What does “beta” really mean??

July 6th, 2004

To add some fuel to the fire I started with the switch from Gmail, let me ask the vox populii this…what does the versioning of “beta” mean for software and what to expect from it?

Just because a service is beta DOES NOT mean that it can be of really poor quality nor does it mean that it is all right for the service (or the product) to break everything. Just because I term my software beta, it should not fail to load every three hours. Beta, to me, means “might have some issues, most of which have been resolved”. If it is at the point of “might break at every mouse click”, it should be termed alpha or pre-alpha.

Have we gotten away from writing good code and providing honest services to jump on the early release bandwagon? Or am I just too critical and demanding?




  1. Rob F (1 comments.) says:

    I’ve been using Gmail for the past few days and it has one of the best webmail designs I think I’ve ever seen. It is well thought out and has unique usability features that I had never imagined, some of it could be compared to a messenger system since it would actually be very easy to chat with another person that way obviously with all your history backed up in the 1gb space.

    I’ve only experienced a couple of glitches, but could have been related to a server timeout when I didn’t receive an e-mail confirmation and I ended up hitting it repeatedly only to find out after that I’d sent each and every one of them.

    I also get the feeling that there are more features yet to come and they won’t bring it out of beta for a little while yet. Another thought about beta means that they will not charge you for it. Gmail isn’t going to be a free service so don’t get your hopes up though it will probably be worth the small fee they ask.

  2. Adam M. (8 comments.) says:

    I’m a bit late to the party. Followed a link to a post about Subscribe2.

    Anyway, there’s an old joke about software which goes “‘Alpha’ is from the Latin for ‘it doesn’t work.’ ‘Beta’ is from the Latin for ‘it still doesn’t work.'”

  3. Ozzie (3 comments.) says:

    @Adam: seriously, where did you get that?

  4. Balfour Barry says:

    Hi Mark,

    If beta can be closely functional as that of a ‘non-beta’ then why declare it beta then?

    Balfour Barry


  1. […] The BBC’s given this product’s release a lot of hype and only a small proportion of users will understand what ‘beta’ means. […]

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