Beta Products Are Unfinished Business

Opinion: Beta products should not be considered for prime time use.

There are many things that are true about businesses, but probably the truest is that businesses love to use things that arent considered ready for use.

For example, companies love to hire people who admit that they arent ready to do their jobs effectively. And companies love to locate themselves in buildings that are not yet completely built. Most of all, organizations love to run their vital business processes on products that havent been officially released and are still considered incomplete.

I know what some of you are thinking: Are you nuts, Jim? Companies dont want to hire people who arent ready to do their jobs. And no company would take the risk of moving into a building that isnt considered ready for occupation.

All right, Ill give you those two. But Ive seen more and more companies use products that are officially marked as unready and more and more vendors willing to sell companies these products.

What are these incomplete products? They are, of course, betas.

/zimages/7/28571.gifTo read about Microsofts release of the first public beta for "Longhorn", click here.

Sure, betas have been around forever. And there have always been companies willing to use beta products. But companies have typically used betas in a limited mode, mainly for testing.

But Ive been seeing an increasing number of companies not only using betas for vital company processes but also actually paying for these betas.

Like many new trends, this one appears to have come out of Google. Many of the most popular Google services and applications get lots of use while they are in beta (and they often stay in beta for more than a year).

But its one thing to use a beta product for free personal e-mail or scheduling and quite a different thing to use (and pay for) a beta for an important business purpose. The most common area where this occurs is in on-demand or hosted services. When one looks at a hosted service, there really is no definition of when a product is finished. On-demand applications are constantly being updated, and new revisions are rolled out to customers often on a monthly basis.

When I recently spoke to a rep for an on-demand vendor that was selling a product listed as beta, he argued that the product was fully supported and that the vendor believed it was stable. Then stop calling it beta, I replied.

Think of it this way: I purchase a new product to run a key process for my company. A flaw occurs and data is lost, then time and money are lost recovering from the error. How much more trouble do you think Id be in with my bosses if I had to tell them that the problem was caused by the beta product that I had purchased?

If the product is ready for use, then say so. And leave the beta term where it belongs—on unfinished products.

/zimages/7/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.