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Has Google Redefined Beta? 292

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the finished-when-it's-finished dept.
netbuzz writes "Someone finally took the time to do a count of all the Google apps marked 'beta.' And with fully 45% of its products carrying that familiar tag — including 4-year-old Gmail — Google says there's an explanation: Beta doesn't mean to them what it has long meant to the rest of the tech community. 'We believe beta has a different meaning when applied to applications on the Web,' says a company spokesman."
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Has Google Redefined Beta?

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  • by rallymatte (707679) * on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:15AM (#25150037)
    What are we going to call actual beta web software then? Alpha? But then what would we call Alpha software?
    I mean, just because you're still adding features to it, doesn't mean that it has to be called beta, does it?

    Also, what I quite don't understand is why they would want to call it beta, I mean, it's not like it's got a good cling to it. It just makes it sound like something unstable and unreliable. Google are tryint o get people to buy the premium version of Gmail. Why would someone want to pay for beta-testing something for someone?

    --
    Champagne should be cold, dry and free.
    • by dintlu (1171159) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:30AM (#25150287)

      Us: If you don't like the definition, use a different word.
      Google: If you don't like the definition, change the definition.

      It's just how language works. If you're important enough you can do whatever you want.

    • by garcia (6573) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:30AM (#25150289) Homepage

      Who, aside from people using GMail as some sort of enterprise mail application, gives a shit what they call it? I don't, it's something I'm using for "free" and it works.

      YMMV.

      • by tknd (979052) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @11:31AM (#25152147)

        Because if a company isn't willing to stand behind their product 100%, it just means on the first catastrophic failure they will blame it on being a "beta". This is just more BS to get away with less responsibility. I know this trick because I purposely left an app in "beta" so that when the managers found something they didn't like or something that didn't work I always had the "it's a beta" card. When people talk about Google's beta policy they really want Google to "man up" and take responsibility for the quality of all their apps when they release them to the general public.

        • by aztektum (170569) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @12:27PM (#25153023)

          Name one other company that says they'll cough up money or take the blame when their post-beta, ready for consumption software goes tits up and loses data or creates for downtime?

          Most EULA's I've read say the maker cannot be held at fault. Even the GPL has an "As-Is" clause. So how exactly does this make Google less "manly"?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Gertlex (722812)

        Because people who are using the term beta "traditionally" are being subject to the expectations that Google product users that their work will be of the same quality as Google's betas... when In reality, I think we can say that most of Google's beta stuff is a fine product already.

    • by samkass (174571) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:36AM (#25150379) Homepage Journal

      Google hasn't "changed the definition"... no one else is using it like Google uses it.

      They're just using the word wrong.

      • by SQLGuru (980662) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:39AM (#25150433) Journal

        Might I suggest that they use the term Gamma? It seems obvious to me. It is more advanced than Beta but not officially "Gold Master".

        Layne

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Threni (635302)

          They're just hedging their bets. People are used to using their beta software and, like Gmail, it's generally pretty solid so it doesn't have the same air of flakiness about it as other beta software might. But if anything goes wrong they can say "well, it's just beta...and besides, you didn't pay anything for that".

          • by initdeep (1073290) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @11:24AM (#25152033)

            Exactly.

            Google can absolve itself of any responsibility for using their "beta" applications (even though they are pushing corporate customers to do so) simply by using the ole "point and claim beta" trick.

            The best part is that more mature (older meaning) software companies put out a product that is feature complete (not really) and MOSTLY bug free (considering how complex the software is) and don't rely upon the "beta" tag to cover their ass.
            Instead, they continue to update, improve, correct, and generally act like real software companies and they get derided by the same people who simply accept it from Google because of the "beta" tag.

            These are the same type of morons who think it's simple to make an operating system without bugs and problems, yet seemingly accept them from their favorite flavor of =nix all the time.

            Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, et al have been making software a lot longer than Google, and have, in my opinion, been doing it a lot better too.
            They may have bugs in their products, and may require updates to correct these, however at least they aren't trying to hide behind a "but it's still beta" moniker simply becuase they know their drooling masses of fans will nerdgasm over everything they put out and just accept the flows as it's still being "worked on".

            • by Evanisincontrol (830057) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @12:08PM (#25152677)

              Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, et al have been making software a lot longer than Google, and have, in my opinion, been doing it a lot better too.

              Their products also cost money.

              Those "drooling masses of fans" that "nerdgasm" over Google's products are probably willing to accept flaws because the price is significantly lower than the Apple/MS/Adobe equivalent. Infinitely lower, actually.

              These are the same type of morons who..

              ...know their drooling masses of fans will...

              <personal opinion>You're an anti-google troll, and so be it. However, please don't go around calling a large group of people "drooling masses" and "morons" because you happen to be a fan of a competing product. It just makes you look like the complete asshole you are.</personal opinion>

      • Well for a company that can't spell Googol [wikipedia.org] correctly, I'm not surprised they would not be using the word Beta correctly. We're just lucky they haven't started spelling it Baitah, Beata, or Bayta.
         
        Jonah HEX

      • Obligatory (Score:2, Funny)

        by ChefInnocent (667809)
        Then perhaps, someone should tell them, "I do not think that word means what you think it does."
      • by houghi (78078)

        A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

        From http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/305250.html [phrases.org.uk]

        Meaning
        What matters is what something is, not what it is called.

    • by Vellmont (569020) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:51AM (#25150599)


      Also, what I quite don't understand is why they would want to call it beta, I mean, it's not like it's got a good cling to it.

      No it's not. I really don't know why they continue to use "beta" when a product is clearly mature.

      My honest guess? It's a compromise between the marketing people and the developers. Developers want to add new things continuously and not go through these product development stages where they do endless testing to see if people like a new feature. Marketing people get all nervous about new features "ruining their brand". The developers are still in charge at Google (being a young company), so the compromise is just to call everything "beta" (A pretty stupid compromise IMO).

      You're entirely right about the "pay for premium" though. Google needs to drop the stupid beta word, and pick something that's more representative of what the product is. I'd choose something more like a "lifestage" kind of label. Toddler, teenage, adult, mature, senior, elderly would be good starts.

      • by cdrudge (68377)

        The developers are still in charge at Google (being a young company)

        Google's was born Sept 4th, 2008, making them over 10 years old. They have over 10,000 employees worldwide. They have a market cap of $137 billion. They had revenues of $16.5 billion last year. None of these things indicate that they are a "young" company. While much of management might have once been some type of a developer, saying developers are still in charge is just silly.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by ZwJGR (1014973)

          On the contrary, the birth date you supplied quite definitively indicates that Google is a young company.
          It's only been around for 3 weeks after all... ;)

        • by QMO (836285)

          Trying to measure age (or maturity) by $$ probably isn't a very good idea.
          Use years (or months, days, seconds, etc.) to measure age.

          If you'd like to show that whether the developers are still in charge, neither age nor money is a good way to do it. Try something more direct, like a specific policy that all the developers (or the top developers) agree on and whether it's used or not in the face of non-developer opposition.

          The entire computer industry is relatively young.
          The internet section of the computer

      • by es330td (964170) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @10:04AM (#25150783)
        My guess is that they call everything "beta" so as to limit the amount of complaints they get when something breaks. "Oh, wait, you were using a beta application to conduct your important company communications? I'm sorry, didn't anyone tell you that beta software doesn't come with the same expectations for reliability and data integrity as released, production code? Silly rabbit!"

        With beta software they can break or alter anything at will and our only course of action is to say "Thank you; may I please have another?"
      • You're entirely right about the "pay for premium" though. Google needs to drop the stupid beta word, and pick something that's more representative of what the product is. I'd choose something more like a "lifestage" kind of label. Toddler, teenage, adult, mature, senior, elderly would be good starts.

        That is a good idea but I can't think of a word that would clearly express what they do to the general public that they can be clearly attach to each product that will never be "released". Take the lifestage model as an example google mail geriatric or google finance toddler. Those names are no where near as clear as the word beta, which I take to mean not finished yet but usable by people who probably aren't developers. It is the definition of usable that may be in play here not the definition of the entir

    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      Beta is just a cheap excuse for some companies to indemnify themselves against legal problems and customer complaints caused by glitches and lazy coding. It's a cop-out.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Sobrique (543255)
        Yeah, but as long as the software doesn't actually cost any thing, then... you get what you pay for.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      beta doesn't carry the stigma it used to. People are DRAWN to beta because it says "I'm a trend setter" or "I helped make this what it is." It comes from all the Open Beta testing people have gotten into, particularly with MMO's. Beta isn't a bad thing anymore. It's certainly better than a broken finished product and it's a lot easier to explain away problems

    • by swabeui (1291044) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @10:10AM (#25150873)

      From my experience, their 'beta' is often better than most releases from other companies. Why does a label like 'beta' have to define the quality of a product, why can't the brand provide that?

    • by ruin20 (1242396)
      why? Because it sounds bleeding edge, and that's hip and cool. They're a tech company based on being ahead of the curve. Here's their response for the record:

      "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. 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."

      In other words, not being beta means the program is stagnant, so they leave things as beta to tell people they're still being developed and worked on.

    • Google Beta means "here is software we want you to use, but we don't want to support. By calling it beta we wash our hands of a great deal of responsibility."
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Maybe they're just too lazy to change the logo?
  • by Chemisor (97276) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:16AM (#25150045)

    Alpha: it doesn't work.
    Beta: it still doesn't work.

  • Rather than the packaged, stagnant software of decades past

    I rather like that :-)

  • by nycguy (892403) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:17AM (#25150063)
    but their spokesperson sure knows what bullshit [wikipedia.org] means.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    That's a load of BS. Those fat asses are just lazy to carry the responsibility.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:18AM (#25150093)

    So, by that logic, every piece of software that can be updated is beta. Windows, Linux, OSX, etc.

    I guess it gives them an excuse if their shit don't work.

  • by geckipede (1261408) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:19AM (#25150109)
    Can we just tag this "yes" and move on?
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:20AM (#25150119)
    Beta means "it may change without warning". With traditional apps you have a choice to upgrade or not, but not with web applications. As long as there is active development then it is essentially a beta. Maybe they should have used a different term, but I think it is useful to have a warning that there may be frequent and substantial changes.
    • by apathy maybe (922212) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:27AM (#25150223) Homepage Journal

      Actually that isn't quite true.

      Even right now I have the choice of three (3) Yahoo email interfaces. The very old version that isn't supported any more and still uses frames (but doesn't require JavaScript). The "new" Yahoo interface that has been around for a number of years, and the new-"new" interface that looks more like a desktop app.

      When Yahoo introduced the "new" look and feel (the current look and feel), there was a long time between introducing it and forcing it on everyone.

      Yahoo has had the lastest look and feel available for ages, and I've stuck with the old "new" look, and will continue to. (I don't like the very heavy interface that pretending to be a desktop app brings. Especially on slow connections.)

      Even Google offers cutting edge features to people to test them out, before introducing them into the main stream product line.

      So basically Google are talking bullshit and mis-using an established computing term.

    • It also means "not our problem if it craps out on you".
    • no, beta means "still not ready for prime time and should not be used in production". The strange thing is most of Google's applications are production ready. I think they're just covering themselves in case something goes wrong. Particularly if they get sued they can claim that it's just beta software.

    • by Sigma 7 (266129)

      Beta means "it may change without warning". With traditional apps you have a choice to upgrade or not, but not with web applications.

      While some traditional applications may give a choice in upgrading, those apps are ultimately trying to force the upgrade. For example, developing for Windows 9x is more difficult than Windows XP, since MSVC will try to default to code optimized for the newer operating system.

      The only case where you have a "true" choice is if there's a rollback function, as with the Xp/Vista driver update system. Traditional apps tend to resist this, by insisting they won't update a newer version or by not allowing a roll

  • by mblase (200735) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:20AM (#25150123)

    I seem to recall that Stavro Muller intentionally added the Beta label to one of his own restaurants, with catastrophic results.

  • BS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrMickS (568778) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:21AM (#25150139) Homepage Journal

    What a load of BS. Its a matter of liability. By saying that the products are still in 'Beta' they have a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card if there are any problems. Its odd that the G1 phone is tied to using services that are still labelled as beta.

    • Re:BS (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gsslay (807818) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:48AM (#25150559)

      It also means they can change the product in any way they wish, including withdrawing it completely, without explanation.

      No other company could get away with this, but because the products are, in effect, free I guess they can do what they want. But I bet the lawsuits would fly if they ever dared pull something like GMail.

      But remember folks, you get what you pay for.

      • you get what you pay for.

        There are premium versions of Gmail, which can be paid for. I suppose the contract still says they can do whatever they want, but it's worth considering.

    • I don't see how it is a matter of liability; every single 'final' software I've come across has something along the lines of (took this one from NSIS):
      "This software is provided 'as-is', without any express or implied warranty. In no event will the authors be held liable for any damages arising from the use of this software."

      I'm sure that when you sign up for a gmail account you get much the same line somewhere in the usage agreement.

      Calling the product 'beta' doesn't change any legal liabilities - if they

    • This is wrong; there's no liability no matter what happens. Read the Google EULA, or for that matter, any Windows EULA. You take the program as is, with no warranty of non-interruption, no warranty on fitness for purpose, and all warranties are disclaimed to the extent allowable by law. If Google deleted all of your e-mail, you would have no recourse against them under the EULA. The same is true if Word suddenly deleted all of your documents.

  • by russotto (537200) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:21AM (#25150143) Journal

    Microsoft redefined "release" to be what we previously called "beta", a long time ago. That's why "Google's 'beta' products like Gmail and Google Docs are about as good as anyone would expect" -- we've been brought to expect software and services which are barely tested. Google is returning to the old meaning and perhaps going a bit further.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by cashman73 (855518)
      Yep,... that explains Windows Vista alright? Although, using Google's standards, Vista would probably not have even gotten out of the Alpha stage!
  • by bassakward (823721)
    I think it just means that we will not give you an official SLA, nor any guarantees. basically our only assurance that these things work is Google's name and their reluctance to get embarrassed. And I'm OK with that.
  • They've redefined the word "beta." Have they also redefined the word "evil?" [today.com] "Every bit of data about you, your life and the house you live in is strictly a secret between you and our marketing department. Really. But, hypothetically, if we were evil, it's not like you're going to use Windows Live Search. Muwaahahahaha! I'm sorry, that's my 'spreading good cheer' laugh. Really."

  • by Bieeanda (961632) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:23AM (#25150167)
    Companies have been hiding behind the title 'beta' for years, and numerous end-users have no idea what the Hell the term means anyway. It's just an excuse to shovel half-completed applications out and fiddle with them at leisure. Missing functionality? Oh, it's just beta code. Broken functionality? Oh, just wait for the patch. Completely redesigned UI, data loss, unannounced restrictions? Silly, it's a beta! You shouldn't be using it for mission-critical purposes, even though we're always suggesting that you do.

    Christ, game companies have been using 'beta' as a dodge for shitty demos since Shiny squeezed Messiah out. The fact that the same 'it's just a beta, it'll get better!' promises and pleas have trickled upward and outward is clear indication that gravity itself is in beta, because shit certainly doesn't just flow downhill any more.

  • Actually no.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by sw155kn1f3 (600118) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:24AM (#25150171)

    Several companies used "beta" to indicate that product is just not supported. For instance ICQ was beta for like 4-5 years? Don't remember exactly.
    So nothing new here actually.

  • Let's be honest (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dystopian Rebel (714995) * on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:31AM (#25150313) Journal

    Modern software engineering *everywhere* has redefined "beta"... which is why "software engineering" exists only at NASA and a few other such places.

    The rest of software "engineers" throw half-ready rubbish over the wall to meet idiotic management's "vision" and "development schedule" and pray that someone else's job will go to India when the self-serving suits at the top decide to go for big bonuses by slashing the payroll.

    On the other hand, evolution itself is constant beta, with losers and winners, periodically re-set by catastrophic terrestrial events that wipe out all lawyers.

  • by r33per (585447) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:33AM (#25150351) Homepage
    All I can say is that we're out of beta: we're releasing on time.
  • To me, beta means that you can use the software, but don't expect it to be "stable", either for crashes or changing. If a project is in "beta" for 4 years, something is wrong, either with the project or, in the case of gmail, with their definition of "beta".

  • Seriously. With beta software, they don't have to devote near the level of technical support staff that they would a "full" shipping product. Also, they're more protected in case data is lost/damaged/leaked (who runs their business off "beta" software?)

    Also, they tap into the tinker mentality most people have with betas. So they get a lot more usage and feedback from people than they would with a "shipping" product where people would simply bitch about bugs.

    So.

    Saves money.
    Covers their asses legally in ca

    • You talk about this as if it's a good thing.

      I can see point number 3 being a good thing but how does a company not properly supporting a product and not taking responsibility for a mess it caused help me as a customer?

  • by digitaldc (879047) * on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:36AM (#25150387)
    While we wait, if any of you should have a theory of your own, please share with the group.

    My theory is that by always having 'beta' next to something, this ensures that anyone who uses their tools will always think they are using the latest and greatest.

    Or, maybe they want to remind people of a fish, [associatedcontent.com] that swims alone from the crowd with a brilliant display of features.
  • by kellyb9 (954229)
    Sounds like a bit of ego to me. This "we're Google and we can do things our way" mentality is fine within the company, but outwardly calling something beta has certain connotation to us average computer users. Sure, we joke about it, but it's just plain stupid to be honest. GMail isn't in beta, it's used daily by over a million people.
    • "Average computer users" don't read Slashdot and have no idea what "beta" means. They probably think Google's founders were in the same fraternity at Stanford.
  • by cpu_fusion (705735) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:39AM (#25150445)

    I'm no attorney, but perhaps Google figures that if they treat these products as "experimental" in some way they will have a chance at mitigating the one year timer on obtaining a patent after public use?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experimental_use [wikipedia.org]

  • Much as I like, and rely upon, GMail, you can't say that it's yet really production/release (i.e. out of Beta) quality, and in fact in the last few weeks it's taken a turn for the worse.

    The functionality seems bug free, but the deployment/availablility still seems to have issues. I'm used to the occasional GMail service outages which don't last very long, but a new thing from the last few weeks is that almost every operation you do on GMail results in a (paraphrasing) "temporary failure/unavailable - try ag

    • Much as I like, and rely upon, GMail, you can't say that it's yet really production/release (i.e. out of Beta) quality, and in fact in the last few weeks it's taken a turn for the worse.

      The functionality seems bug free, but the deployment/availablility still seems to have issues. I'm used to the occasional GMail service outages which don't last very long, but a new thing from the last few weeks is that almost every operation you do on GMail results in a (paraphrasing) "temporary failure/unavailable - try again in a few seconds" error with the operation then succeeding on the second attempt. I get the impression they've enabled some super-aggressive session/cache timeout maybe to help scalability.

      Maybe they should just replace the "Beta" label with "Unreliable."

  • An application (being it web or traditional) can be in BETA status because of a temporary, not yet finished or even absent EULA [wikipedia.org].
  • by SwashbucklingCowboy (727629) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @09:49AM (#25150579)

    When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.

    --- Humpty Dumpty

  • ...aside from toying on occasion with new features, but don't want you to think they have to fix anything that is 'wrong' with it, because it's "beta" software and supposed to have those 'flaws.' Standard Google distortion of reality field, release several new 'products' a year, don't actually finish any of them because they're only used to draw attention to Google's search.

    I'm sure it must be quite enjoyable to work there as a software engineer, but I wonder if they realize on a conscious level that the c

  • They're just having flashbacks to the 80's and the video cassette format wars.

    Beta = better.

  • google could redefine a cucumber as a small nocturnal mammal, and the whole world would fall in line. google search is all of our collective recall. it's the 800 pound gorilla of the web. it can make any word mean anything they want it to

    call it a "google mind trick"

    World: Let us see Gmail move out of beta.
    Google: [with a small tweak of the spider] You don't need to see Gmail move out of beta.
    World: We don't need to Gmail move out of beta.
    Google: Beta does not have the meaning you think it has.
    World: Beta does not have the meaning I think it has.
    Google: You believe beta has a different meaning when applied to applications on the Web.
    World: I believe beta has a different meaning when applied to applications on the Web.
    Gmail: Move along.
    World: Move along... move along.

  • Yes... (Score:3, Funny)

    by stoofa (524247) on Thursday September 25, 2008 @10:05AM (#25150785)
    And they have redefined 'no evil' too.
  • "Beta" is software that you don't take any responsibility for. Thus you can't charge anything for it either. Emails disappearing from a beta email system is bad marketing, but it is use-at-your-own-risk software.

    Since google doesn't charge users anything for using their applications, they have no reason to remove the word beta from them. Thus they can make zillions on ads, and not really promise anything regarding uptime, data integrity and such.

  • Any program significantly longer than 4 simple lines of code is in Beta and always will be.
  • Google should just use the tried-and-true "Under Construction" animated gif instead. Blinking text is a plus.
  • The founders looked like slobs at the Android roll-out yesterday. Steve Jobs also dresses informally, yet manages to look classy. Cant play grad-students forever, boys.
  • Google spokesman

    We believe beta has a different meaning when applied to applications on the Web, where people expect continual improvements in a product.

    I have to say, I tend to agree. An application that is actually used online, rather then downloaded and used on the desktop, is much easier to apply micro-updates to. Users don't have to downlaod new files, they just use the site as normal and it might look slightly different.

    In fact, google not only micro-update their site on a per-feature basis, the

  • "We believe beta has a different meaning when applied to applications on the Web," says a company spokesman."

    Others believe beta has no meaning at all when applied to applications on Google.

  • In a desktop application, you get it as is, you could unplug it from internet and keep it that way, wont change by itself, newer versions are entirely new releases that you could choose to upgrade or not. Calling it beta or not mean that the developer say that you can trust it or not, as far as he knows. In that acception, Chrome IS beta, and when they think it is stable enough will be version 1.0 (this year or early next, not in 3-4 years).

    In the other hand, while we see the web side of gmail as something
  • Sounds reasonable. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sgt scrub (869860) <saintium@yahoo.cMENCKENom minus author> on Thursday September 25, 2008 @05:31PM (#25157843)

    Google/FOSS people say "stuff that works good enough to release to the public but isn't finished" is beta.

    Microsoft/Proprietary developers say "stuff that works good enough to release to the public but isn't finished" is for sale.

    Whats in a name?

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