Microsoft Rethinks the Beta Process

By eweek  |  Posted 2006-03-15 Email Print this article Print

If Paul Flessner and his SQL Server team have their way, traditional beta releases may soon be a thing of the past. And they aren't the only ones pushing to overhaul the way Microsoft builds software to more closely emulate the open-source process.

Consider the beta. Beta testing has been the cornerstone of the software development process for Microsoft and most other commercial software makers for as long as theyve been writing software. But if certain powers-that-be in Redmond, Wash., have their way, betas may soon be a thing of the past for Microsoft, its partners and its customers. Whats behind the shift?
Beta builds are predictable milestones by which external and internal testers have measured their progress toward the delivery of final code. Betas are typically few and far between, and feedback on them tends to be late and sometimes lame. But they are nonetheless a known quantity, and one that software developers, OEM partners and customers of all sizes rely on in gauging when and how to support a new product.
Open source turned the traditional software development paradigm on its head. In the open-source world, testers receive frequent builds of products under development. Their recommendations and suggestions typically find their way more quickly into developing products. And the developer community is considered as important to writing quality code as are the "experts" shepherding the process. Until fairly recently, Microsoft championed the way it "made the sausage" as the best way. But in the last year or so, theres been a noticeable change in the companys rhetoric. Top Microsoft brass have been wondering aloud whether big-bang betas are the best way to develop and test software. Might there be a better alternative?
Microsofts Engineering Excellence unit, headed by 20-year company veteran Jon DeVaan, is overseeing a project to re-engineer the way software is developed inside Microsoft. DeVaan, a member of Microsofts central Business Leadership Team, manages the engineering standards used to create Microsofts software products. Read the full story on Microsoft Watch: Microsoft Rethinks the Beta Process Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.

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