Google is finally taking off the ‘beta’ tags from key online programs in an attempt to rid itself of a reputation for consumer-grade programs.
Google Mail (in beta for five years), Calendar, Docs and Talk are dropping the labels from their masthead with immediate effect. Dave Armstrong, Google’s Enterprise head of marketing, said that the convention had been intended to demonstrate that sites were going through “continuous innovation” but had long been ready for enterprise adoption and were now as robust as its core search offering.
“When Google talks about beta we’re really talking about continuous innovation rather than the historic ‘this product isn’t ready [meaning],” he said, adding that some customers and prospects had expressed concern that having the ‘beta’ supplement to the product name could detract from business acceptance.
“We’re not going to stop the continuous innovation but some organisations raised questions and certain organisations saw it as an issue... some have seen it as a ‘keep off’.”
Despite this, Armstrong maintains that individual product teams will still have control on for how long their sites maintain beta status.
Not everyone is completely convinced by Google’s about-turn.
“The irony in Google's decision is that web companies' ‘beta’ tag has long been their way of behaving like the on-premise, proprietary software world, while trying to avoid blame for doing so,” said Matt Asay, vice president of business development at open-source enterprise content management company Alfresco.
“While it's a step in the right direction toward transparency, open-source companies like Alfresco and Red Hat take Google's ‘beta’ one step further by openly acknowledging ‘beta’ status on our community-driven projects while also providing transparency into the development processes and bug fixes for our ‘Enterprise’ labelled, production-grade systems. Google can call GMail what it likes, but we still don't know what's going on behind the scenes.”
In a related move, Google’s Armstrong also said the firm is moving to reassure customers as to reliability and high availability of programs. The firm said it is moving to a strategy of “dual homing” so that if one datacentre fails, applications will fail over to a secondary datacentre and the customer will not suffer from any service issues. Google endured a well publicised outage in May when an error in the firm’s systems caused traffic to be re-routed, causing a “traffic jam”.
Armstrong added that another strategy change will mean that Premier customers -- that is, those paying a fee to use applications -- will also benefit from higher levels of service than other users.
The moves come as Google is stepping up its effort to attract business users through a series of product enhancements such as the addition of offline capabilities. Recent wins with companies like vehicle parts maker Valeo, in addition to existing deployments such as those at the Guardian News Media Group, Prudential, Fairchild Semiconductor and Telegraph Media
Group, suggest Google is making progress in cracking the commercial sector although Microsoft remains by far the dominant player in business productivity applications and messaging.