Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
7/10/2011
09:20 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
Commentary
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%
Repost This

Time to Break the Beta Addiction

How long do software programs need to be in beta stage anyway?

There's an adage in software engineering: Shipping is a feature.

That means it counts more to finish a product in some form and get it out to people, instead of promising them several moons and never actually delivering.

Then there are the folks who ship software without actually finishing it. No, I'm not talking about Microsoft here -- although for a while they deserved a lambasting for doing precisely that. But they grew out of it, and the last few versions of all their major products, from Windows and Office to their server offerings, have been really solid.

The biggest offender for a long time now has been Google. For ages they seemed to have more of their product line in beta than out of it. But they seem to be wising up a bit, thank goodness. They've been better at segregating the more experimental features of their products (via Google Labs until this summer). For example, the Chrome browser comes in three "channels," each branded by what level of code stability you want. We'll have to wait and see how long they keep Google+ in "field test" mode.


But the bad habit of keeping software in near-perpetual beta seems to have spread far and wide. I can't count the number of programs I'm using now -- as opposed to five or six years ago -- that have 0.x revision designations. Like TweetDeck. Many such applications are open source, but some are not, so I doubt it has anything to do with a particular development or licensing philosophy.

It's been said that software revision numbers are arbitrary anyway, so why make a stink about "0.x" or "beta" designations? Because they send messages to both users and developers about the state of the software. A program with a 0.x designation shouldn't be pushed to the general public, and a public service which sports a beta label for years on end doesn't inspire confidence in the service. The most common question that comes to my mind when I see either of those things -- or, worse, both of them -- is "Will this still be around in six months?"

I'm just as guilty of variations of these things myself. I've put together software that never made it past the 0.x revision point, because I had no idea when, or even if, I would be able to make it into anything remotely resembling a finished product. I can see why independent developers often fall back on the 0.x designation: it means "Use at your own risk."

But for big-budget, well-funded services or apps, there's no excuse. Go 1.0 or go home.

Based in Long Island, NY Serdar Yegululp is managing editor of reviews at BYTE. Follow him @syegulalp, or email him at Serdar.Yegulalp@BYTE.com.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Server Market Splitsville
Server Market Splitsville
Just because the server market's in the doldrums doesn't mean innovation has ceased. Far from it -- server technology is enjoying the biggest renaissance since the dawn of x86 systems. But the primary driver is now service providers, not enterprises.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Elite 100 - 2014
Our InformationWeek Elite 100 issue -- our 26th ranking of technology innovators -- shines a spotlight on businesses that are succeeding because of their digital strategies. We take a close at look at the top five companies in this year's ranking and the eight winners of our Business Innovation awards, and offer 20 great ideas that you can use in your company. We also provide a ranked list of our Elite 100 innovators.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Audio Interviews
Archived Audio Interviews
GE is a leader in combining connected devices and advanced analytics in pursuit of practical goals like less downtime, lower operating costs, and higher throughput. At GIO Power & Water, CIO Jim Fowler is part of the team exploring how to apply these techniques to some of the world's essential infrastructure, from power plants to water treatment systems. Join us, and bring your questions, as we talk about what's ahead.