Perpetual Beta

Perpetual beta is a different approach to the development and testing of web applications. This differs from the traditional style of beta testing conducted by companies developing an out of the box and installed piece of software. This idea of perpetual beta being used in the transition into a browsing experience dominated by user participation and increasingly rich content has only been available by the advent of web2.0. This evolution of the internet means that delivering large and complex applications to the user giving the experience of a installed piece of software. My favourite example of this is recently is using Pixlr, a browser based photo editing software. Having used photoshop extensivley for over 5 years I think it is a truly impressive service.

The best and most recognised example this style of development is of course Googles Gmail. Google launched gmail as an invite only live working beta service way back in 2004. This smaller initial launch of the site meant live testing with instant statistics and feedback from the users, who are essentially test subjects. I didn’t start using the service until it became public release early 2007 still sporting the beta title. This beta version that i was experiencing provided a better experience then the hotmail which without a beta tag must have been a finished product right? What i am trying to say is that this “work in progress” suggested by the beta tag was in no way different to that of established service e.g hotmail. this isn’t to say that Hotmail has been static for any period of time it constantly evolves and changes at a similar rate. This is title that Google employs with most of its new products like my previously discussed new favorite Googles wave.

The reason Google is using this method of a pre-release working version that eventually evolves seamlessly into the new and improved gmail non-beta, is they are developing an entirely different principle of software design than that used of traditional on the shelf programs. Google is rapidly dominating the information industry by diversifying its web presence so much that they have built an entirely browser centric operating system, Chrome OS. This is what differentiates Google from older generation software companies like the ever enduring Microsoft. Although anyone who’s used windows knows that its really perpetual beta in disguise with the windows update utility 😛

Traditional software development employed the use of beta testing in a walled garden by developers or the select invited few. This is a costly and time consuming phase of software development however is critical to ensure a reliable product for the paying consumer. This software is then installed onto the PC and runs locally; all of the necessary data stored on the hardware or disc. This is expected to work without the need to be updated or fixed.

When building an application based in the browser none of this data is stored locally on the machine rather accessed and viewed via the internet. The user is always using the latest version without the need to download and install “service packs”, also meaning everyones using the same version. This shift from the use of local applications to efficient and intuitive web based technology will prove to be an exciting time coupled with the growing interest in the use of cloud computing. The potential for enterprise systems to become browser based means that perpetual beta is going to become a wider used method of development.


One Response to Perpetual Beta

  1. But i don’t think that the release of application to be tested with walled gardens of developers and invitation has the same result than when you actually test it to anyone. Some issues only comes when the traffic is high.

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