Why Was Gmail in Beta Release for So Long?

Why was Gmail in beta release for so long?

Many of us were so used to seeing the cute little “beta” tag attached to the Gmail icon, we assumed it was part of the name. “Gmail Beta”.

The fact is that applications and software, as well as any old invention really, starts life out with the “beta” tag we’ve all come to know and love. A “beta” release of an item means that item is in its infancy, its first stages of release outside of a private organization. In general, a “beta release” of a product implies that product is incomplete to some degree — between 20 and 40% incomplete according to my geek sources. So why was Gmail in “beta release” for five years? And why did Google suddenly decide to drop the “beta” tag this week?

Unfortunately, not because Google finally implemented some major change, or completed that pesky 20-40%. In fact, the Gmail you use today is basically the same as the one you used a month ago.

Google announced this past week that many of its applications — Gmail, Google Docs, Google Talk, Calendar, etc — “work well enough to no longer be prefaced by the beta tag”. Google’s philosophy about beta goes a little something like this — Google apps are considered in their “beta phase” when that app is solid enough for widespread public use, but still under development to the point that the widespread use may be limited to an interim basis. In English — the apps that haven’t reached the point where Google is totally confident in the program is held in “beta”.

No upgrade or major alteration to Gmail or any of the other apps lead to this announcement — this change was related to the actions of higher up Google engineers who finally gave many of the apps that necessary stamp of approval. According to Google product management director Matthew Glotzbach, writing for the always fascinating Google Blog put it this way — “We’ve focused our efforts on reaching our high bar for taking our products out of beta, and all the applications in the Apps suite have now met that mark.”

Some questions still remain — if the products were finished from major alterations say 6 months ago (like Gmail or Google Docs), why the lengthy stay in beta? Remember, Gmail has been in beta release for a tedious five years now. The answer may be simple — Google has been marketing Gmail and other Google Apps at businesses — they’ve been attempting to woo businesses great and small into using their software. Why would this create such a delay? Google is smart — Google knows that businesses are (rightfully) nervous about changing anything, especially something complex like a computer system. By taking their time, or at least seeming to take their time, Google seems more serious about the product.

Google Apps, which already enjoys a sizeable amount of regular customers, is taking it slow. Google claims that around 2 million companies already use Google’s “suite of enterprise software”, and a strange trend has developed over at Gmail. This past year alone, use of Gmail has skyrocketed as much as 50% depending on what tech writer you believe. Is this another reason to escape the confines of beta? By removing the “beta” tag from Gmail and other products, Google is stepping up to the plate to prove that it is ready to embrace its built in market. And just in time.