Gottfried Hoffmann takes a look at the Blender roadmap and the developments which we can expect from the leading open source 3D package in the years to come
While being open source, the development of the free 3D package Blender has benefited from a strong leadership by the Blender foundation. This might be the main reason why Blender is an example for many open source projects and a leader in the realm of computer graphics. For Blender to retain this position, it’s essential to play for the future. Recently the Blender foundation has published first details on the roadmap for upcoming releases (http://code.blender.org/index.php/2013/06/blender-roadmap-2-7-2-8-and-beyond/). But what does this mean for the Blender user?
Short term: Blender 2.69
The first good news is that the Blender 2.6x series is approaching the end of its lifecycle and thus will become a 'milestone' release. At the moment, the focus lies on stability and the last releases in the series (2.69 a,b,c) will be solely bug-fix releases. Think of it like Ubuntu versions with long term support (LTS). I have heard many complaints that the current development speed of spitting out a new release every two months is way too fast for users to catch up with. The fact that new releases usually offer useful new features, but also introduce new problems, is also not perfect from a production perspective where the team usually sticks to a certain release which won't receive bug fixes anymore once the next version is out. With Blender 2.69 there will once again be a release that will receive updates even when the development has moved on to other targets and that will be stable and current for a longer period of time.
Mid term: Blender 2.7
New features will go to the Blender 2.7x project, which is to 2.69 pretty much what 2.5x was for 2.49. In the 2.7x series, the developers will change parts of the core of Blender and move to more recent technologies, which means that the hardware requirements will change and that files created in 2.7x won't be fully compatible with 2.69. Backwards compatibility is a crucial goal though, meaning that files from earlier versions of Blender should still work in the 2.7 series. Just as in 2.5, the UI is subject to change once again to improve the user experience.
Some parts of Blender are in need of an even bigger rewrite. Those are targets for the 2.8 project. Development will be done in parallel to the 2.7 series, but the breakage of compatibility might affect more parts. A lot of the current tools will be modified: think of Houdini or XSI as examples. Also, things like physics will become unified, but the planning is still in the early stages. One important point of discussion is the fate of the game engine, which could become integrated more tightly with the rest of Blender so that artists working on animations can reap the benefits of the interactivity the game engine provides. It is also planned to treat external game engines much like external render engines are treated at the moment, meaning that one could export a game created in Blender to various engines with a single click.
Long term: Blender 3.0
Most of this planning is short- to mid-term. But there is another big project on the horizon – Blender 3.0. The current planning is to tackle technological debt that has accumulated in the Blender code since the mid-90s. This will not happen anytime soon, as there will be issues during the development of the 2.x projects and improvements will be carefully planned over the next two years.