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Communications Businesses Google The Internet

Gmail Marks Five Years In Beta 194

Posted by timothy
from the total-up-5-years-of-unread-messages dept.
TrekkieTechie writes "Though in fact the big day was April 1st, Google celebrated the five-year anniversary of the popular online email service Gmail with a post on the service's blog, saying 'we want to give a big thank you to all of you who use Gmail every day, to those who've been around since the beginning, to those who were using an AJAX app before the term AJAX was popular, to those who started chatting right in your email ... we couldn't have gotten here without you.' The milestone has also prompted speculation about when, if ever, Gmail will lose its beta status, and Ars Technica recently sat down with Todd Jackson, Gmail's Project Manager, to discuss the reasoning behind that nagging beta label."
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Gmail Marks Five Years In Beta

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  • Beta? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bored Grammar Nazi (1482359) on Friday April 03, 2009 @04:29AM (#27442401)

    The milestone has also prompted speculation about when, if ever, Gmail will lose its beta status, and Ars Technica recently sat down with Todd Jackson, Gmail's Project Manager, to discuss the reasoning behind that nagging beta label.

    Whatever the reason, it certainly is making people talk about it.

    • Re:Beta? (Score:5, Funny)

      Look, I keep trying to explain this, but nobody wants to listen to reason. Google's engineering population contains a high percentile of gamers, and they're not taking Gmail out of beta until Duke Nukem Forever is released. Geez, it's the second Slashdot story today I've had to comment in to point out these obvious parallels to the sinister ties between extreme gaming and our everyday lives.
      • by elrous0 (869638) *

        Am I the only one who suspects that, when everything is said and done, it will be revealed that 3D Realms was just a giant Ponzi scheme, bilking investors with promises of a payoff from the big new Duke Nuke'em game that never comes? I'm picturing a "Springtime for Hitler [wikipedia.org]" type idea at work.

        I mean, does anyone here actually know anyone personally who is actually WORKING on this game?

    • Re:Beta? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AvitarX (172628) <me@@@brandywinehundred...org> on Friday April 03, 2009 @07:15AM (#27443219) Journal

      Witht he changes they have been making I actually feel the quality is degrading.

      It has a lot of nice new features, but it feels like it is hanging a lot more often too.

      It actually now feels more, not less like a beta to me.

      • Re:Beta? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by YouWantFriesWithThat (1123591) on Friday April 03, 2009 @07:21AM (#27443261)
        i used to have a lot of problems with gmail hanging, especially when dealing with attachments (either inbound or outbound). also had a stretch of time where it would never actually get to the inbox after i entered the login credentials, and i would sit at a white screen hours no matter what i did. but since i started logging in at the https version i have had no issues. YMMV of course, but give it a shot.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by darjen (879890)

          you actually sat there for hours watching a white screen? I hope you had munchies.

          • i suppose it would have been more correct to say that my browser sat at a white screen for hours. i was multitasking in other tabs (read multitasking as on slashdot)
      • by jDeepbeep (913892)

        but it feels like it is hanging a lot more often too.

        Is this noticeable cross-browser?

      • by RMingin (985478)

        Are you using Firefox? I've had Firefox crashes like clockwork for the last few weeks, never before. 3.0.6 was fine, 3.0.7 and 3.0.8 are crashing. This is on roughly a dozen machines, some with no addons at all.

    • Re:Beta? (Score:5, Funny)

      by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday April 03, 2009 @08:03AM (#27443515)
      Maybe Gmail 1.0 is sort of like Warp 10--something that can never actually be reached. By the time it ends, it will be up to Beta release version 0.99999997
  • Still in beta? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kuroji (990107) <kuroji@gmail.com> on Friday April 03, 2009 @04:30AM (#27442405)

    Well, despite that a lot of Google's products seem to still have the beta tag, it also means that they aren't necessarily going to be held to the same standard. For example, when Gmail decides to up and die for a few hours while they upgrade.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Right. Contrast this to something like Google Search, which, on the very few (like, three?) occasions it's ever been down, everyone assumed that it was their own Internet that was at fault.

      That's what I would assume the criteria would be -- Gmail will come out of beta when it's as stable as Google's other services that are out of beta.

      Of course, TFA seems to be operating under a different definition of "beta". IMAP is certainly a feature I would demand from a service like Gmail, but it really isn't a measur

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by berwiki (989827)

      it also means that they aren't necessarily going to be held to the same standard.

      You might not hold them to the same standard as other people do, but quite frankly, it is embarrassing someone as large and powerful as Google can't publish an EMAIL application release version.

      is Google trying to prove something by saying 'nothing should ever come out of beta' or some other stupid philosophical meaning?

      What point are they trying to make? Why won't you admit this is silly? Quit Drinking the Kool-Aid.

  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jurily (900488) <jurily&gmail,com> on Friday April 03, 2009 @04:31AM (#27442407)

    Does it matter if it's beta when it's still the best and most reliable free email service around?

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 03, 2009 @04:37AM (#27442433)

      Humanity is still in Beta and most people don't seem to mind that.

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Thanshin (1188877) on Friday April 03, 2009 @04:55AM (#27442521)

      Does it matter if it's beta when it's still the best and most reliable free email service around?

      Quite the opposite.

      When a friend told me he was closing a beta phase my first question was "Is it more stable than gmail?"

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jurily (900488)

        When a friend told me he was closing a beta phase my first question was "Is it more stable than gmail?"

        If only more projects worked that way...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 2short (466733)
        And that's exactly the problem. I tell people a build is "beta" and they think "Oh, like gmail... as stable as anything, half the world uses it all the time for important stuff, no problem" when I'm trying to say "Keep this the hell away from your production process, it hasn't been thoroughly tested so I assume there are horrible bugs in there somewhere"

        Gmail is not beta. Google is misusing the term and screwing up the language for the rest of us. Excellent mail service though.
    • Clearly this is their version of "Windows ain't done till Lotus won't run." They'll come out of beta when Outlook is gone, and people run it for their corporate email.

      Just wait till the corruption scandals start about people using Google's infrastructure to perform massive spying (beyond what's already known). It's human nature.

      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Friday April 03, 2009 @06:09AM (#27442859) Journal

        Frankly, I'd much rather have Outlook be gone, for several reasons:

          - Gmail is pretty solidly technically superior, in most of the ways we care about. Example: It doesn't fall over if you put several hundred thousand emails in the same "folder".

          - Gmail moves the data off of the end-user's computer. Far, far too many Outlook setups (especially in small businesses) store everything locally, with no backup -- one hard drive crash away from all that archived email gone.

          - Gmail is platform-agnostic. It's actually annoyingly browser-aware, but all browsers are supported somewhat, and among the fully-supported browsers are Firefox and Safari, and Gecko and Webkit both exist for every platform I care about. That's one baby-step closer to Linux on the corporate desktop.

          - Google actually seems to support open standards -- for example, Gmail includes GTalk, which operates over Jabber. Email is available via IMAP, and calendars via caldav. Contrast to Outlook/Exchange -- the Halloween documents show that Microsoft deliberately chose proprietary protocols, as well as proprietary extensions/perversions of existing protocols.

        Now, I'd still prefer we all start improving the existing open implementations, and get to where this is entirely open standard, commodity stuff, just like IMAP and SMTP is today. But Gmail would be a marked improvement over Outlook, in many ways.

        • Re:Why? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Jurily (900488) <jurily&gmail,com> on Friday April 03, 2009 @06:30AM (#27442955)

          - Gmail moves the data off of the end-user's computer. Far, far too many Outlook setups (especially in small businesses) store everything locally, with no backup -- one hard drive crash away from all that archived email gone.

          Sysadmins not doing backup is one thing, but how is surrendering all your data because it's convenient better?

          • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Friday April 03, 2009 @07:09AM (#27443183) Journal

            Sysadmins doing backups is only part of the problem, and convenience is pretty valuable.

            I had a longer post written, but then I realized you've got a gmail.com address obfuscated up there. Clearly you think the benefits are worth any real or imagined loss of privacy.

            • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Jurily (900488) <jurily&gmail,com> on Friday April 03, 2009 @08:31AM (#27443845)

              I had a longer post written, but then I realized you've got a gmail.com address obfuscated up there. Clearly you think the benefits are worth any real or imagined loss of privacy.

              My internet persona is not a company.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                Granted. Just figuring you understand some of the implications, both ways.

                Let's say I want to duplicate Gmail. I'd start with some sort of IMAP server. I'd put it on something like RAID (or better, ZFS), then replicate that setup on at least one other machine -- probably via DRBD. I'd put both of them on a UPS, and I'd still take regular backups, in case people delete something they don't mean to.

                Then, I'd add webmail by picking one of several open source projects (the first that comes to mind is Squirrelma

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Dog-Cow (21281)

              There's a huge difference between using gmail as a private address and a company using it for all corporate communications.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by AeroIllini (726211)

            Sysadmins not doing backup is one thing, but how is surrendering all your data because it's convenient better?

            You're not "surrendering your data" any more than you would be if you hired Acme Outside Contractors, Inc. to run your infrastructure.

            Businesses using GMail would actually be using Google Apps [google.com], which operates contractually the same as any other IT contractor, with all the legal requirements for non-disclosure that entails and an enterprise-level SLA.

            This is not a free service, because of the aforementioned legal/SLA requirements. But it is certainly cheaper than running your own Exchange server and gives yo

        • Outlook has numerous settings to control where data is stored, regardless of the backend being exchange IMAP or POP.(note: IMAP and POP - open standards - are actually supported by outlook and have been since gmail was a sperm in a google dev's eye!)

          GMail doesn't work so well when your company of 400k+ people cannot access it through the company firewall and frankly yes, that is Google's fault. It's Google's fault that fanboi's don't realize that there are overwhelming reasons why a provider that has free

          • Re:Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Friday April 03, 2009 @12:28PM (#27447901) Journal

            GMail doesn't work so well when your company of 400k+ people cannot access it through the company firewall and frankly yes, that is Google's fault.

            It's Google's fault the company firewall is misconfigured?

            a provider that has free services should not share a network with proprietary data.

            ...why not?

            It's google's fault that every hack that can make a gmail account now doesn't know anything better than to think their new account is the k-rad 31337.

            Yeah, because I totally used l33tsp34k all over my post, and Google told me to. Oh wait...

            Browsers should NOT be virtual machines.

            Why not?

            Fuck you, I'm not getting off your lawn.

            If you want to write an application, write an application. If you want to navigate data and present it, you use *HTML.

            And the two are not mutually exclusive. Much as you might not like to admit, applications have been built on such unlikely platforms as VBA. Frankly, given the choice between that and the Web, I'll choose Web every time -- Javascript is a much better language than VB anyhow.

            You don't make a single substantial point.

            Nor do you. You state a few opinions, without really giving any reasons why.

            Browsers should not be virtual machines, and proprietary data should not be on the same network as a free service, because teknopurge says so!

            Let's start with that very simplest of claims: Browsers should not be virtual machines. Why not? Why shouldn't the browser be a generic application platform?

        • by AdamHaun (43173)

          I would love to see Outlook gone too, for those reasons and more (slow and barely functional search!). But Outlook has really great support for copying/pasting parts of other Office documents (things like images and tables), which GMail isn't as good at. I find myself using that feature a lot.

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gusmao (712388) on Friday April 03, 2009 @05:40AM (#27442727)

      You could say that not now.

      Generally, the beta version is a prototype of the product that comes even before the release candidates. People don't usually pay for beta releases, and it's very uncommon for a product to remain so long in beta, especially when it is already stable, widely deployed and used daily by millions of users.

      This curious fact generate especulations about the reasons for that, since so far, no good one was given. What if they decided for instance, that when Gmail is out of beta, the service will be no longer be free and a subscription model will be put in place? Or that the current storage will be available only for premium users? Or that the service will be simply discontinued? The beta versioning could easily provide an excuse for any of those or other changes that could directly impact you, especially after you come to rely strongly on the service.

      • All of those things could easily be done without the beta label. The only way they'd really have much obligation to you is if you were paying them already.

        As it is, the IMAP access means that worst case, you could be backing up your data right now and preparing for that worst case.

      • by 2short (466733)
        Assuming they did any of the evil schemes you mention, and said "Hey, it was beta" - would that make you any less upset? If they came out of beta, and did any of those evil schemes a year later, would you have any more legal recourse? The beta tag is irrelevant to any evil schemes.
      • Google Apps Premier Edition does not have a beta label and even provides a 99.9 uptime SLA [google.com]. It also provides legal language covering confidential data and intellectual property [google.com], for those who are concerned about Google managing their business data.

        I think the "beta" remains on the consumer free edition because they are still not sure if it will turn a profit, and they do not want to provide an SLA. I'm not even sure what an SLA would look like on a free product.

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dirk (87083) <dirk@one.net> on Friday April 03, 2009 @06:08AM (#27442851) Homepage

      It matters because it weakens the meaning of being in beta and confuses users. It used to be that beta was for testing. If you downloaded and installed a beta product, it was understood that there would be bugs and problems and they should be reported. With Google using beta as a constant tag (I remember ICQ used to do this back in the day to), users don't have a clear understanding of what a beta is anymore. They think beta is just a new product and don't expect bugs and don't report them. Open beta is a much harder thing to get useful information from if people judge your beta product just like they would a finished product, which is what is beginning to happen with places like Google tagging regular released like beta releases.

    • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Kjella (173770) on Friday April 03, 2009 @06:19AM (#27442917) Homepage

      Being beta usually means something is missing. If you see beta software in "de facto production" like GMail is, it usually means that it was a proof of concept/prototype/pilot that people ended up using and relying on without the proper moves to production envinronments, handover from development to support, SLAs, backups, support channels and whatnot. Having a beta acting like a release is not a healthy sign, it's a sign of sickness. Whenever you have something that you want people to actually work with, not just fiddle with and test out it should be a release with all that encompasses. Introducing beta as the lowest support tier is just bullshit, it's per definition not an end-user release.

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        Being beta usually means something is missing.

        Yes, a pricetag.

        • I'm running a small company and I've got a paid account for Google Apps. But then again, I think that one doesn't have the beta tag anymore.

    • by 2short (466733)
      GMail is not beta. Does it matter to me that they wrongly call it beta when I decide what email service to use? No.

      Does it matter to me when I have an incomplete, under-tested build of some software, not suitable for production use, and I want to communicate that to users? Yes, then it's a real pain in the ass that Google has promulgated an incorrect meaning for a previously useful term to the public.
  • by VinylRecords (1292374) on Friday April 03, 2009 @04:40AM (#27442443)

    This also marks the five year anniversary of me not using HotMail or Outlook Express.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by threexk (1296707)
      Or five years of Gmail user smugness.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by peragrin (659227)

        So that explains Mac users. People who enjoy being able to use their software are smug.

        Does that make all windows users maschosists?

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          Sadomasochists. They both use Windows and keep the rest of us trying to read the files they produce.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        The only thing you can't be smug about is bandwidth use. Gmail overuses XML for everything and thus inflates bandwidth usage dramatically. I couldn't even change my fucking settings on a modem because I couldn't bring up the page before the timeout. No kidding.

      • Or five years of Gmail user smugness.

        Followed by envy.

    • by jw3 (99683)

      Beat this: gmail made me abandon pine...

      j.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by MaerD (954222)
      In all seriousness, since Gmail I have not used any other mail client for email outside of my job. My first client was pine which "just worked" and got most things right for me.. I finally moved to using thunderbird and then evolution around 2000. I tried hotmail/yahoo and wasn't that impressed. When I finally got a gmail account.. that was it, I stopped using my other mail clients. The interface was just that good.
  • Tag (Score:5, Insightful)

    by daniduclos (1329089) on Friday April 03, 2009 @04:46AM (#27442471)
    A Beta tag only makes sense if there is a "final" release planned at some point in the future. If it's going to be forever in Beta, it becomes meaningless, just like those web pages of 1999 with an eternal "under construction" gif.
  • Gmail is a sandbox (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Basje (26968) <bas@bloemsaat.org> on Friday April 03, 2009 @04:49AM (#27442485) Homepage

    Gmail is the beta for the Google Apps mail component. It's not likely that it will ever come out of beta status: it being beta has a function.

  • by ajay_walia (240348) on Friday April 03, 2009 @05:05AM (#27442575) Journal

    Beta no Beta it has been a Good experience using Gmail . Moreover it changed the Market freeing us of Quota's . . . .

  • Consumer psychology (Score:3, Interesting)

    by threexk (1296707) on Friday April 03, 2009 @05:06AM (#27442577)
    "Beta" is just being used as a buzz word to make Gmail perpetually seem like the hip new computer thing.
  • I hope version 1.0 will have a decent, non-beta looking user interface.

    • Aside from the fact that it's skinnable, I find the UI actually quite usable. It has most of the same keyboard shortcuts you'd expect in a mail client.

    • by anilg (961244)

      I love the Gmail interface. It simple, clean and easy to use. No flashy ads, no weird landing page when you first login, and easy to remember shortcut keys. I even love the nice whats-it-called-indicator for a mail where a '>>' is shown for a direct mail to you and a '>' for a mail you are one of the party.

      Whats more, I like this interface better than thunderbird/outlook where they have 2 panes.. one for the list if mails, and one to read the mail. That never made sense UI wise.. a user will only b

  • by krou (1027572) on Friday April 03, 2009 @05:46AM (#27442747)

    Generally, any usage of the Beta tag is meaningless in the world of web-based applications. In fact, it's meaningless for most web-pages. The reason is very simple: a site should be constantly working to improve and change. The change that happens is not bound by the traditional software version release, either. All websites are, by default, in a perpetual beta, whether its users know it or not, which makes the label itself meaningless.

    • There's no reason not to have a version control system for a web-based app, and a release cycle to go with it. The reason sites don't tend to do this is that no-one takes web apps seriously enough to bother.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Aladrin (926209)

      You definitely don't understand, then. Most professional websites are -not- live-tested on their users. There's a 'beta' behind the scenes with actual testers, not just random users.

      Very few professional websites do what GMail is doing and have the 'beta' version be the live version.

      And don't confuse 'having bugs' with being a 'beta'. All software has bugs, no matter what stage of development it's in.

      • by krou (1027572) on Friday April 03, 2009 @09:14AM (#27444473)

        Sure, I fully admit I don't understand why people use the "Beta" label, except as some sort of marketing gimmick.

        First, I didn't mention anything about bugs, so I wasn't confusing the issue in that regard.

        Second, I would probably agree that most professional websites are not currently live tested, but the "users are testers" model is certainly what's being touted, and this is likely to become the norm because there are a number of benefits. The idea of release early, release often, and have dynamic A/B testing whereby features are presented to select groups of users renders the need for "Beta" obsolete. Amazon already does this.

        But, the fact that we don't have live testing does not detract from the fact that the idea of a version for the user has no meaning. I mean, when did anyone ever ask themselves, "What version of Google is this?" In the age of websites and the internet, we think in terms of a service, not a piece of software. There are no upgrades, installations, or versions necessary. Beta is irrelevant, because sites are in perpetual beta.

        Does this remove the need for internal versions, or internal labels? Of course not. They are as vital as ever. I can also accept labelling something as a Beta if the site is in private testing. But my point is that, to the user, versions simply don't exist in the same way as we're used to, and to have websites open to the public carrying the Beta label for 5 years suggests that it is nothing but a gimmick and lacks any real meaning.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      The reason is very simple: a site should be constantly working to improve and change.

      No all sites can improve. http://www.endoftheinternet.com/ [endoftheinternet.com]

  • by greedom (1431073) on Friday April 03, 2009 @06:18AM (#27442907)
    Google is notorious for keeping most of it's apps in the Beta stages because if it works, it's considered a fantastic app and when some hacker finds a huge security flaw in it or something of that nature, Google can just throw up their hands and say "Hey, it's still in Beta".
  • GMail was innovative and provided a better service than hotmail or yahoo did at that time. It forced the competitors to provide a much better package in the long run. I don't know why people are so hanged up on the beta naming.
  • My Own GMail (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday April 03, 2009 @07:20AM (#27443251) Homepage Journal

    Much as GMail is an interesting mail platform, I don't like the idea of Google getting all of my email to look thru, along with my entire contact list and traffic records with them. Even if GMail received and sent only encrypted messages, the metadata would be private. And Google already has my entire search history, as well as a lot of my click trail (REFERER incoming to searches, cached/PDF-to-HTML docs, YouTube, whatever might even run across a Google backbone). I don't need one filthy rich entity with cross-referenced records of my entire online activity.

    If the GMail server were downloadable to my own server or independent ISP, I'd use it. I'd love it as software. But as service, it seems too tempting for Google to be evil.

  • I mean, I love gmail because of the reliability, effective spam filtering, volume and imap access. But what is this AJAX thing about? Can I eat it? Can I use my key to sign or encrypt my messages over it? No? I stay with my local client then. Thanks.
  • I made a Google Analytics cake and it wasn't even an anniversary... http://www.imbimp.com/2009/03/google-analytics-dashboard-cake/ [imbimp.com]
  • by pongo000 (97357) on Friday April 03, 2009 @08:17AM (#27443677)

    ...because there are still some very persistent performance issues that need to be worked out. The AJAX interface is incredibly sluggish on just about any browser/CPU combination I use it with. Very frustrating to have to wait seconds after each submit for the interface to respond.

    This is further proof of the fallacy that just because something is affiliated with Google, it must be a good thing.

    Long live mutt. (Don't laugh...the response time for mutt on even my slowest machine is several orders of magnitude greater than Gmail.)

    • Personally, I prefer things like a contacts list and a GUI in my email client. Gmail is certainly the fastest GUI client when you have folders(labels) with >10,000 messages in them (or just many gigs of email in general)

      Also, nothing else compares to their spam filter (or at least, nothing did in ~early 2005 when I switched to Gmail, and it's only gotten better.) The only false positives it's ever flagged were a couple spammy looking "click here to confirm your account" type messages.

  • Website "still under construction" after 5 years.

    Seriously, Gmail's great. It's doing better in beta than most other final-product web-based emails. it seems several web-based email setups can't even synchronize the "inbox" indicator(ie boldface to show you # of emails) with the new emails on the right frame. I'm looking at you Outlook webmail & squirrelmail. Gmail has none of that.

  • I remember "buying" my Gmail account back in June of 2004 as the invitations started flowing out. Something like three bucks on Ebay got me my account that I still use today. I'm not going to say it was the best three dollars I ever spent because I probably could have gotten a free invite like a week later, but it definitely is the best email client I've ever used. Heck, maybe the best single site besides the great Google.com itself.

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