What took Google so long?
Like many software products, Google’s Gmail service was first released with a “beta” label on it. In the software industry, a product that is in beta is still in its testing phase. Beta versions, which are sandwiched between internal “alpha” versions and final “release” versions, typically have a lifespan of weeks or perhaps months. But Gmail was different. Released on April 1, 2004, it was still in beta five years and tens of millions of users later.
That is changing Tuesday. Gmail is finally shedding the beta label, signaling that Google considers the product to be fully baked. Google is also taking three other applications — Calendar, Docs and Talk — out of beta.
So why the long wait? The official answer doesn’t entirely clarify things.
“Obviously we haven’t had a consistent set of policies or definitions around beta,” said Matt Glotzbach, a director of product management at Google. Mr. Glotzbach said that different teams at Google had different criteria for what beta meant, and that Google felt a need to standardize those. “It was time to address the issue and bring the products out of beta,” he said.
Practically speaking, the change will mean precious little to Gmail’s millions of users. But it could help Google’s efforts to get the paid version of its package of applications, which includes Gmail, Calendar, Docs and other products, adopted inside big companies. Corporate technology managers tend to shy away from beta products, and Google wants to remove any barriers to adoption that it can.
“For business customers, it is an important sign in terms of the maturity of our product offering and commitment to this business,” Mr. Glotzbach said. “I’ve had C.I.O.’s tell me that they would not consider a product labeled ‘beta.’”
Google’s efforts to gain acceptance as a provider of applications to major corporations remain embryonic. Mr. Glotzbach said that Google apps were being used by millions of businesses, though many of those may be tiny one-person operations. And he readily admits that when compared with Microsoft, which dominates the market for productivity applications, Google does not account for “an appreciable percentage” of the market. Mr. Glotzbach took no issue with the description of Google’s market share as a “speck.” But he added: “We are a fast-growing speck.”
THE Google Press Release:
Ever since we launched the Google Apps suite for businesses two years ago, it's had a service level agreement, 24/7 support, and has met or exceeded all the other standards of non-beta software. More than 1.75 million companies around the world run their business on Google Apps, including Google. 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.
Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Talk — both enterprise and consumer versions — are now out of beta. "Beta" will be removed from the product logos today, but we'll continue to innovate and improve upon the applications whether or not there's a small "beta" beneath the logo. Indeed, today we're also announcing some other Google Apps features that we think will appeal to large enterprises: mail delegation, mail retention and ongoing enhancements to Apps reliability.
We have much more in store, and IT managers can read more about how to make the switch to Apps in our Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes resource centers. One more thing — for those who still like the look of "beta", we've made it easy to re-enable the beta label for Gmail from the Labs tab under Settings.
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