The Upgrade Myth
A frequent topic we meet as we approach the release of Umbraco 5 is "how can I upgrade to Umbraco 5 [from Umbraco 4]". The answer is simple - you can't. But what's even more interesting is - you wouldn't even if you could. What you worry about is irrelevant - it's what I call "The Upgrade Myth".
As much as many of you want the latest and greatest, the lust isn't rational. We rarely need the new features, often not even most of the bug fixes. This is why most Umbraco installations aren't upgraded and haven't been the past three years (which is how long we've been monitoring it)?
Before you jump straight to the comment fields and claim that you do, please take a deep breath. While you may have done loads of patch upgrades (ie. from 4.7.0 to 4.7.1) of Umbraco installations, just how many of the sites you own or have made have been through a minor (ie. from 4.5.0 to 4.7.0) or major (ie. from 3.0.5 to 4.5.0) upgrade? If you say all of them, you're a minority. Less than 2% (updated from 1%, see comments) of Umbraco sites have been through minor or major upgrades.
This is because most sites have a lifespan of two to three years. Best practices on the web - both conceptually and technically - moves so fast that active sites often go through a complete re-do in that period. That doesn't mean that you swap your CMS or make very dramatic changes, but it's often enough to start from scratch (although you might import parts of your existing site).
We'll keep supporting Umbraco 4.x
Umbraco 4 is a solid platform and the version that gave us the major breakthrough. It'll be around for quite a while, is known by a huge community of experts and we'll keep supporting it with bug fixes and improvements for at least two years after the release of Umbraco 5. Period. It is still a safe choice.
To five or not to five
When people are asking "how can I upgrade", it's often consultants - not end-users - who ask. And what they really ask is "what happens to the Umbraco I know so well"? The answer is that it's changing - for the better. The downside is that it means that you'll need to change too.
You see, we could all - core team, HQ, community - have chosen to rest on our laurels and enjoyed the huge success that Umbraco 4 is. And while we patted each other's backs and touched glasses of Krug we could witness how the wrinkles would appear and the energy slowly fade away.
But we're not like that. We're a rare crowd of curious, bold, hungry and foolish people. And Umbraco 5 is the testament.
You don't have to worry about upgrading your Umbraco site. But it's time to upgrade yourself.