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

Computerworld
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?