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Are Betas Taking On Lives of Their Own?

Zonk posted more than 9 years ago | from the night-of-the-living-beta dept.

Software 270

Ant writes "CNET News.com's Paul Festa thinks the final stage of software development, beta versions, are taking on a life of their own, as companies tinker endlessly with their products in public according to a recent article. Google is one of the companies that keep using "beta" term for years for its products."

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agreed (5, Funny)

qewl (671495) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657779)

It's a bad idea to put two male betas in the same bowl as they WILL fight to the death..

Re:agreed (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657813)

You know, it may be a good idea to not post on slashdot while drunk and/or high!

Re:agreed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657946)

You mean people post on slashdot when they aren't drunk and/or high? Had me fooled.

Re:agreed (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11658067)

Had me fooled.

Har, the circus was in town? an I didn't notice it? Blar! This slashdot forum be a contemptuos transvestite cabin girl, hiding among the trolls one moment an' then hangin' a carrot down the rudder for bulge amongst drunkards; without even a change in the tide, to boot.


First post! (1, Offtopic)

kg4czo (516374) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657781)

Ok, this reminds me of the endless beta of the old BBS software Renegade BBS. It's really nothing new.

Re:First post! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657842)

Ironically enough it is now "Pre-Alpha." [sourceforge.net]

Re:First post! (1)

yobbo (324595) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658000)

Does anyone know when ICQ (non beta) will be released?

In my mind: (2, Insightful)

the_unknown_soldier (675161) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657786)

In my mind firefox will always be better software until it renders slashdot correctly!

Re:In my mind: (3, Insightful)

aussie_a (778472) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657899)

If slashdot would conform to standards it would render correctly. When slashdot conforms to IE, non-IE browsers may have difficulty. It's that simple.

Having said that, I haven't ever had slashdot render incorrectly in firefox.

Re:In my mind: (1)

SirSnapperHead (854099) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658003)

dude - everyone has 50 invites to give out now, so I don't know why you need to add this to your sig.

GMail (2, Interesting)

4Lancer.net (858900) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657790)

GMail is still "beta" yet I haven't seen in forever any new changes. Also, I don't think they would have released so many invites if they were still seriously working on it. You don't let that huge of a population use something that is truly still "beta."

Re:GMail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657816)

GMail was updated this week, the new invite box on the left hand side, for example, was added this week.

Re:GMail (1)

4Lancer.net (858900) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657840)

Yeah, woopity freakin doo, so they put a little box over there. That is NOTHING. That is no improvement to the service itself. Just last week I changed a graphic on my site from gold to silver, reflecting it's new status as a 1 year old site. So what? Does it make searches come up any faster, look any nicer? No.

Re:GMail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657826)

heh. gmail gave me 50 invites. pretty much everyone i know of has (or doesn't want) a gmail account. my guess is that gmail will stay "beta" for ever.

it's probably some smart marketing strategy. i just haven't been able to figure it out yet

Re:GMail (1)

4Lancer.net (858900) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657850)

Exactly. I have 50 invites too. A million other people have 50 invites. Why bother with the invites any more when everyone who's heard of GMail now has access to a friend with 49 invites left? Just open it up already. I can understand why they still call it beta... because it still sucks. I just use it for porn newsletters.

Re:GMail (1)

dan2550 (663103) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657931)

the reason i think there is a finite number of invites is do that spammers wont use it to distrobute mail. it would suck for google if gmailwas associated to spam like hotmail has

Re:GMail (3, Insightful)

KinkifyTheNation (823618) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657944)

Because with a limited number of invites, they have an idea of what kind of disk space can potentially could be filled up. I doubt that there is a specific Gigabyte of storage set aside for each account that has been created, (there's no way EVERYONE is going to use up an ENTIRE gig) But with invites they can control new account creation and prevent people from registering a million accounts.

Re:GMail (2, Interesting)

rincebrain (776480) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657867)

The backend of GMail is Google's web search/index/whatever software, and you know damn well that's being upgraded whenever they can.

Just a thought.

Re:GMail (2, Insightful)

4Lancer.net (858900) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657884)

So, basically what you're saying is I'm getting my transmission fixed. But you know what? My car's still a piece of crap. Sure, they're always working on the search engine, but I doubt they're doing much of anything with the actual GMail service itself. Which is what we're concerned with here.

Re:GMail (1)

rincebrain (776480) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658014)

Fair enough. But once again, do car manufacturers document it when they change something slight under the hood of newer cars, like using a newer type of wiring?

In any event. The GMail service itself may be dormant in terms of obvious activity, but I doubt Google is ignoring it.

Re:GMail (3, Interesting)

BagOBones (574735) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657895)

I have only been using it for about 6 months and in that time the only change I have seen is that the contact manager became much more detailed. Allowing more than one address per contact as well as several custom fields.

They also added pop3 support.

Define forever and how long it should take to roll new features out to the public using the proper development cycle of design, coding, testing and release?

Re:GMail (3, Informative)

EyeMyke (683581) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657906)

IIRC, betas are mainly used for bug fixing, not for new features, that's mainly a pre-beta thing.

The answer. (4, Insightful)

mboverload (657893) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658031)

When you are in beta you are invincible. When someone claims that it is beta, they can tell you to shove it because it's "BETA SOFTWARE!" Even if you complain some troll will also point out that it's "BETA SOFTWARE!".

Beta prevents the need for support but allows you to sell/release your product. This is a dream as it prevents those damn leeches called "consumers" from harassing them.

Re:GMail (2, Interesting)

rawb (529039) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658054)

>>You don't let that huge of a population use something that is truly still "beta." I used to play a game called Dragon Realms, stared as an AOL game, then went to the web. It's been around a good 12 years now and it's still in "beta". Hell, they were even making $12/month from all the customers... who were paying for a beta service. They even got some to fork over $40/month for 'premium' or 'platinum' or some other such nonesense... Did they play a more finished version of the game? Nope. They just got some items and alterations and junk... but the game was the same. Beta for all, apoligies for none.

God I hate that (4, Insightful)

Proc6 (518858) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657791)

ICQ was like that (I dont know if it still is, I haven't used it for years.). They'd just be in permanent beta. What a cop out. Grow a set and put a "release" stamp on it, bugs and all. Works for Microsoft.

In other news... (2, Funny)

game kid (805301) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657851)

As ICQ counted down the seconds to release "in 3..2..1" ardent enemies postpone event by screaming "I call bullshit." No word yet on whether the popular chat software will ever be officially released or whether proc6's head has exploded from this offensive post.

More news at 5:00.

1st poost (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657792)

1st poost

Let the poosting begin! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657803)


Re:Let the poosting begin! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11658065)


Reason: Don't use so many caps. It's like YELLING.

Re:Let the poosting begin! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11658100)

IF a NIGGA ca'tn busd a CAp, then DA WHITEbread JEW terror wins! so SIZLE my WIZZLE doubleword aa 'how you doin my favorite nigga'

This makes the term meaningless. (1)

Bloodlent (797259) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657793)

If everything's a beta, what the hell is the point of calling something a beta? Redundancy of use makes it useless.

Re:This makes the term meaningless. (1, Insightful)

kg4czo (516374) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657804)

It's because they want people to know it's quite possibly unstable and could blow up at anytime. Kinda like CowboyNeal. :)

Re:This makes the term meaningless. (1)

mboverload (657893) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658039)

No, the beta version of "CowboyNeal" was codenamed "Michael". They have dumped that version, though.

Re:This makes the term meaningless. (1)

Federico2 (792815) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657805)

Agreed... otherwise we could go on until reaching Omega

Re:This makes the term meaningless. (2, Insightful)

prockcore (543967) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657831)

Not really. Google, for example, uses the term "beta" to mean "unsupported". gmail, maps, froogle, etc.. they're
all neat tools but Google hasn't really decided whether or not any of those projects merit the full force of
Google behind them, but it costs Google next to nothing to provide them on their site.

Apple does the same thing. Quicktime Broadcaster is beta.. hell, Apple has called it "a technology example" not
a finished product.

The question becomes, would you rather companies not release their little pet projects at all?

Re:This makes the term meaningless. (3, Insightful)

trollzor (858973) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657847)

It clarifies between "working" and "rock solid".

There is a reason NASA doesn't send the latest "working" laptops up to the space station, it's because you can only say something is "rock solid" after very extensive testing.

My gmail account isn't any better or worse that it would have been, it's just I know not to run anything mission critical off it.

More things should be in beta, there are too many things that claim to be rock solid that aren't.

At the same time, I don't condone the abuse of "beta" to avoid offering proper support... but we haven't seen widespread abuse (yet) whereas we have seen widespread abuse of people claiming things are solid and secure when they are not.

If you want to use debian unstable or fedora vs debian woody or red hat enterprise it's better to be making an informed decision than one based on marketing.

debian woody? (1)

game kid (805301) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657911)

That's one place to insert a "rock-solid reliability" joke in. I would have also poked (pun unintended) fun at NASA's inaccuracy with Mars missions if their last two didn't do so well; those must have some really hard, long-lasting software.

Betas are great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657799)

I mean, what is better than getting an early version of a product? You get to try all out the features in advance, and the developer gets feedback to improve the software. It's like a win/win situation, kind of like a daisy chain with alternating boy/girl formation.

The problem with public betas (1)

BigBuckHunter (722855) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657802)

Have you ever noticed that when you submit a bug report (even one that complies with the IEEE829 spec) that companies usually don't know what to do with it? Quality QS?QA people are extremely hard to come by.


In an hour (5, Funny)

mrshoe (697123) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657807)

I'll post the final version of my comment. This one is still in beta.

NOW! (0, Troll)

SlashdotTroll (581611) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658092)

I'll post the final version ...

Hey Regis, Let's Make A Deal(TM): I'll sell you your last comment to you if you can guess which door leeds to Microsoft:
Door 1 [vasoftware.com]
Door 2 [goat.cx]
Door 3a [sco.com]
Door 3b [fuckmicrosoft.com]

This is not my final post.... (1, Funny)

eggoeater (704775) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657808)

it's just my Beta... Look for my release candidate post next month. Final release date hasn't been determined yet.

Re:This is not my final post.... (1)

SirSnapperHead (854099) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657990)

ha ha herrrr. sigh.

Perpetual beta sucks (5, Insightful)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657814)

The old style of perpetual beta was lazy, perfectionistic, or excessively cautious programmers simply going on and on towards v1.0 and never reaching it. Not enough work was done - typical of the lazy programmer. It's never "good enough" to call v1.0, typical of the perfectionist view, despite the fact that the program has been out in general use for years.

Now, we have the new perpetual beta. Any company can, with a wave of the magic wand, make itself blameless when its software doesn't work. "But it's in beta!" they gleefully shout when you tell them about something that doesn't work correctly. "Refer it to our testing team, who will ignore your report."

Re:Perpetual beta sucks (3, Interesting)

NoSCO (858498) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657862)

I am a software developer in my spare time, and I try wherever possible to stick to my defined release guidelines, e.g. 2 or 3 pre-alpha releases (usually for other people to read the code and make some suggestions), then a true alpha release that should mostly work for all platforms. That will be out for about a month all the while making improvements for the upcoming beta release. I will generally make 2 beta releases (bar any major bugs/security problems!) and then release version 1.0. The whole process from pre-alpha to v1.0 may take up to 6 months, but certainly not years or decades, in the case of ICQ/Google etc.

Re:Perpetual beta sucks (1)

aussie_a (778472) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657915)

And as a customer I don't buy any beta software. Use it for free? You betchya. That's why I love perpetual beta's. I get the software for free. Perpetual beta's that cost money? Sorry, but I'll go to your competitor.

Re:Perpetual beta sucks (1)

Raul654 (453029) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657918)

If I had any mod points, you'd get them. 'Damned insightful.

Re:Perpetual beta sucks (1)

js7a (579872) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658024)

Google top management says "beta" means only that major changes are still expected. The term doesn't mean any more to them than that, since they don't have releases like shrinkwrap/OEM software developers do.

Fear of commitment (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657815)

It's a simple case of fear of commitment (or litigation). If a product is beta, you don't have to really support it, and if it breaks it's really no big deal. It is, after all, a beta version.

Once you make the jump to release versions then suddenly everything has to run (nearly) perfectly and any issues need to be properly dealt with. Perpetual beta has it's advantages in that you simple don't deal with these problems. Or you don't deal with them formally, but you do fix them.

Google News is stuck in beta because Google can and will be sued the instant they start trying to make money (via text ads or something) off other sites headlines and stories.

Re:Fear of commitment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11658091)

"Google News is stuck in beta because Google can and will be sued the instant they start trying to make money (via text ads or something) off other sites headlines and stories."

Isn't this what Slashdot does, and I don't see them getting sued.

why only beta (1)

sachins (833763) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657818)

The term beta came from the second letter of the greek alphabet. But then why only stop till the second stage of software development ? Why not go to Gamma, Eta ,etc then we wont be seeing beta products for long. Maybe w'll start seeing GMail Zeta sometimr soon...

Microsoft (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657819)

If Microsoft did this Windows 3.0 would still be beta.

Re:Microsoft (1)

luvirini (753157) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657893)

and this would be bad because?

Would you rather they release it as final? (4, Insightful)

Halcyon-X (217968) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657824)

I agree that selling software actually labeled as beta is a bad idea, but don't we already pay for software that require constant patching, such as the latest release versions of Windows, Microsoft Office, and nearly all of the latest games? Does release software even live up to the quality expected?

Re:Would you rather they release it as final? (1)

Osty (16825) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658036)

I agree that selling software actually labeled as beta is a bad idea, but don't we already pay for software that require constant patching, such as the latest release versions of Windows, Microsoft Office, and nearly all of the latest games? Does release software even live up to the quality expected?

"Beta" is supposed to mean that major functionality can still change. Aside from XP SP2 (which really should be thought of as a new version, similar to 98 SE) and games (which have market pressure forcing them to hit fixed deadlines, whether or not the code is complete -- miss Christmas and you're screwed for a year), I've not seen "final" software make major functionality changes. Security patches and major bug fixes are to be expected because nobody's perfect. Aside from a few notable games (*cough*Battlecruiser 3000AD*cough*), the final release of the software you listed is completely usable out of the box (ignoring security patches, which is a legitimate gripe). That's supposed to be the difference between Beta and Final. At some point you need to man up, take a stand, and call a version "finished". Yes, it may be missing features you wanted. Yes, it may have some minor annoying little bugs (if there are known major bugs, it's too soon to call it "done"), but you ship it anyway and start working on that for the next version.

Open source software can get by without ever calling a final release as long as it follows the doctrine of "release early and often", but just because the developers still call it 0.1 doesn't mean that it's not 1.0 for all intents and purposes. They just didn't step up and call it done.

Leaving things in beta like Google does is pretty silly, IMHO. At least Microsoft was willing to step up to the plate and call the new MSN Search "done" recently, rather than leaving it in perpetual beta-ness. Will Google ever do the same for Gmail, Froogle, Google News, Google Groups, etc?

Google is a bad example (2, Insightful)

Doorjam (770005) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657827)

Most of googles products, except for searching of course, deserve nothing more than "Beta" status. They are like me, they start great, impress people, but never finish the dang project and fail to realize potential. Froogle or Google News anyone?

Google's different (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657829)

Google's kind of more following the open source philosophy of "if it's 1.0, that means something". Just open source projects use 0.* version numbers and Google says "beta". None of this Microsoft crap of releasing something half finished as 1.0 and tinkering and maybe by version 3.1 it will be usable. No, Google is going with the idea that if you say it's done, [i]it's actually done.[/i] But in the meantime that isn't any reason to stop you from using it.

*biggest problem with open source* (1)

Monkelectric (546685) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657833)

Is that most programs end up in the "beta" stage. There's only enough incentive to get a program working to do whatever you needed it to do, and then move on.

I myself am guilty of this, having written a fairly ingenious program that compresses the N64 rom set by about 60% (compressors likw zip/winrar only seem to get about 15%). After which I never really got it polished enough for the average joe to use.

Re:*biggest problem with open source* (1)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658082)

Just out of curiosity, what was it that you were needing to compress the rom files beyond a couple of percent?

Re:*biggest problem with open source* (2, Informative)

Osty (16825) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658084)

Is that most programs end up in the "beta" stage. There's only enough incentive to get a program working to do whatever you needed it to do, and then move on.

Really? A quick look at sourceforge [sourceforge.net] shows 14799 projects in beta, while there are a total of 38186 projects in a pre-beta state. Compare that to the 13509 total projects in a post-beta state. Most telling, the largest single development status is Planning, with 15049 projects in that state. Making the assumption that sourceforge is representative of the open source development world, I'd draw that conclusion that over half (based on a total of 66494 total active projects on sourceforge at the time of this writing) of all open source projects don't even get to a usable state (another assumption: a project in a beta state is far enough along to be used by more than the development team and uber power users).

Of course, this all depends on how one defines beta, and since sourceforge developers get to set their own statuses, what they think may be beta code is really mature, or production/stable could actually be alpha. Take the numbers with a grain of salt.

Of Course! (3, Funny)

kaje103 (828985) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657839)

You beta believe it..

Beta appropriate for Google, others (1)

Gil-galad55 (707960) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657845)

I think "beta" is perfectly fine for services like Gmail, or for "new" OSS projects. Beta implies several things: an incomplete feature set, a possible instability, and "free". Google, being a company with proprietary source, might at any time decide to charge for Gmail, and I would expect that time to be when it transitions from "beta" to 1.0 or what have you. Well, it makes sense to me, and, frankly, its extended use doesn't bother me at all!

Microsoft has done the opposite (2, Funny)

Donny Smith (567043) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657846)

>Google is one of the companies that keep using "beta" term for years for its products

You can't claim the other way around doesn't work either.

Microsoft has been shipping beta-quality products as "Final Release" for years and they've done sooo well for themselves!

P.S. I don't really think so, it's just a joke.

Re:Microsoft has done the opposite (1)

Hitmouse (753461) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658020)

However, the quality of betas has degraded over the years. At one time a beta was pretty much feature-complete - there were a few rough edges but the presentation of the product didn't alter much from beta, through release candidates to golden build. A release candidate was precisely that: a build which you would ship if no severe/recall-class bugs were found. Now betas are more like alphas (e.g. Windows Media Player), and the product changes materially through release candidates (Windows XP SP2).

Re:Microsoft has done the opposite (5, Funny)

Drantin (569921) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658025)

That would have been funnier with the comma over one word to the left...

Re:Microsoft has done the opposite (3, Insightful)

Stephen Samuel (106962) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658047)

I really don't think it's a joke. I've been telling people that for years. Stuff that the Open Source world would consider "public Beta", Microsoft has been shipping on a regular basis. XP Service Pack 2 is an example of what happens when you do that -- lots of broken software due to changes in a so-called "production" product.

beta = testing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657848)

Yes, these prolonged betas are kinda strange, but they allow an organization to put out a less than perfect product without the complaints that would otherwise arise, and, prehaps equally importantly, grab marketsare early.

I've seen enough #%@&$y stuff put out without a beta test where one was really not even sure if there was even an alpha test that I've come to like "beta tests."

Does anyone know what beta means anymore? (5, Insightful)

DingerX (847589) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657856)

From the article:
Once considered the final stage of software development, beta versions ...

The beta version, named for the second letter of the Greek alphabet, typically refers to the second stage of software testing. Traditionally distributed to a limited group of testers, it follows the alpha version, which is tested in the lab.

What little training I had seemed to involve code existing in four stages of development, and beta was the second:

Alpha: the phase in the development cycle where code first comes into being. Subsystems are being built, and testing takes place on the that (subsystem) level.
Beta: the phase in the cycle where all subsystems are nominally in place, and testing occurs on the system level; not everything works, and features may be added, but we're looking at the whole code.
Final: features are locked down, the system is tested in the form it intends to be released. I believe, under the influence of someone like Microsoft, this is now referred to as "Release Candidate" stage.
Released: The software has been distributed.

On the other hand, this article implies another notion of software development stages, one that I see applied rather frequently:

Alpha: Testing done in house.
Beta: Product released to a group of testers who aren't in-house QA specialists.

So does someone have the answer? What the hell do these terms mean, and are they useful any more?

Re:Does anyone know what beta means anymore? (1)

NitsujTPU (19263) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657938)

Hrmm, if you want to mix things up a bit.

Alpha: Unit Testing: The thing that programmers do constantly. Instant gratification in the sense that you know that your code works as you planned it would.

Beta: System Testing: Usually pushed off onto the client, because you just KNOW that it's not your code that screwed up, it's the programmer x's buggy code!

Re:Does anyone know what beta means anymore? (1)

doorbot.com (184378) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657942)

Alpha: Testing done in house.
Beta: Product released to a group of testers who aren't in-house QA specialists.

This is the one that I see frequently, and the one that I would use for my own products, if I were to release any. The idea is that when I release it as beta, I'm saying, "this is not guaranteed stable, use at your own risk, but it is at a point that I feel the product could be useful to someone other than me". But then again, if I release anything, I would consider it perpetual beta.

It seems Google is using the "beta" moniker to get around legal issues for certain services, like Google News (I heard this somewhere so I'm sure I'll get corrected if it's not accurate). The idea is, if Google News goes out of beta and Google profits from it, they have to pay a lot of money to the copyright owners of the documents they are displaying.

Re:Does anyone know what beta means anymore? (5, Interesting)

Yaztromo (655250) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657987)

So does someone have the answer? What the hell do these terms mean, and are they useful any more?

I've always had a (slightly) different definition (and number of letters) for the various "greek letter" status elements (which I use in my Open Source project, the jSyncManager [jsyncmanager.org] ):

  1. alpha - A work in progress which is feature incomplete.
  2. beta - the product is now feature complete, and requires rigourous testing.
  3. gamma - All bugs found in the beta phase have been fixed, with a last opportunity to detect any problems with the fixes themselves (effectively what others call the "Release Candidate").
  4. final - Done like dinner. Package it up and get it into the hands of customers.

The problem I run into isn't the never-ending beta -- it's the never-ending alpha stage :P. A big part of this tends to have to do with trying to fit in user requests for enhancement, and simply not having the time nor manpower to get it all done in a timely manner (as we're not a project that attracts a lot of developers willing to contribute to the core). Our beta phases tend to be fairly short, in large part because once we hit beta, we've typically hit a feature freeze as well, and are only going to fix bugs.

IMO, if it's not feature complete, you have no right calling it a "beta", as much of your high-level testing is going to be useless if you're going to be adding code during the beta phase. Adding new features effectively "resets" the status back to the beginning of "beta" -- making the term effectively meaningless.

But I guess I'm just old fashioned that way...


OpenSSL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657858)

OpenSSL, included in many products and operating systems, isn't in beta. Yet the current version are 0.9.6m and 0.9.7e. You'd think after so many years it would reach 1.0.

What's wrong with this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657863)

It's better than taking your beta version, calling it the finished product and selling it as such. So Google isn't following Microsoft's example....

Not our responsibility (2, Interesting)

2078 (729888) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657870)

I think it's the easiest way of having a no/ limited responsibility associated with a product. If anything goes wrong, you can't complain because after all the software/ site is in beta and you "willingly" decided to become "testers".

Google could go ahead and wipe off the Gmail slate today saying it'll now be shut off for a month while we work on it and reopen afresh a month when anyone can take up user names on a first-come-first-serve basis like any other email site - all because they've used the "beta" tag so far. The fact that it would be a disastrous PR exercise withstanding.

Though I guess any of the free (and many paid as well) could shut shop anyday if they decided to - actually reading the Terms and Conditions of any site is an indicator enough.

The beta tag helps them get the best of both worlds as I see it - make money off the product/ feature while they refine it, and still absolve themselves off a lot of blame.

Lower expectations (2, Insightful)

Duncan3 (10537) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657871)

If you lower expectations enough, you don't have to spend any money do to the last 10% of development that takes 90% of the time.

It's so very modern :)

simple promotion but holds more promise (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657880)

beta stages allow for a very simple way to make it public. giving people a glimpse, at the end, in the open.

a full open game devlopment process would be a nice standard.

but this end beta we are use to, is a hands on taste test or marketing tool. even leading to investors the cancel the game [slashdot.org] .

Mac OS X 10.0 (2, Interesting)

istewart (463887) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657882)

Anybody who lived through it will know what I'm talking about. I ran Public Beta as my primary OS from its introduction till the 10.0 release, and for $100 I didn't get much of an improvement.

All has been forgiven since then, though. :)

Lives of their own?! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657887)

Good thing I already converted my betas to DVD...

There's a reason Google News is in Beta (2, Insightful)

d2_m_viant (811261) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657903)

One of Google's long-running beta services is the Google News site. It's been in Beta for years now, but there's a reason for it. Google can't switch to a subscription service, or even try to put advertisements up on the site. If they do, they face the legal hurdles that come from making money off other news organizations' work. There exist very few bugs still left in the service, but yet it still remains in beta. On a side note -- ironically, Google has been sending out cease-and-desist letters [yahoo.com] to people creating RSS feeds that scour and present the results of Google News.

In Germany, Google has already been found guilty of copyright infringement [linksandlaw.com] as a result of providing other websites' images in their Google image search. The potential legal obstacles could be multiplied exponentially if the American news services got a whiff of Google making money as a result of providing their hard work.

Contractual? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657905)

I've heard (I admit I don't know how reliable the info is, so this is typical Slashdot gossip) that a lot of google features remain "beta" so they don't have to deliver them to certain technology alliance subscribers. Ever.

vocab (1)

dan2550 (663103) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657909)

I dont think this is so much of a trend into keeping things in beta as a cop out for bugs or to be lazy, but more of the definitaion of beta changing. i see beta today as refering to the program as a work in progress, and when it emerges, its more of a totally finished product. I know this is not the case for a lot(or even most) programs, but it seems to me like the definition is shifting that way

Eventually (1)

Rie Beam (632299) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657917)

Imagine if a new rollercoaster opened downtown, and they offered free rides. One day, the rails break, and twenty people die - however, the company that built the railroad takes no blame, as the riders were simply "testing" a "beta" of the rollercoaster, and thus knew full well something like this could have happened. Yes, extremist. Same train of thought, however.

Liability (1)

lukej (252598) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657927)

That little suffix of 'beta' can do a lot. It magically relases software providers of the yet unfound problems. Bugs are no longer flaws, rather simply 'unresolved issues'.

The good 'ol days... (5, Interesting)

code65536 (302481) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657933)

Whatever happened to the good old days when users *expected* version 1 to be the unstable version and that version 2 or 3 is when the good stuff comes out? In the time it took for Phoenix/Fire(bird|fox) finally exited beta, Netscape had gone from version 1 to version 2 to version 3... anyway, my thoughts on this...

1/ Overuse of betas will lead to a diminishing of the meaning of beta. Favorite examples would be ICQ and Firefox. I used Firefox since 0.6, and it's worked beautifully for me ever since. But *despite the fact that it worked fine enough to serve as my primary browser*, it was considered beta. As more and more people discover this little fact that "beta doesn't really mean beta" then its meaning will diminish. Next thing we know, we'll be talking about long alpha periods.

2/ The versioning system is supposed to give people a good idea of what kinds of changes there have been. The use of beta names diminishes and distorts that. Once again, I return to Firefox. The amount of changes made between 0.6 and 1.0 of FF is tremendous. Based on what is seen on paper, it was more substantial than what 1.0->1.5 would be. With perpetual betas, people have that magical 1.0 barrier that they can't break. So there is a compression and thus distortion of version numbering.

3/ It's a cute new way to push aside blame. Well, it's a beta product, so if it's broke, it's not our fault. Of course, there are time when this *should* have been used (and not used), like Netscape 6. But it's being overused.

4/ This is just pure nostalgia, but I miss the good old days when version numbers would leap ahead and people would be in anticipation of exciting new features. Now, version numbers creep from beta1 to beta2 to beta3 and while there are still cool and exciting changes, they seem marginalized.

I strongly believe that betas should be used for things that are legitimately under development. As soon as it's stable enough that the developer would feel comfortable with using it on a regular basis without it completely blowing up, it's 1.0. Save the perfection and endless tweaking and bugfixing for 1.1 or 2.0; I have yet to see a perfect 1.0, even if eons of time have been funneled into perfection.

True, but not a disaster. (3, Interesting)

Dylan Thomas (853299) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658023)

I agree that "beta" no longer means what it used to. I remember when you had to be someone special to get a beta version of a program, back when my friends would come over and say, "Guess what I managed to get my hands on?" and they'd be waving around a beta version of some popular product and we'd all go, "Wow, how did you manage that?"

However, I also remember the days when a "syndicated" television program meant network reruns. A show that was original in syndication would have confused everyone.

So although I completely agree with you that "beta doesn't really mean beta" anymore, and that we also need a reliable way to know exactly how stable a product is (and whether or not the developers are taking any responsibility for its failings), I don't know that it's a disaster that this is happening. I'm not willing to cry, "No, that's not what beta means, you're violating the ancient traditions of software development!"

Maybe that's going to be what beta comes to mean next. Maybe the new beta is going to be a product perpetually in development with users responsible for quality control. Maybe it's going to become "open testing, no liability" software. Maybe instead of being a phase of software development, beta will become a style of software development.

I can't predict the future, so I can't say, but I do know there are some marginally decent original syndicated television programs these days. So yes, while I note the word isn't the same beta I grew up with, I'm willing to sit back and see what evolves out of this. I do want a word which clearly expresses to me what I can expect from a given level of a product, but if "beta" is no longer that word, well, no disaster.

has to do with liability (2, Interesting)

jann (253364) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657953)

if you do not charge for it and people still rely on it you may still be liable (in negligance) if it does not work.

If it is in "beta" there is one further barrier that someone must jump over to successfully sue you.


BTW IAAL and I know I can't spell

FIRST POST (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657957)

Yes. Oh yes. I have finally got the first post.

So Long As It's Not Being Sold... (2, Insightful)

segmond (34052) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657959)

what's the big deal?! I have used programs that were very functional that never reached version 1. But I was happy, so what it's version 0.8, it met all my needs! Better than the version 5.5 that doesn't!

the changing definitions of words (5, Interesting)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657965)

to a computer scientist, a hacker is someone who tinkers with access to a supposedly secure system, for not necessarily malicious intent... in fact, such testing of the defenses can even be construed as beneficial

to the general public, a hacker is tantamount to an online terrorist, period

to a computer scientist, p2p is an evolving paradigm, where everything from spare processor cycles to segments of larger files that can be reassembled on the fly can be traded to amplify the power of the internet

to the general public, p2p is where you get free music, period

to a computer scientist, beta connotes a program that isn't ready for final release yet

to the general public, beta connotes an offering from a large computer company/ gateway portal that is just unsupported

now some may see these changing word definitions as some sort of repugnant dumbing down of vital concepts, concepts important to areas of endeavour that some care passionately about, and they resent it

but i assert, from the standpoint of a realist, that since the internet is a phenomenon whose impact reaches beyond the realm of ivory tower computer scientists, such a dumbing down effect of certain terms previously secluded to the realm of computer science is just inevitable, unavoidable, and shouldn't be a reason for any reaction except a rolling of the eyes and maybe some laughter

all words evolve in terms of meaning and usage over time, and computer scientists, even if they invented the terminology, don't own word definitions

Beta is better.. (1)

vchoy (134429) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657972)

Software being 'beta' is at least better than:
* 'alpha' software that does not work or give BOSD/mem dumps
* which is better than 'vapourware'.

when is a beta not a beta? (1)

owlnation (858981) | more than 9 years ago | (#11657988)

Surely the reverse is also true, Windows XP seems beta-ish considering the number of patches required to make it work as intended. (and there's no way this is six sigma testing) Obviously the marketing dept steps in at some point and says "draw the line here guys and ship it out". As far as I can see that's the only difference between a beta and "fully working" these days.

Re:when is a beta not a beta? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11657996)

Doesn't that describe Linux too? It seems like most of the stuff in the ChangeLog for each kernel release is just various bugfixes.

They also get price-tags? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11658008)

billg made an industry standard of releasing betas as product, but others use funky names like cheetah, puma, jaguar, panther & tiger. same-same....

of course betas have a life of their own. (1)

frovingslosh (582462) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658040)

I think betas are very nice fish and we should recognize that they do have a life of their own. And we shouldn't make them spend it in those little glass jars with stinky water.

Huh? Lives of their own? (1)

DecayCell (778710) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658044)

No way. I don't do betas, mind you.
I'll stick to my trustworthy versions, you blasphemers!

It's A Security Thing (1)

Alien Venom (634222) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658060)

Perhaps the reason most software keeps the "beta" suffix is because of security. Microsoft has an extremely bad reputation for creating software dubbed "final versions" that have tons of serious security flaws and IMHO should not be "final" at all. At the same time, software companies want people to use their software, so dubbing them "alpha" is completely out of the question. "Beta" is probably a good average of the two and generally speaking, is pretty "stable." In Microsoft's case, I wouldn't touch "beta" software with a 10 foot pole. Give me Google betas any day.

version names (1)

Councilor Hart (673770) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658081)

Alpha, beta, gamma

0.1 - 0.5 - 1.0 - 1.1.1

Why aren't just the dates (and perhaps even hours) when the software was build, used as version name?

Not a new trend at all. Microsof largely to blame (2, Informative)

dgallina (665193) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658096)

The article largely faults Google, Mozilla, and other recent products, but IMHO, Microsoft are as much to blame as anyone.

A Microsoft "beta" is more of an early alpha or first-run-able release put out for marketing purposes. Certainly not a feature-complete release needing bug-fixes, as the beta tag normally suggests.

This is typically followed by a number of "release candidates," which Microsoft ships for months or even YEARS before the product is finalized and boxed. The industry traditionally considers a release-candidate a final product that could potentially be boxed and shipped if it successfully meets the testing and quality guidelines. Microsoft seem to call their betas "release candidates," where none but the last few builds might merit that title.

These releases are occasionally supplemented by "preview releases," "early experience" releases, and similar euphemistic builds.

What all this amounts to is that the public testing period is lengthened and the status of the product is artificially inflated in order to keep the product in the press. This has the neat (for Microsoft) side-effect of creating plenty of FUD around competing products.

Witness the endless steam of Longhorn early releases, stories, and leaks. Every one intended to keep corporate and other buyers from even *considering* adopting strategies involving Linux, MacOS X, or other alternate platforms.

Longhorn (or insert next great Microsoft product here) is *always* coming "just around the bend." Just wait a little longer. There's no need to switch to something else. Have a look at this cool new "Longhorn preview release." What? No, of course we haven't been promising a new database file system since at least the Cairo beta days......

BNW (1)

Fjornir (516960) | more than 9 years ago | (#11658102)

Still, I'm glad I'm not an alpha.
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