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Software's perpetual beta

by Paul Jay, CBCNews.ca

Well, that didn't take long. Less than a day after IT consultant Capgemini said it would recommend Google Apps Premiere Edition (GAPE) for its business clients, a Microsoft email surfaces offering a top 10 "questions that enterprises should ask when considering the switch to GAPE."

Blogger Mary Jo Foley posted the list after receiving it via an emailed statement, attributable to a “corporate spokesperson," she writes. The list is here.

One criticism in particular stands out, in question No. 2:

"Google has a history of releasing incomplete products, calling them beta software, and issuing updates on a 'known only to Google' schedule – this flies in the face of what enterprises want and need in their technology partners – what is Google doing that indicates they are in lock step with customer needs?"

Say, isn't it patch Tuesday today?

It's true Google loves its perpetual beta testing - isn't Gmail still a beta? - but in some ways, this may be a more honest approach.

Opendemocracy.net's Becky Hodge has a great piece in the New Statesman on this very thing. As she writes:

"Perpetual beta" has thus emerged as a state of mind. As the Google philosophy supposedly goes, why tell your customers a product is finished when they might very well tell you how it could work better? Perpetual beta, as well as being a convenient apology for bugs and glitches (the BBC has recently justified its exclusion of Mac and Linux users from its on-demand TV service the iPlayer by claiming that "it's in beta"), invites your users to become co-developers.

At least with software, such co-operative sharing can be possible. Consider the plight of consumers buying the latest hardware. As my colleague Peter Nowak writes, "gadgets that cost hundreds of dollars are seemingly obsolete almost by the time they come out of the box."

His feature on instant obsolescence is here. It's good reading. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to upgrade my Moveable Type.

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Comments

Monkey

Winnipeg

I for one enjoy using non-stop betas, I like giving ideas to the creators on how to better the product and thus, upon it's final release, it will be more fine tuned...

I just can't stand having to reboot my computer every five minutes due to the updates though.

Although I don't mind doing that for my graphics drivers, muahaha more POWER!

Posted September 11, 2007 05:10 PM

Charles Witt

There is undoubtedly room for Google perpetual innovation on the computers of many end users and enterprises. Some will hold back. For example, my wife tried GMail and still prefers Yahoo Mail. Yet she still uses Google Documents and Google Chat and Google Search. Enterprises that are comfortable with evolving applications... and I believe there are plenty, will adopt Google Apps. Microsoft is spreading Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt to protect their market dominance.

Posted September 12, 2007 10:05 AM

mt

Ottawa

I'm not sure that the 'Beta' tag really means very much anymore. How many companies release software now without a 'user feedback' or 'problem reporting system' in place? It's all a part of the dynamically updating nature of network connected software. The only difference between Google and Microsoft is that Google is honest enough to admit that their software isn't perfect. Besides, I like the feeling of knowing that the software I am using is still be worked on by the original engineers - that they haven't stopped trying to improve it.

Posted September 12, 2007 10:48 AM

Chris

A great deal of software released these days is actually 'unfinished'. That is, there are always known bugs still to be resolved when the product goes out the door. These bugs can't all be fixed, as by the time this happens, the product wouldn't be useful or a competitor would already have a product on the market. You can thank the rapid pace of technological advancement for this problem.

So the real questions are: 1) how serious is the impact of these known bugs on the user experience, and 2) how does this affect the bottom-line?

If there are only marginal losses to the bottom-line, release! Otherwise, fix some of the 'show-stopper' bugs and then release.

In the end, it all comes down to how much inconvenience we the consumer will bear. My personal recommendation - don't buy software until after its first major patch!

Posted September 12, 2007 01:00 PM

Paul B.

Toronto

Google Mail has only been in beta since its inception. Now since you don't need an invitation anymore, they should get rid of that designation.

Makes Google look kind of incompetent.

Posted September 13, 2007 12:09 AM

Tim

Follow my lead: NEVER UPGRADE. You almost NEVER need to. If your business's needs evolve so (insanely?) fast that you actually can't use the current stuff past the next version increment, you need to stop using computers, or FIX that (insane!) business model. "Out of date" software less than a decade old is a problem only for companies that have made a terrible wrong turn sometime since the 1983 dawn of the MSFT-PC platform.

Upgrades introduce Costs, Delays, *BUGS* and Learning curves for little or no benefit, just a lot of pain and operational inefficiency.

Posted September 13, 2007 07:07 PM

Garet

Winnipeg

Many times upgrades are imperitive or beneficial. For example, tax programs take into account the latest changes in tax laws, so upgrading is a good idea.

Posted September 14, 2007 12:06 PM

Monkey

Winnipeg

Seeing as the idea of an upgrade or patch is to fix something, I don't think it would be called inefficient to have them.

Upgrades are there to better a system, as the name suggests, and there are never costs to upgrades or patches since you have already bought the initial product.

The only time you would have to pay any price whatsoever would be if you are switching to an entirely different system. i.e. Windows XP to Vista.

I for one need updates and upgrades because they keep my systems running properly on up-to-date coding and programming.

Businesses strive on technology, do you, Tim, suggest that businesses go back to pencil and paper? I'm sure they would go bankrupt before the end of the quarter.

Posted September 14, 2007 12:30 PM

Steve Smith

Toronto

Microsoft is the last company that should talk about other software being unready - Hello Windows 95???

Posted September 14, 2007 08:16 PM

Monkey

Winnipeg

Lets not forget Windows M.E. too Steve.

Posted September 17, 2007 12:10 PM

Hippo

Calgary

Or Win 98, or Win XP before SP2, or VIsta so far......

Posted September 19, 2007 01:19 AM

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