In Memory of Beta Software

by Devanshu Mehta Jun 14, 2007

There was a time when beta used to mean something. Not any more.

Beta used to mean: “only for those crazy living-on-the-edge types who understand software, enjoy being a conscientious (software) user, and enjoy being part of a community.” Installing beta software used to involve a combination of fear and excitement: fear of catastrophic data loss and excitement of being part of something cool.

That was before Google launched every single product as beta and kept them that way for years. It was before using a beta version just meant you read Walt Mossberg regularly or downloaded everything you read about on Digg.

It was before beta was used as a marketing ploy to get buzz while enjoying plausible deniability. Well of course it sucks, they say. It’s only in beta.

Now we are offered Safari 3.0 beta for Windows—a product whose only purpose, whatever Jobs may claim, is to help developers target the iPhone—and everyone piles on the complaints. It’s insecure. It’s buggy. It doesn’t show the web sites I like and it crashes on my FlashJavaAjaxExtravaganza.

In the olden days, this kind of feedback would be hailed as a successful beta period. The community has spoken and now the final product will have all the fixes.

For Safari 3 beta, all I will say is—stand back, everyone. It’s beta for a reason.

This is where you say: Oh my god! He’s defending Apple! Surely he’s a fanboy idiot!

There will be a time in the near future when it will not be in beta. If the same complaints remain, bash it to a pulp and we will all return to our Firefox, Camino, Opera, or other.

The reason for all the criticism heaped on the Safari beta is understandable. It was touted as the fastest and best browser in existence in a Steve Jobs keynote! As far as marketing goes, that is the best rollout you can get. For an incomplete beta product, it is an impossibly high standard to meet. This, after months of having the PC show up as a nerdy, buggy, and infected man on TV.

You may wonder why the browser was released to the general public in such a form. They could have waited longer and sprung it on the public when it was much closer to being complete.

Well, no. They had to have it ready at least a few weeks prior to the June 29 release of the iPhone so that developers could have something ready at launch time. And then, just like they did with the OS X Tiger Dashboard widgets, Apple will be able to proudly claim that there are 17,000 iPhone-ready third-party applications at launch.

Here’s where you say: Oh my god! He’s attacking Apple! Surely he’s an MS apologist or Dell-paid flunky with no taste!

It was a move pushed by the necessity of marketing and the timing of other product releases.  A friend of mine tried it out to get a taste of Apple software and was disappointed—it crashed on some sites and failed to load others. He may try again when it comes out of beta. Then again, he may not. It is unfortunate that Safari’s beta had to be announced at a Jobsnote. Let us hope they have a decent product when it comes out of beta, otherwise Safari for Windows will be used only for browser compliance testing and fewer browser choices mean fewer angels with wings.

Oh my god! He’s bashing and defending Apple! Surely my… two opposing thoughts…—were the last words heard before the universe collapsed in a singularity.


  • I couldn’t agree more, I’ve been using it since Monday on my iBook no problem at all, as a matter I’ve been enjoying the improvement over version 2.
    There is this radio station I listen to on the web for several years, and i had one problem listening to it on a mac I constantly had to keep refreshing the station, (i’ve tried every browser on the mac platform) after listening to it on windows computer and never having to refreshing it, it was a welcome surprise for me when i started using the version 3 that i could listen to the station the way i did on a window’s machine.
    Thanks apple and i can’t wait for the continued improvement.

    Shaun Thompson had this to say on Jun 14, 2007 Posts: 4
  • Agreed. When something is labelled “beta” it means “you may look at it if you want to, and you may also help to improve it”. You do not wish to use it in any even slightly critical environment, and for the love of (your preference), you do not go out and CRY over the faults in the way we currently see in regard to Safari 3.0. As so very often, too many people allowed to use computers.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Jun 14, 2007 Posts: 371
  • Don’t forget Firefox.  They pushed thsir browser as “the next great thing” and kept the version number below 1.0 for as long as possible to maintain this same type of deniability.

    “It’s the best browser ever!  Finally a choice instead of Microsoft!  You must, must, must love us!  It does web standards!  Pour on the love!!  We’re awesome and everyone else sucks!!!”

    Um, well it’s slow and crashes a lot.

    “What the hell do you expect, it’s not even 1.0!!!!”

    I wonder how many of today’s Firefox fanboys are trashing Safari for doing EXACTLY WHAT FIREFOX DID a few years back.

    luomat had this to say on Jun 14, 2007 Posts: 10
  • This is hardly a heinous crime. This beta has been pushed out there for testers to fill the security void before release. I think it’s a great use of the beta test channel. That it’s a good release now (in terms of usability, if not security) is hardly grounds for criticism.

    It was before beta was used as a marketing ploy to get buzz while enjoying plausible deniability. Well of course it sucks, they say. It’s only in beta.

    This is entirely fair behaviour. A beta is distributed with a certain proviso that the software is, well, beta - you can use it but we don’t recommend it for “production environments” and won’t be liable for damage caused. Well if you don’t like those odds, don’t use it.

    This beta software has security holes and is untested. Other than that, it’s good software.

    What’s changed, exactly?

    Benji had this to say on Jun 14, 2007 Posts: 927
  • @Ben- the company’s point of view would have been more acceptable if it wasn’t pushed in a Steve Jobs keynote. A keynote that automatically puts it on the front page of non-technical sites.

    The real problem is that many solid products have remained in Beta for years, making the average consumer take it lightly. We have been numbed to the ‘beta’ tag, and this is unfortunate. It has forced many developers to use ‘alpha’ when they mean the product is unstable; and pretty soon the marketing gurus will appropriate that term as well. Unfortunately, alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, so we’re stuck!

    Devanshu Mehta had this to say on Jun 14, 2007 Posts: 108
  • So are you saying that Apple should A. use the beta term correctly in an attempt to correct the situation or B. use another term to try and convey the concept of being beta software?

    Benji had this to say on Jun 14, 2007 Posts: 927
  • I agree that the term beta has been abused by none other than our good friend, Google. If (like you mentioned) all Google can accomplish is to dish us beta-quality software for months, then don’t do it at all.

    I am not at all against Google’s web software strategies. Google just needs to be more responsible that a beta means beta and is not meant for general population consumption.

    Look how Joost has done with their initial software testing. It is purely beta and is in limited “friends-only” distribution. That is how beta software needs to be. Just because it works for you doesn’t mean it does for me.

    As for Apple’s Safari 3.0 beta for Windows. I’ve tried it and it is a memory-gobblin’ monster. Even when idle with the default home page, it will start nibbling memory at will. Try some Flash-enabled sites, like Pandora, and this problem becomes humongous.

    So, went back to Firefox immediately. I will try again when Apple releases a REAL 1.0 version.

    Good article, Dev!


    Robomac had this to say on Jun 14, 2007 Posts: 846
  • Agreed, Devanshu. In the olden days you used to have to sign up for beta testing and then had a responsibility to report back to the developer.

    I think ICQ was one of the first I remember releasing an uncontrolled public beta.

    And you’re already right about alpha. In the olden days alpha versions would never be let outside the developer’s, but now alpha versions pop up on MacUpdate and the like quite regularly.

    Is it all a good thing? No. It’s given developers a “justifiable” excuse for buggy software. It’s not god for software standards which were bad enough before hand.

    Every first version of Windows should have been called beta under this new usage of the term. Ditto OS X 10.0 to 10.2.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jun 14, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • @Ben:
    I’m saying that:
    A. Apple should have made a quieter launch, since it is a beta.
    B. The word ‘beta’ like the word ‘hacker’ should be reclaimed and misuse should be called out for what it is.
    C. Users and the media should know what they’re getting in to with beta software.

    Devanshu Mehta had this to say on Jun 14, 2007 Posts: 108
  • My thoughts on this pretty much echo that of John Gruber.

    If Apple did not want the criticism it got, it should have treated the beta release as a beta release. No marketing pages trying to convince the world why the browser is great—in fact they should have had a big giant warning page discouraging everyone but web designers, iPhone “programmers”, and crazy people from downloading it. If you act as though your software is bug free (“Designed Safari to be secure from day one.) or ready for mass consumption, then don’t act surprised if I complain that it is broken.

    Maybe Apple should follow Gruber’s final line of advice. Call it “Safari 3.01—Buggy!”

    SterlingNorth had this to say on Jun 15, 2007 Posts: 121
  • If Apple had offered it quietly as a Beta then no problem. But they went overboard in a blaze of publicity. When Safari hangs, as it does frequently, it is clearly not the fastest browser available. Apple may have shot themselves in the foot by offering Windows users a product that is clearly inferior to everything except Internet Explorer. But perhaps Windows users don’t care.

    peterjohndean had this to say on Jun 18, 2007 Posts: 1
  • Like the Leopard BETA, this beta release seems geared to developers, not average users.  I don’t blame it for bugginess OR security holes.  It clearly isn’t designed for security YET.  Why would it be?

    But I don’t even use Safari on my Mac so I’m not bothering with this at all anyway.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jun 18, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Page 1 of 1 pages
You need log in, or register, in order to comment