It's one little word - but its presence can make all the difference in the world.
In the tech world, that single word - Beta - suggests that a product is still undergoing tests and not quite ready for prime time. In most cases, beta periods can last a few weeks or a few months until the final release version is available.
Today, five years after its release, Google's Gmail has officially shed the Beta label, along with a handful of other Google Apps. For the users, it won't mean much. Gmail and the other apps will look the same and work the same.
But for Google, the dumping of the label is the equivalent of unlocking the gates to the enterprise, a move that should "remove any doubt that Apps is a mature product suite," the company said. From the official Google blog post:
We've come to appreciate that the beta tag just doesn't fit for large enterprises that aren't keen to run their business on software that sounds like it's still in the trial phase. So we've focused our efforts on reaching our high bar for taking products out of beta, and all the applications in the Apps suite have now met that mark.
It's a move that's long overdue. If Google wants to try to steal some market share from Microsoft by luring enterprise customers to its cloud-based Apps - which includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Talk - it needed to remove that label.
In some ways, I understand why Google left the label on for so long. At a meeting with the Google Apps team last year, the folks there told me that they are constantly innovating their products and that they don't believe in releasing new versions, such as the way Microsoft has done every year or two with its software suite. Instead, Google launches a product - in beta - and then continually tweaks it, sometimes by launching a feature in Google Labs and other times by just flipping the switch on something new.
But Google seems to finally understand that businesses are OK with - and seem to prefer - updates and upgrades to a finished piece of software, even if they just suddenly appear in the software one day instead of coming boxed with a fresh price tag on it. Case in point: As part of today's Beta-removal announcement, the company announced enhancements to Gmail that will be most appealing to business customers: From the Official Google Enterprise Blog:
We're also launching a tool that will be particularly useful to administrative support staff to screen and send email on behalf of others – a feature called email delegation. And to help customers comply with regulations that may exist specific to their industry, we're adding email retention so that IT administrators can set up policies to determine when email will be purged. Both retention and delegation are in testing with customers, and will start rolling out to all Premier edition domains over the next weeks.
Finally, we're continuing to implement additional procedures to ensure that our business customers enjoy even greater reliability: live replication of data to other locations for near-instant disaster recovery, and special handling of business users' data in our data center operations.
The beta label will be removed from the products today.