If your software no longer works on an up-to-date system, it's better to find out and fix it early on.
It's not the software that breaks on an up-to-date system, it's the installer package that thinks it does. If the software is manually unpacked and executed, it runs perfectly fine. That's what I'm talking about.
This happens with common popular commercial software like Skype, Opera, CodeXL, AMD Drivers, NVIDIA drivers...
The release of new distro versions is never a surprise and the dates are almost always known 6 months in advance, and the prerelease versions are available for many months in advance just so you can update your stuff. In the case of a commercial tool , you may find you want to update that often anyway.
That is part of the problem. Not everyone migrates immediately from Ubuntu 12 to 13, and from 13 to 14.04
Reasons are varied: Stability (Somewhere in a chance 4 out of 5 something breaks when updating the kernel. Usually it's the gpu driver, but ALSA also breaks ocassionally, or the WiFi card, or the VM kernel driver, and it takes time to get them running again); Bandwidth (it takes time to update, specially when the user doesn't have good bandwidth), Breaking changes to the software he uses, etc.
For Server stations, this makes perfect: they don't use any of what usually breaks, and fixing security vulnerabilities is top priority. But for Desktop it's a lot of nuissance.
We can have the following scenarios:
- The OP packages his deb for one version of Ubuntu. Miraculously it works on all versions. Everyone's happy. This happens, but is somewhat rare.
- The OP's packages his deb for one version of Ubuntu. It doesn't install some versions of Ubuntu. However unzipping the SW shows it works fine. This is very common.
- The OP creates a package for three different Ubuntu versions (14, 13 & 12) for each release he makes. Users must download the deb for his specific version.
- The OP's has packaged his deb for an older version of Ubuntu, but didn't package a new one yet. The latest users must use ZIP until the OP releases a newer version.
- The latest software release by OP is a bit buggy. So its users prefer using a previous version. But the deb package is naturally, an old one. Thus likely to be incompatible with the latest version of Ubuntu.
Now multiply this with the number of distros the OP wants to support. This quickly becomes an explosion. Sure, you can hire an expert guy for each OS distro that can do miracles and put you in best case scenario almost every time. If you're very lucky you find an expert in two different distros.
But doesn't change the fact you need to allocate a disproportionate amount of resources to just keep an installer going. Which makes sense when a particular distro is your core market.
If you need to download 1 GB worth of dependencies for your software if it's properly packaged using the native package manager, then your ZIP file is going to be at least that big as well. There is no shortcut.
Because the OP's package depends on XX, which wasn't installed, apt installs the latest version 1.2.1-svn1 (instead of 1.2.1-svn0; the packages were recently updated) it triggers a domino-effect of dependencies to update almost everything to the latest version. If you're unlucky, it triggers the kernel, X11 and/or Mesa to update too. And after reboot you have to fix the side-effects.
You can give me a lecture of how I should keep everything up to date to fix the latest vulnerabilities and other reasons. And you will be right.
But it doesn't change the fact that I just wanted to get work done with the OP's product, and now have to download 1 GB of updates, potentially break my system's boot (or another tool); and all of this would've been avoided if I'd installed the OP's software one week ago before the package 1.2.1-svn1 went live (forcing me to update everything).
From a Desktop user's perspective, this is user hostile.
Unzipping the program shows the software still works. May be I needed to paste the SO files of XX 1.2.1 I got somewhere else (or was just included with the zip). Or may be the program works fine except for the functionality that was provided by XX.
I'm an avid Linux user. But this is what I like from Windows. I can grab an installer written in 2003 for Windows XP and still works in 7.
I can't say the same for most deb packages from just 3 years ago.
Well, in short; I still advise the .deb package because when it works, it rocks. Despite the drawbacks, it will solve your problems for the ~80% of your user base. But this doesn't replace the Zip, which can be useful for that other 20%.
Many of us go for the .deb first. If that doesn't work, retry with the zip.
And if for some reason you go out of business (hope you don't!) your deb packages will break eventually (same can be said on Windows though, I can't expect much from an installer or its software written for Windows 98 to work on Windows 7 x64...). But Zips have a longer lifespan (specially if you bundle them with all necessary SO files).