Published in Editorials

Hey, It's Still a Beta...

by on25 June 2012 3092 times

CodeHey, it’s still a Beta. These are words that we hear all the time whenever we run into issues with pre-release software. This comment is used as a defense against bugs, missing features and even performance problems no matter the (Pre) release version. This is also used regardless of the number of statements made by the companies PR machine claiming that it is ready to go. “Hey, it’s still a Beta” is also used in almost equal measure to “it just came out”, “this is new technology”, and many other statements that all amount to one thing. No program or product can cover every potential issue.

The reason for this problem is that when a company develops a new application or piece of hardware they have a relatively small group of testers. Even in large public beta testing runs the number of people willing to test is very small compared to the number of people that might actually buy the program/game in the end. Does this remove the responsibility of a company to address consumer concerns? Not really, but then again companies that write software or build hardware really have no responsibility to the consumer in that regard at all.

The only responsibility that someone like Microsoft or Apple has is to make sure that their claims and advertisement are not misleading in terms of what a product can do. The really are not compelled to listen to the market at all. They would be wise to, but hey many get very large corporate egos and forget that without the consumer, they do not make money.

Apple gets to do things the other way around though. They very often tell their users what they want (it is very odd to see that one in action) and then produce the products to fit that need. Microsoft is not trying that with the Xbox centric Windows 8 eco system. They are telling you what you want and why you want this. A trip to their blog, building Windows 8, will yield many articles with that theme. I have read more than I care to count explaining to me why I want MertoUI, why Media Center is no longer needed, and why using Xbox Live for everything will “benefit” me.

When someone comments on the usability of these features in the release preview or complains that this direction will limit the consumer the response is “It’s still a Beta” usually followed up with a comment asking the original commenter to wait and see what the final release looks like. What makes this an annoying and condescending answer to a question is that most of these features are now set in stone. The time between the release preview and the actual launch is meant to address critical bugs and cosmetic issues. It is also a time for OEMs, ODMs, and component manufacturers to develop driver software so that their products are ready for launch. Items like the driver model, the kernel and major features do not usually change unless there is a massive problem as changes this late in the game would have a large effect on the launch of the OS and the associate products that are meant to hit the market in time with Windows 8.

I have been on the Beta team for almost every Microsoft OS since Windows NT 4.0 (I missed ME on purpose and had a limited input on Windows 7) and can tell you that unless Microsoft has drastically changed their operating pattern; what you see in the release preview is going to be very close to the final release of the OS. Yes there will be some minor changes and improvements (and of course bug fixes), but for the most part the OS is set in stone (especially with only 4-5 months before launch). At this point it is all marketing and demos, the features and the way they work are what you will get at release time or they would not be pushing them to the consumer and the enterprise crowd.

Microsoft is not the only company that does this though. Game developers are big with this too. A quick look around will show that most games have patches to fix issues (often known issues) within about 60 days of a games launch. This means that the game went out the door to meet a schedule with known flaws and problems. So the next time you read someone saying “Hey, It’s a Beta” remember what they are probably saying is; “We will deal with that later if enough people complain about it”. Maybe they should replace that phrase all together with “Hey no software is ever going to be perfect” with a comment to follow that they will at least try to listen to what the consumer and testing community are saying.

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Last modified on 25 June 2012
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