Jul 7, 2009

What's in a word?

Google has lifted the "beta" label from Gmail and other Google Apps, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Talk. Google makes it clear in its Official Google Blog announcement that they are making the move because enterprises are having a hard time getting around the "traditional definition" of the "beta" software label.

We're often asked why so many Google applications seem to be perpetually in beta. For example, Gmail has worn the beta tag more than five years. We realize this situation puzzles some people, particularly those who subscribe to the traditional definition of "beta" software as not being yet ready for prime time.

I'm not sure Google ever did a good enough job of telling us what the non-traditional definition of beta is. Apparently it wasn't all that hard to remove but I'm wondering why with so much press-bashing on the label it took Google so long to draw the line and say things are done. Google isn't being as transparent on how it determined that the code is final, for now.

Of course this brings up the argument that I think Google has been trying to convince us of all along. That traditional software development cycles are impossible to keep with such rapid evolution of code and to draw a line in the sand would be ironic if they kept releasing new features on an ongoing basis. If that's the case then "beta" should never have ended up in the logo to begin with. One of the benefits of a leased SaaS software delivery model is that the customer has the power to stay or go with little penalty. The onus is on the provider to continue to innovate to add more value for the customer at the same price. Google has embraced this concept by continually reminding its customers it can, and should, apply patches, changes, and upgrades whenever it feels the need. It's "beta" cause the work is never done. Still convincing a market that is accustomed to "beta" meaning "test code" was harder than expected.

Oh, BTW, if you're not comfortable without the "beta" (depending on how you define "beta") you can put it back on the logo via the Gmail Labs settings:

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