Google may strip 'beta' tag from some apps

The label makes some businesses reluctant to pay for the services, a Gartner analyst said

Google may be ready to remove the "beta" tag from some of its online applications in a move to widen their appeal among paying business customers, company officials suggested Wednesday.

Google is known for keeping the "beta" designation on products even long after they launch. The most prominent example is Gmail, which has been available for five years and is used by millions of people, yet still says "beta" next to the Gmail logo.

At a round table for press and analysts at Google's I/O conference Wednesday, Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said the practice is off-putting for some business users, who think of a beta as something that's still being tested.

Google Apps Premier Edition, the paid version of Google's online applications suite that comes with customer support and a service-level agreement, is not labelled as a beta, noted Matt Glotzbach, product management director for Google's enterprise products.

But he acknowleged that many of the applications within it, such as Google Docs and Google Calendar, still are. "It's a minor annoyance and something you'll see addressed in the not-too-distant future," he said.

Pressed further, Google Docs Product Manager Jonathan Rochelle said: "We're going to deal with that very soon; we're going to figure out a way to fix that."

He didn't say how it would be fixed, but removing the beta tag seems a likely option.

In its early days, Google launched new services such as Gmail and Google Maps at a rapid-fire pace. The beta tag provided a way to set expectations for service levels and remind users the applications were still being developed. It may even have added to their cachet, suggesting they were new and experimental.

"The term 'beta' as we know it in the software industry and the way it's being used by Google is not really the same type of use," Rochelle said.

"We're selling these products, and we don't treat them internally like they're a beta," he added. "It's almost traditional" for Google to keep the beta tag on its products, he said.

But while Google has managed to upset many things in the software industry, it may not have changed the way businesses think of a beta.

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