We live in a beta world

Unless you are naive or kidding yourself, you know that developers aren't perfect

George Lucas has been quoted as saying that "A movie is never finished, only abandoned." This is actually a profound insight and makes a lot of sense, because creative people always want to refine their vision to be as close as possible to the perfection they envision. The trouble is if their work is to ever be seen, they have to turn it loose when it is as far past "good enough" as they can afford to go.

Forgive a small digression, but now that I've written that, I think it raises the question of what perfection might have to do with Lucas's films. "Star Wars" junkies need not write in to complain -- for them, I have three words that prove my contention: Jar Jar Binks.

Anyway, the same principle of abandoning rather than finishing applies to the development of software and online services. Developers are given a vision of the goal, and at some point they judge that they are close enough for the product to be used in earnest.

The challenge for real developers is they always know their code can be improved to be faster, have a better user interface, operate more reliably, have fewer bugs, whatever, so they have to, in effect, abandon the product.

Let me ask you: When you buy a piece of software and a patch comes out, are you surprised? Unless you are naive or kidding yourself, you know the developers aren't perfect.

Given the constraints they worked under -- the planned release schedule, budget, availability of Twinkies and Jolt, and, crucially, how long you were willing to wait and how much you were willing to pay -- they did the best they could. A patch is simply to fix whatever got overlooked or wasn't discovered after the version you purchased.

And then there are upgrades. Be honest: Are you ever surprised when a vendor tells you that a new version with added and or improved features is available? Of course, not! Unless you are a complete newbie, you know (and hope!) that improvements will be made and bugs found and fixed and that, unless the product bites the big one, the new and improved features will become available.

So, what is all the complaining and cynicism over all of the Web services that are labeled "beta"? It seems that every week someone is taking Google or some other company to task for appending "beta" to their offerings.

I just read a column on CNet titled "Beta - the four-letter word of Web 2.0" by Caroline McCarthy. She contends -- and she's not alone -- that "beta" means "If something screws up, it's not really our fault." She quotes Dina Kaplan, co-founder and COO of Blip.tv as saying, "It's a wonderful cop-out. . . . If a tiny feature doesn't work . . . you can just say, 'Oh, we're in beta.'"

What is curious (beside the facts that Blip.tv is in beta and that Kaplan admits that her company should move their service into a 1.0 release) is that labeling something beta is just like giving a product or service a release number or letter: It doesn't actually mean anything.

What matters is that the product or service works to a level that meets the terms you accept when you license it. This isn't an unusual constraint: Most products include a limited liability and warranty from the vendor. For example, if you buy a Rolls-Royce, take it off-road and come to grief, I think you'll find that the terms and conditions of your purchase mean that when your ride has been pulled out of the ditch, you'll be on your own. Caveat emptor.

What we have to recognize is that we live and have always lived in a beta world. Everything about our culture, from movies to cars to software and services, is a work in progress. This is why in the IT world we are paid for our ability to evaluate these works in progress and determine how to build effective systems out of them, keep them running and figure out how to fix them when they break.

To rephrase George Lucas for a broader view: "Products are never finished, only abandoned." At least in IT we have had nothing like Jar Jar Binks. Well, except Microsoft Bob.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

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

Mark Gibbs

Network World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?