February 11, 2005 4:00 AM PST

A long winding road out of beta

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she wrote about her experience losing data while using a paid RSS (Really Simple Syndication) aggregator that was in beta. She didn't know it was a test version, she wrote in her blog, because she couldn't imagine that a company would charge for a piece of beta software.

"When we go to a site and purchase something in beta, the word has lost its meaning," Hodder said.

Fake defended Flickr's decision to offer a paid beta service, saying consumers wanting more storage capacity demanded it and that it was keeping the company running while it labored to put the finishing touches on the service. In addition to a free account, the company offers extra storage for $59.95 per year.

"When we go to a site and purchase something in beta, the word has lost its meaning."
--Mary Hodder, technology consultant

Fake said the length of the Flickr test was inadvertent. The photo service came out of what was originally supposed to be a multiplayer game site. In the summer, when the company honed its focus on photo storage and sharing, the site became so popular it had to refocus on building up its computing and network resources and de-emphasize work on features it hoped to add to the service.

"We put out iterations of our product design really quickly," Fake said. "We'll put something out there, see what happens, see what activity happens around various features, then constantly work and refine it by interacting with the users of the software. Nothing teaches you how your software actually works better than actual use."

Some of Google's test versions--Gmail and the social networking site Orkut--built in invitation-only systems in order to limit growth during the beta.

In the world of downloadable software, high-profile disasters haunt the memories of those who took the beta label off too soon.

Netscape Communications, for example, came under intense criticism after releasing Netscape 6, which was based on pre-version 1.0 builds by the Mozilla.org open-source development group.

"Netscape 6 still plays like beta software," one critic said at the time. "The results I've had using it seem to indicate that it's just not quite finished. I'd have much rather seen them wait until the Mozilla project had their 1.0 version complete instead of rushing it out the door."

One veteran of the browser wars recalled the original Mosaic browser--Netscape 6's distantly related ancestor--as "an endless beta cycle."

"One classic way to get caught in an endless beta cycle is if the development team doesn't have the discipline to freeze features," said Jon Mittelhauser, who co-authored Mosaic and was a founding member of Netscape. "They can keep trying to squeeze one more little 'safe' feature into the product, which inevitably has some side effect--bugs somewhere else--and starts the vicious cycle all over. This often happens with the 'best' developers because they don't want to be sitting around fixing little bugs; they want to be implementing major features."

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7 comments

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The only problem is...
The only problem is is that any company that keeps the product in beta for one, two, three years or longer had better get it right otherwise they are going to look like *****.

Microsoft has had Windows in beta since 2.x but they still haven't gotten it right. Though they do have the guts to say their products are out of beta when in reality they are still in alpha testing, at least one it comes to bugs and security holes.

Frankly, I don't trust companies that have beta for years and years it tells me they have no idea about what the process of creating something, testing it and getting it out and then starting work on the next version. Keeping a program in beta for 5 years so they can keep adding features to it is just stupid and it not a product I would buy unless I had no choice (like Windows).

Robert
Posted by (336 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So?
People who complain will always complain, no matter what. People complain when the beta is too short. People complain when the beta is taking too long. People complain when the final product is too expensive/cheap/insecure/hard to use/whatever reasons. No idea why you pick Windows alone, like other products are the greatest in the world :)
Posted by 201293546946733175101343322673 (722 comments )
Link Flag
bugs and security holes
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.analogstereo.com/volvo_740_owners_manual.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.analogstereo.com/volvo_740_owners_manual.htm</a>
Posted by Ubber geek (325 comments )
Link Flag
New speak
"beta" is becoming a marketing term that means: You can't sue us if your machine is trashed, because the program is still in beta.
Many licence agreements state that beta software is for evaluation purposes only, and may not be stable. Use at your own risk.
Posted by Marcus Westrup (630 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly
When people *****, they can just say: "Well we told you it was beta"
Posted by (13 comments )
Link Flag
Newegg.com beta testing new website
Newegg.com is currently beta testing their website. If you visit the AnandTech forum here -- <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview.aspx?catid=38&#38;threadid=1509489&#38;enterthread=y" target="_newWindow">http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview.aspx?catid=38&#38;threadid=1509489&#38;enterthread=y</a> -- you can see screenshots. If you visit www2.newegg.com it redirects to a login screen --<a class="jive-link-external" href="https://secure.newegg.com/app/LinkToNewVersion.asp?From=new" target="_newWindow">https://secure.newegg.com/app/LinkToNewVersion.asp?From=new</a> -- interesting!
Posted by 2smokingbarrels (1 comment )
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