Monday, October 1, 2007

The Benefits of Beta Software

Here at Centric we have several rules of thumb. One of my favorites is never cast your beta net too wide, which seems to be happening in the CRM market recently.

The beta testing system is about bringing a select number of users into the vendor's fold in order to get a close communication between user and the developers. This not only helps the vendor with the trickier aspects of fine-tuning, it also ensures that end users are crystal clear on what they are using at the stage it is at. The final version might be right round the corner, but what if the company responsible for the beta keeps moving the corner? Without complete insider knowledge, customers simply can’t predict what will and won’t break when the final code ships.

Of course from the platform vendor’s point of view there are obvious advantages to rolling out a beta to as many people as possible. Microsoft in particular has long enlisted the help of interested enthusiasts and experts to help it iron out the inevitable bugs in its software. Parading betas in public can also prove to be a useful marketing ploy in terms of raising the profile of both the company and its products.

It’s not just vendors who benefit from betas. As users we all like access to the latest and greatest tools (so late and great they are still in beta). If you can deal with the pain that goes with them (now and in the future) it sometimes makes sense to experiment with beta products – you might even use them for some prototyping work. But to start working on mission-critical projects using a beta version as your preferred platform makes no sense.

Beta software, by its very definition, is unfinished software. It’s a product in the pipeline and inevitably contains bugs and glitches to be identifed and resolved. What’s more, test driving a beta version of a Microsoft Office word processor is one thing; installing a beta version of a complete CRM platform is quite another.

At Centric, we believe the whole point of coming up with a developer beta is to identify potential pitfalls, problems and challenges and resolve them before we release our products to the broader marketplace. As such, betas are very much an internal matter. What we might lose in short term publicity we will more than make up for in terms of long-term respect from our customers.

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