Forum software is the key to being able to run any forum, without the software a forum would not be possible. Many people fail to realise the complexity behind a forum and how much code it takes to write software as flexible as the large forum softwares are. There is a large variety of software available on the web, some free and some paid, and they are all updated regularly even though the period of time between updates can vary. What sort of update time should you as a customer accept from free or paid software and how much should you trust updates?
Invision power board is paid forum software and is one of the most popular paid options for forum administrators. It is currently on version 3.4.3 which was released on February 26th 2013. 3.4.2 Was released on January 23rd 2013 which is less than a month prior to the release of the newest version. At a first glance this shows an active development team and software which is being regularly updated. This is as far as many administrators would look, but you should question this more. Upon closer inspection you will find that only 2 weeks after the release of 3.4.2 Invision released a patch which covered major security flaws in the release. 3.4.3 Is a release solely fixing bugs and there is a 3 page list of them. There are two sides to this, it is good that they are fixing bugs and quickly releasing the fixes, but at the same time, why are there so many bugs that need fixing?
If we turn our attention to another popular paid software, Xenforo we see a very different story. This software is a lot newer and for this reason is only on release 1.1.3. The version before this was released on February 7th 2012 while the newest version was released on June 19th 2012. The latest version released contained bug fixes, stability improvements and security fixes. There are no new releases in it as Xenforo claim they only add new features to x.X.x releases. Considering there has been no such release since January 18th 2012 it looks like Xenforo users will have to wait a long time between feature updates or updates of any kind. There is a reason for this, the lawsuit between Xenforo and VBulletin, but this is something that can put off many potential new customers and is software you should avoid as you would be forced to handle a lot on your own.
VBulletin has already been mentioned due to their lawsuit launched against Xenforo but while Xenforo has been stopped dead in its tracks VB have managed to roll out a completely new version, VBulletin 5 Connect. When looking at VB 5 you can see Beta releases of the new version being released every few days which shows actively updated software. The word which is important to regard here is beta. Beta suggests unstable versions which are liable to bugs meaning if you were going to purchase the software at this time you would be better off going for VB 4. VB 4 is an older product and with the beta updates being regular on VB 5 you will need to be prepared for updates for VB 4 being few and far between or non-existent. That they have moved onto a completely new version development could also suggest two things, either they feel that VB 4 is too faulty to continue work on or that it is stable enough to not need further support.
If paid is not an option then there are several fantastic free softwares available that have a dedicated team of developers behind them, the most popular being phpBB. The current version is 3.0.11 which was released on August 25th 2012 with the version before being released January 1st 2012. There is about a 6 month gap between each update but there has been no major x.X.x release since before May 2011. The main reason for this is probably due to the development team being volunteers. Looking around the community, 3.1 has been in discussion since January 2010 which shows slow progress. This is something to take into account when looking at free software but it is important to remember that these versions that are released are usually very stable and as the software has a large community; bugs are usually discovered and fixed quite quickly.
One other free software which has had a similar growth and update rate is MyBB. It is currently on 1.6.9 which was released on December 15th 2012 but has an alpha version of 1.8 available. Alpha means the software is still in development stages and should not be used on a live board. Having the alpha release available does mean that you as an administrator can see that development is in progress and can follow it as it happens. This also means that you can have the same issues as with VB 4/VB 5. With the development team working on 1.8, it is less likely for updates for 1.6 to come out regularly.
When it comes to updates all software needs them. Security and bug fixes are always going to appear, no software is ever complete. It is up to you to judge as an administrator what software suits your needs and if you are willing to wait for the updates as long as each software company seems to take. It is important to remember that you can’t force developers to release updates, so choose carefully what you are willing to accept. Also take into consideration patch releases and the support community, even if software isn’t updated regularly it may be that they release a lot of fixes on the community but don’t call them official updates. At this current time I would suggest going with IPB as paid software or MyBB as free software. These are the two which are regularly updated with more than just a couple of fixes at a time and the updates come at a regular pace. With MyBB you can also see what is to come, which is a great encouragement for all administrators!