Don't be fooled by Google's phony 'beta' label

What do 'beta' and 'experimental' mean when they're making money just the same?

A typical release cycle for software development includes something called the beta-testing phase. The idea is to improve the product by enabling users, rather than developers or professional testers, to provide feedback.

The relationship between the software company and the beta testers is usually based on barter. No money is exchanged. The software company gets test services from the user, and the user gets familiarity with an upcoming product, familiarity that may provide some personal or professional benefit.

One major current example: Microsoft's upcoming Windows 7 operation system is currently in "beta." The company opened up the beta to the public on January 9, then stopped offering or allowing downloads of the beta on February 10. The testing and feedback continues, and no money is changing hands between Microsoft and beta testers.

Microsoft no doubt hopes to get Windows 7 on the market by Christmas. Once it goes on sale, the operating system will be a "shipping" product. Microsoft will start charging money for it.

Those of us who comment for a living on the quality of software take very seriously the distinction between "beta" software and "shipping" software. Broadly speaking, features and functionality that appear to be headed for the shipping product are fair game for criticism. Things like performance and stability, which will no doubt be tweaked, well, we tend to give companies the benefit of the doubt. It is, after all, just an unfinished "beta." The software company isn't making money from the "beta," so it doesn't make sense to criticize aspects of it that may be corrected in the shipping version, which the software company will sell for perfectly good money.

What about Google?

What are we to make of Google's "beta" products and "experimental" features?

Just like Microsoft and many other software companies, Google designates a huge number of its many online services as beta, and many features as merely "experimental."

For example, did you know that Gmail is still in "beta," and has been in the "beta" stage of development for five years?

Some of Gmail's best features aren't "real" features, but designated by the company as "experimental." Gmail Labs launched in June, and since then the company has posted more than 35 "experimental" apps or features. The company explained its labs concept in a Gmail blog post :

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Google

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

Computerworld
Show Comments

Essentials

Brother MFC-L3745CDW Colour Laser Multifunction

Learn more >

Mobile

Exec

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?