Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Beta Joke

It seems that every new web service that appears is in "public beta," and that granddaddy of these is Gmail, which has been in "beta" for three years. Last week Google announced that it was adding IMAP support to Gmail - a much needed improvement for anybody who accesses email from multiple devices - with the usual Google comment that it would activated in everybody's Gmail accounts "in the next few days."

It's turning out to be much slower than that, and at least once I've heard someone say, "Well, it is a beta product."

It's a beta product that is presented to the world as a finished product in every way but the word "beta" on the screen, and Google deserves some grief for this. Once upon a time, it actually meant something when a product was in beta. It meant that it was not intended for real-word use just yet, it was changing and being fixed, and you used it at your own risk. And it also mean there was a schedule somewhere for it to get out of beta, for a release candidate to be ready, and for it to become a real product.

I don't think you're going to find anyone at Google who will seriously tell you that they view Gmail as an unreleased product. Especially when it's a key component of their Google Apps service, which is not marked beta.

So, having gotten lots of individuals and now businesses (including mine) to use Gmail as their mail service, what does that beta mean? It's a joke, and it makes Google look very bad. Add to that the broken promise of an important new features being there in "a couple of days" and you it seems like at Google beta means, "not really supported, good luck to you!"

Gmail is a very, very good product, even in its "beta" form. I just with Google would be honest with its users, and drop the "beta" tag. It's a free mail service, the expectations for support are not that high anyway.

And, I think they've played a big part of creating this "everything is beta" craze, which is good for nobody except service providers who don't want to support users.


Mark Cahill said...

Too funny. Google has had Gmail in Beta longer than the NE Patriots have had Tom Brady on the injury list as "probable, left shoulder."

txyankee said...

Well, I can give you the opposite example. My company, which is a great big, long established one, begins our beta program with customers using Alpha 2. So we do not even go the full 6 Alpha cycles before subjecting our customers to code not-yet-ready for G.A.