All software is beta. Get over it.

All software is beta. Get over it.

Summary: News.com's Paul Festa has a story that shines the spotlight on the extended beta periods that service offerings from companies like Google and Flickr are going through.

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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News.com's Paul Festa has a story that shines the spotlight on the extended beta periods that service offerings from companies like Google and Flickr are going through. The story quotes technology consultant Mary Hodder as saying "I feel like 'beta' has become a questionable term.....Google and Flickr just leave it on their sites for years, so it cues us to think, beta, no big deal."

The story takes me back to a day in the early 1990s when I was the director of PC Week's testing labs (now eWeek Labs) and a group of us lab rats were sitting in a conference room when then lab technical director Larry Seltzer said something that stuck with me ever since: "All software is beta." I don't remember the entire conversation, but I'm positive the context had something to do with the fact that, in the man-years of testing and using of software that we as a group had under our belts, the only bug-free program we ever encountered was probably "Hello, World." (is the comma a bug?) I'm not even sure whether Selzter knew, more than a decade later, how true his disillusioning statement would continue to prove to be.

Somewhere in the back of my head, there has always been this hope that software could be bug free. It's wishful thinking I guess. Today, I've yet to regularly use a piece of software (application or operating system), a Web site, or hardware that is bug-free. Indeed, all software is beta.

So, what then, should be the guidelines for usage of the word beta? Should it be used at all? When it is, how should we interpret it? While no product has proven itself to be bug-free, removal of the beta label used to mean two things. First, the vendor is going to charge you for use of the software. Second, you can officially get technical support. And by technical support, I mean real technical support -- the kind where you get a human on the other end of a phone line instead of the untrustworthy medium of e-mail that gives new meaning to the phrase "disappeared into the ether." Even Amazon's Web site, where I'm unable to find the words "technical support" (the closest is Account Assistance, but what if you don't have an account?) says:

If you have used our forms to contact us in the past but have not received a reply, your ISP or e-mail client may be blocking e-mail from Amazon.com. If you suspect this is happening, please consult the help section of your e-mail program to see how to relax or remove the settings that filter or block mail. Once you've established that you should be able to receive mail from us, please contact us again with your question.

Web sites just shove in our face something that has always been true of software: whether the relevant product is labeled as beta or not, support is something of an enigma. Historically, the only difference between pre-release and post-release bugs in software was that in the latter case, we parted with our money to have the privilege of getting support for them. But no vendor ever guaranteed their software to be bug free and that users of it would never lose their work or their data (or worse, that we'd be satisfied with the outcome of support calls regarding bugs -- even calls that we paid extra for). What's different about Web-based software, paid or not, is that the operators of it feel less obligated to offer traditional support. Somehow, the rules have changed (and like sheep, we've allowed them to). But the fact that all software (including Web sites) is beta hasn't. It has always been that way, and it always will.

Topic: Tech Industry

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  • Beta software that a lot of people us everyday

    I am convinced that there exists today the single longest software beta product of all-time... Microsoft Windows. You choose the flavor of MS Windows, but be certain that you are dealing with a beta product. The closest MS has ever gotten to a non-beta OS is Windows XP, but it has a long way to go before it will be considered a non-beta by me. Windows 95 was disappointing until we got the 'upgrade' of Windows 98 (and then Windows 98 SE). The fact that these operating systems had memory and security leaks the size of New Hampshire was absolutely pathetic. So many examples can be cited as the true 'beta' nature of Microsoft's operating systems.

    That's my 2 cents.
    sigmascape
    • Why bring up only Windows?

      Do you work in IT feild?

      Microsoft may have a monopoly in desktop operating systems, but they don't have one on buggy, "beta", "release" software.

      I could run off a [b]large[/b] list of software I deal with at work that contain numerous problems. I could also run off a large list of software companies whos patch support is [b]much worse[/b] than Microsoft's.
      toadlife
      • I agree

        Microsoft is not the only guilty party, but they are the most successful marketers of beta software. In many ways, it's unbelievable that people even think about using MS operating systems, and I include myself (I am writing this post on a WinXP Pro box). I can't say my various Linux machines are without issues, but I didn't PAY for the software I use on those machines. Fortunately, I have people who know how to access the underlying issues and they can be resolved... can't do that with Windows. As for Apple, they have reason to hang their heads low as well. Why do Apple customers need to continue to purchase 'upgrades' to Mac OS X (10.1, 10.2, 10.3, etc)? Do they like paying for an upgrade just so they can tell their friends that they are running "Panther." Owww, sounds so cool. "Panther" is Apple's codename for the latest edition of an ongoing BETA. In effect, Apple is forcing a beta program down its customer's throats, $119.00 a whack. Hey can't wait for "Tiger." Sad state of affairs for operating systems today.
        sigmascape
        • Try Symantec on for size

          [i]"Microsoft is not the only guilty party, but they are the most successful marketers of beta software."[/i]

          I agree, but other companies are right up there with Microosft. Symantec is one company that immediately pops into my mind. The Symantec app that we use is Symantec Ghost 7.5. It's actually a great program and is an enourmous time saver - that is after you learn to wok around the numerous bugs. Symantec adandoned support for Ghost 7.5 a long ago, and there are many bugs that were left unfixed.

          If you search in Symantec's knowledgebase, more often than not, the "fix" to a bug is to "buy the lastest version". Buying the latest version of Symantec Ghost isn't a very appealing solution, as it is not cheap.

          Here is a typical Symantec Knowledgebase article:

          [b]The Symantec Ghost 7.5 Console will sometime fail to do _x, of condition _y is met. There is no fix for this problem, however, in Symantec Ghost 2004 this problem has been resolved.[/b]
          toadlife
        • Linux is free?

          These people who support your Linux OS aren't being paid?
          Roving_Reporter
          • that is there choice

            this is the developer choice if you are expecting something in return then this is your
            liskanich
        • Forcing software...

          You say:

          [b] In effect, Apple is forcing a beta program down its customer's throats...[/b]

          I would suggest 2 things:

          First, Apple forces no one to buy newer versions. While a .x increment in the OS may have significant functionality changes, security fixes are not isolated to these upgrades. No one is required to buy, say, 10.3 if they have 10.1. How, then, is Apple forcing anyone to buy-- forcing the program down their throats, as you say, at $119 per proverbial whack?

          Second, I have observed that Apple has an exceptionally high level of out-of-the-box security, even considering the downloadable updates of which you are probably aware. I have experienced firsthand the MS products' tendency to get infected almost immediately upon being placed on a network to get updates, while I have seen only a single Mac infection, of any kind, ever, on a network with about 200 Macs. Mac security rivals Linux, which is not surpising considering the numerous similarities between them.

          I mention this only to point out that Mac OS is one of the less-betaish programs around. It's not perfect, but it's pretty far down the list of flawed packages.
          Martin Marvinski
  • No it isn't!

    "All software is buggy" is a more true and acurate statement.

    BETA is the final stages of software testing that is ended when the developer BELIEVES (key word there) that all or most major bugs have been erradicated. The testing ends when the developer says that it has ended and no sooner.

    You should say that many developers are using BETA as a way to destribute software with a "Get out of Jail free card".

    User: This <insert software name here> keeps crashing my computer system

    Developer: Well, it is BETA.

    Developer with one comment can then ignore any complaints from users. Very convienent don't you think?

    However, there are many developers that just want to take their time to get the software as close perfect as their skill, finances, or time allows. The Mozilla group is a good example of this. They BETA test their software many times for years. They do eventually release GOLD versions in the end.

    The software that runs most automobiles today rarely have problems. You don't have to patch your car because it will not start. But, as they get more complex we will see more problems related to software in automobiles.

    On second thought the more accurate statement should be...

    "All software is programmed by humans! Thus flawed. Get over it!"
    dragosani
    • All software is BETA, to an extent

      I stand by my example of Microsoft selling BETA software. When I think of Microsoft Office, I am not as quick to label it as BETA. It is solid, and of course does have some issues, like ALL software. However, MS Office is stable enough to avoid a direct tag of BETA. Unfortunately, the operating system it runs on is PURE BETA, and that is sad. For years I faced the BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH... today I face various memory leaks that cause the system to freeze. Yeah, thanks MS. Great job handling all those bothersome, fundamental stability issues. Also, the registry works great.
      sigmascape
      • No matter where you stand, beta and buggy are not the same

        So, it is clear that you are not happy with M'soft OS's, but that does not make the Beta, in your words, they are not stable code. Call it buggy, call it "not ready", but that is not the same thing. No one is questioning what you experienced, they are just asking you to use the appropriate word for the situation. Beta is a word with a specific meaning to it. A Beta tag on a piece of software has effects on who supports it, what revenue can be recognized, etc. If you used crap software, it was just crap software, not a Beta.
        jbegley_z
    • Partially agreed, but...

      "User: This <insert software name here> keeps crashing my computer system

      Developer: Well, it is BETA.

      Developer with one comment can then ignore any complaints from users. Very convienent don't you think?"

      Not convenient at all... BETA means, like you correctly said, a final testing step in the development. As such, the developer EXPECTS the user to give him feedback about suspected bugs. A responsible developer would have answered: "Thank you for your bug report. Can you please send me your system specs, so that we can fix it?"
      BETA means that the user is "given the task" of testing the software, thus being part of the development process.
      The Mozilla group example you gave is a good one. They truly know the meaning of BETA, and know that it stands for more than merely part of a schedule.

      Of course, in a sense, the "testing" never ends...
      Anti_Zealot
    • AMEN !

      As it says "AMEN!"
      inxy@...
  • When I read the original article, I had the same thought.

    Beta software is the norm the world around regardless of who built the code. I can not think of a single main stream piece of code that isn't under constant review and updating, even my own. Tis the nature of the beast I'm afraid...
    No_Ax_to_Grind
  • All software is buggy, but not all is beta.

    Beta is nothing but a designation for test code of an application that the developer doesn't think is "done" yet. We go through numerous stages; req-spec, tech-spec, prototype, alpha, beta, RC, and finally release. Once code is RTM, it is not beta - whatever you may think of it's quality.

    None of this directly relates to your true complaint; that software is buggy. Sadly, there are numerous financial and market forces that cause release code to be buggy. Frankly, the marketplace and consumers simply don't reward reliability and stability. If they did, no-one would be running MS Windows.

    Is all code beta? No.

    Is all code buggy? Yes.

    It will remain that way until the major software houses find it economically advantageous to build and release only solid, stable, and completely tested code ... and even then bugs will creep in (developers are human too)

    Regards,
    Jon
    JonathonDoe
  • C'mon, you know better than that!

    Beta and buggy are simply not interchangeable words. Beta testing is an actual process that is used in software development that is beneficial to both the end-user and the software company, but.....it is not meant to be used in a production, (live), environment.

    Crap software, on the other hand, is typically due to lack of process, not a stage of development. To confuse the two terms tends to put the blame where it doesn't belong.

    Some companies seem to get stuck in Beta for way too long, and I would guess this has nothing to do with product quality, but maybe lack of concrete plans for the application. I believe Google search is an example of this. But sometimes a technology driven company, (versus a demand driven company), finds itself with tools available before the market is ready for them.
    jbegley_z
    • Re: All software is beta. Get over it.

      Perspective, it appears, is often lacking in these discussion forums. In fact, too often, the responses take on the form of being evangelical. Enough already!

      Consider, from the POV of an Enduser, what's the difference between a Bug and plain old crappy s/w? Answer: None. It either works or doesn't work as advertised. Expectations of the intended audience are not being met.

      From the POV of a s/w developer: a bug (in s/w, of course!) is some error in his/her programming code that can be overcome with a bit of 'tweaking'. That is, if you know or have the means then the problem (or bug) can be corrected, overcome or siply over-looked.

      From the POV of Technical Support: Throw in the mixed variables of endusers and developers (who knows just what I'm thinking when I use or develop an application?) and a result is that of job creation or the creation of Technical Support Helpdesks.

      What's the difference between a Engineer and a Technologist? One answer, University or College educated? Another is, Hands-on or Theoretical experience.

      From the POV of Sales and Marketing: BETA? Can we make any money off it? Gold? Cha-ching!

      So, Alpha, Beta or Gold (Omega?) ... semantics in the final analysis.
      simonmagus72@...
      • End user's expectations

        It has been MY experience that the end user's 'expectations' are no where near the developer's intentions. I don't know HOW MANY times someone would ask, "why can't I...(insert feature)". Well the anwser is almost always that the program just doesn't do it. Then they get irate and rude - "well I paid good money and (insert company) should have thought of it."

        My answer - If you can do a better job, go for it and stop whining.

        No matter HOW GOOD or polished the program may be, there will ALWAYS BE someone that complains. Like the old adage goes, "You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of time."
        John Smith32
        • well said joe

          i agree also that saying is a good one it applies to everything
          liskanich
      • dude you are out if your mind

        beta is a loose term with developers it needs to have a standard meaning like a dictonary meaning it should be when i lookup beta it should read software that is not a final and or finished product testing phase or whatever just because the product goes into RTM that does not mean that it is BUGFREE Bug and beta are totally different beta software has bugs as does the software you pick off the shelf @ best buy no difference both have bugs it is about the amount of bugs in the software beta tends to have more but this is not always true of course but in general
        liskanich
  • Beta v. Bugs

    So beauty is in the eyes of the developer? The developer gets to say when the code is no longer beta based on some apparently subjective estimation of readyness? Puh-leeeze.
    dberlind