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.