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Software: Is It ‘Beta’ or Is It Junk?

Google seems to have started a trend that is growing worse. Google has a history of releasing software labelled “beta”. The beta tag indicates that the software is not yet complete — missing features, increased likelihood of defects, and general usability issues.

The beta tag also provides an easy out. If users complain, simply remind them that it’s beta. If the software is poorly received, withdraw it from the market. Hey, it was beta!

Sometimes it’s not called beta.

Fair enough. Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing tendency toward releasing software that is incomplete, defect ridden, poorly designed and just not ready for prime time. Yet, there is no “beta” tag to be found.

Who’s doing this? Here are just a few examples:

  • Apple (MobileMe)
  • Canonical (Ubuntu’s Unity desktop)
  • Google (Android & Chrome [early releases], Chromebooks)
  • Microsoft (Vista)
  • Mozilla (Firefox [early releases])
  • RIM (PlayBook)
  • Salesforce.com (Visualforce [early releases])

You get the idea. It’s a common tactic exacerbated by intense competition — the need to get a product out the door as soon as possible, ready or not. Many marketers believe that responding to the competition with an inferior product is better than not responding at all.

Okay, fine, but don’t let ‘inferior’ turn into ‘junk’.

Competition is not going away. In fact, it’s only going to get more intense as the pace of innovation accelerates. Does this mean we are all doomed to living with crappy software?

No! As consumers, we need to speak with our wallets and simply not purchase junk no matter how much esteem we have for the company shipping it. If we get duped into buying such a product, we need to complain to anyone and everyone, including regulators. False advertising is a Federal crime in the U.S.A.

For product companies and their retailers, it means being transparent, sharing information, and collaborating with customers. In a word, it means being agile. I’m willing to take a chance on an incomplete product if I know the company is committed to making rapid improvements and will exchange the device if the hardware is at fault.

This means releasing monthly software updates (quarterly updates might work but in a fast-paced market, a company could effectively be out of business in three months). It means retailers keeping smaller inventories. It means frequent blog postings, Twitter and Facebook updates, automatic notifications, etc. to keep customers informed.

It’s even more important for companies to listen. Ask for feedback. Take punches. Respond to complaints. Keep making improvements.

Bottom line: It’s not the software that wins or losses in the marketplace. It’s the company and the people behind it.

Updated: June 21, 2011 — 10:01 pm

1 Comment

  1. Not in the list of the just a few examples but it’s worth mentioning – Oracle is playing the same game.
    Sometimes I’m trying to imagine that they’re maybe doing this intentionally. Implementing high quality bug-free feature is expensive. Why not just release “something” to see if anyone is interested – the users will cry out. If nobody’s using it – why should anyone care to get it fixed. The problem is that customers are paying for these “experimental features” and they don’t know what is actually a production quality feature and what is just an experiment.

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