Hotfix rollups are the new Service Pack
I was recently surprised to learn that a Hotfix Rollup shipped from SDL Tridion is something quite different to what you'd expect from the title. For at least the last 10 years, and probably longer, the distinction between a hotfix and a service pack was very simple:
A collection of product improvements shipped between full version releases. The improvements would include bug fixes, and possibly new features, but never "breaking" changes. The intention was that customers should install the latest service pack for their current version. The service pack would have been thoroughly tested by R&D and would be the basis for on-going support until the next release.
If an issue was found in software in the field, a hotfix could be created to address this issue. There wouldn't be an installer - just some files and some instructions. Often a hotfix would be seen as suitable for any customer to install, but other hotfixes were riskier, and if you didn't have the problem, installing the hotfix would be a bad idea. Hotfixes were tested by customer support. The next service pack or full release would supersede any hotfix. In a reasonably thorough risk-management strategy, the standard play was to avoid taking hotfixes until you needed them. The official advice from Tridion as of 2011 was this:
IMPORTANT NOTE: Hotfixes are released at the discretion of SDL Tridion based on technical complexity, customer business requirements and schedules. Hotfixes are made and tested only for the described problem on a particular environment/configuration and therefore should only be installed if approved by SDL Tridion Customer Support. Hotfixes should be replaced as soon as possible by the subsequent service pack where the problem is fixed.
And then along came Hotfix Rollups...
You might be forgiven for thinking that a hotfix rollup was, well a sort of erm... roll-up of hotfixes. A collection of hotfixes. A gathering together of a handy bunch of hotfixes to make life easier for the less risk-averse who like to install everything. (Like me, when I'm installing my own dev image. Love the handiness of it.) That's what the name means in any normal interpretation of the English language. The point here is that this is not what SDL Tridion mean when they say Hotfix Rollup. From discussions with various SDL people, it seems that they see a hotfix rollup as having the following characteristics:
- It is not expected to cause any problems on your system and can safely be installed.
- To this end, it has been tested by the relevant specialists in R&D
- In the same way that you are expected to install a service pack, you are expected to install a hotfix rollup. Should further hotfixes become necessary, they will have the hotfix rollup as a dependency, not specific hotfixes. (This means that if you need that hotfix, you'll end up installing the hotfix rollup too, probably at a moment that you'd prefer to have chosen yourself.)
This is my best understanding at the current moment, but I am not aware of any formal communication from SDL that makes this clear, or otherwise updates the advice from 2011. Obviously, feel free to get formal confirmation via the usual channels
And as for you, SDL: your customers' risks are not your risks. You owe it to your customers to communicate correctly and in a timely way about this kind of thing. If anyone thought this would engender trust and confidence, that person was not thinking clearly. I wouldn't be saying this, but people out in the field often spend significant effort trying to balance risks like this, and it's in all our interests to make sure it goes well.