Google’s definition of “beta” differs, GMail in beta for four years

September 29, 2008

Google’s definition of “beta” differs, GMail in beta for four years Many have probably wondered over the years why a majority of Google’s products still sport the “beta” logo, even after years of being available.  Most notably- GMail has been in beta since its inception over four years ago.  Why you ask?  Google seems to define beta differently, given its focus of web-based services and applications as opposed to proprietary solutions that carry the same annotation. 

Paul McNamara over at PC World finally took the bull by the horns and nailed down Google itself to answer the questions many of us have had.  This comes on the heels of Web monitoring company Pingdom stating that almost half of Google’s products carry the ubiquitous "beta" tag, which translates to 22 out of Google’s 49 products that are still currently in beta- including such established products as Gmail, Google Docs and Google Finance.

When Google was asked about their lengthy “beta process,” their response translated to them stating that they have a completely different view of the beta process when applied to products and services centered around the web.  "We believe beta has a different meaning when applied to applications on the Web, where people expect continual improvements in a product. On the Web, you don’t have to wait for the next version to be on the shelf or an update to become available. Improvements are rolled out as they’re developed," stated a Google rep in response to McNamara questioning.  "Rather than the packaged, stagnant software of decades past, we’re moving to a world of regular updates and constant feature refinement where applications live in the cloud."

While that’s understandable, I think the whole idea of the beta process is to bring new technology to the market knowing that it’s a continual work-in-progress.  Being that most of Google’s products have always, and will always be continually evolving, you would think different terminology could be used.  Open source software as a whole is an ever-evolving technology that usually only carries the “beta” branding until a relatively stable version can be released.  I think many of Google’s products, such as GMail, are more than stable and well-established enough to drop the beta.  If for nothing else, it still conjures up the notion that something could always go wrong being that “it’s still in beta".”

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