles leaked builds and other disasters in their own way, but a team at Microsoft came up with an interesting idea for mitigating at least some of the damage.

In a posting on Microsoft’s developer blog, developer Raymond Chen described what happened when an early Windows build leaked. (He doesn’t reveal which Windows version, which prevents the reader from telling when exactly this happened.) Unfortunately, the build contained a bug “ready to destroy computers and networks and most of Western civilization.”

Hyperbole aside, anyone who’d downloaded that bug faced potential system devastation—the team needed folks to download a new, fixed build as quickly as possible. “How do you get people who are running a leaked build to stop running that build, with urgency?” Chen wrote. “Change the wallpaper.”

Changing the aesthetics of a project has a way of compelling people to update, he added: “The underground sites who traffic in leaked builds will see that the new build has a new wallpaper and say, ‘Woa, this is a big deal.’” Gripped by the urge to have “the new hotness,” they will download the latest build.

Chen’s posting doesn’t address how Microsoft discovered the original build leaker; almost needless to say, tech firms exact a heavy price on employees who set software loose before it’s finished. As for indie and corporate developers, there’s a takeaway from Chen’s experience: if you want people to download your latest creation—whether it’s an official release or a leaked build—offer up some new and exciting external features, rather than brag about internal tweaks.