One of the many changes coming with Joomla! 1.6 is a new release cycle. Until the stable version is released, Betas and Release Candidates will be released on a two-week cycle, and once declared stable, Joomla! 1.7 will be released six months later. Seems really quick for a project that's seen months between updates and years between between new versions. So, is it a better plan for all?
Starting with the alpha and beta releases, you already seemingly see improvement. Just looking at the release history of each of the three versions of Joomla! via the Joomla! Codenames page on the docs site shows this. Joomla! 1.5 took just over two years to go from its first alpha release (then version 1.1) to the stable release. So far, Joomla! 1.6 is at about 18 months with "pre-final" releases, so it appears to be on track with the 1.5 timeline. The other similarity between the two versions is that it took about a year to move from alpha to beta. But, that is where the similarities end in the timelines.
Joomla! 1.5 Beta 1 released on October 12, 2006. It would be 15 months before the stable version was released. Joomla! 1.6 Beta 1 released on May 17, 2010, and so far has been about four months since moving into the beta phase of development. Joomla! 1.5 saw a grand total of six releases during the beta and release candidate phases (two betas about seven months apart and four release candidates released closer to each other). Joomla! 1.6 is on the ninth beta release, releasing updates every two weeks. Personally, I see this as a huge improvement over the 1.5 development cycle. This allows more of the community to work with more current code, and doesn't require those members of the community to have a "developer's setup" (an IDE that pulls from the SVN). This helps the community to see the progress being made on the upcoming version, and allows the third party developers to begin working on migrating their products to the new version.
The progress can be seen in the extremely active Joomla! 1.6 Issue Tracker too. When Beta 1 was released, the tracker had 17 pages of items. As of this writing, there are now 67 pages of items. At 25 items per page, that means that roughly 1,250 bug reports have been submitted from the community in the last four months on issues ranging from incorrect language strings to missing permission sets. Probably not a number to be proud of, but the fact that so many issues have been reported (most of which have been resolved) shows just how involved the community is in bringing the stable release of 1.6 to the world.
So what's in store for the future release cycle? Six months between versions, which in my opinion better identifies with what a "minor" release is (as defined in the J! Docs site). By that logic, 1.7 should truly be what I consider Joomla's first minor release (I still think that the upcoming 1.6 is more like a 3.0, but you know what they say about opinions...). How was a six month cycle chosen? That's best answered by the leadership.
Andrew Eddie - Source
For what it's worth, the "6 months" is modelled on Ubuntu. They do this successfully and have a vastly bigger code base, and developer community (some 300+ teams I believe). So I have no doubt that we'll be able to handle it :)
Already, the community is making plans for what they want to see in Joomla! 1.7. So, there's no excuse for upcoming versions of Joomla! to not be a positive experience for the community at large.