What is a Beta?

I was talking to a few friends yesterday, and the topic of Betas came up. Namely, what the heck is a Beta, especially with the way Google is. It seems like almost everyone one of Google’s services they offer are still in a public beta. Even Gmail, which has been around for years, is still being listed as a Beta.

At one point “Beta” was a term to describe a program that was still being built. It was something that was almost complete, but needed testing. A Beta candidate was an early version of a program people could try to use, and give feedback, opinions, and bug reports back to the developers. Shortly thereafter, a final version is released with everything fixed up. Basically, a beta a near version that needs to be tested before a final released.

Google, on the other hands, treats betas as alphas. An alpha is a VERY early version of a program that still has a long way to go, and is by no means anywhere complete. It can be years before an Alpha becomes a final build. Google seems to have taken this idea, and pushed everything back.

Betas are no longer what they once were. Google feels a Beta is an incomplete state of their programs. Programs like Gmail, Chrome, and others are constantly being built on and improved. To Google, a beta is a work in progress. But where do there draw the line. Program developers always want to improve their work until they feel it’s perfect. This seems to be the approach Google is taking with their programs, but eventually beta will lose its meaning.

Even now in chat rooms, people are complaining about all of the features Chrome is missing. Bet they seem to all forget it’s a beta, with many things still being created and added. To many users, a beta is no longer a development stage. It’s a release where everything is expected to work, and everything has already been added. Brand new beta’s are now expected to be just as good as 2 year old betas. And that just isn’t right. Right now, Chrome should be labeled as an Alpha, and Gmail should be a first release, with version 2 in the works.

Maybe Google just doesn’t want to take the blame is something breaks, and can just use the excuse “it’s in beta right now, so you can’t expect everything to work!”

I’m curious. What is a beta to you, and do you think Google is fine with what the classify as betas? Please leave a comment. I’d love to know!

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