Lose the beta crutch, Google, win the enterprise

Nearly half of all Google products were still in beta at the end of 2008--including 5-year-old Gmail--leading many to wonder what exactly "beta" means to Google. While keeping the beta tag may seem to provide Google with a pass on some failures and glitches, it doesn't do much to warm it to the hearts of enterprise IT.

Google used to offer a corporate tap-dance when it came to fielding questions about its apps' perennial beta status. As it told Buzzblog's Paul McNamara in September:

We believe beta has a different meaning when applied to applications on the Web, where people expect continual improvements in a product. On the Web, you don't have to wait for the next version to be on the shelf or an update to become available. Improvements are rolled out as they're developed. Rather than the packaged, stagnant software of decades past, we're moving to a world of regular updates and constant feature refinement where applications live in the cloud."

Unfortunately for Google, however, the enterprise isn't buying it. TechCrunch reports that Google is currently embroiled in an internal debate on whether or not to remove the beta tags from key products aimed at enterprise accounts, including such no-brainers as Gmail, Google Docs, Google Talk and Google Calendar. It seems enterprises are hesitant to fully embrace beta products, cloud or no cloud. To the enterprise, beta means "not ready for prime time," and few IT execs (unsurprisingly) are willing to bet their company on products whose vendor isn't even sure of them.

And that leaves Google in an enterprise Catch-22. It can't attract enterprises to its wares because they are perennially in beta, but it can't remove the beta tags from those same products because they are perennially being updated with new features to attract those same enterprises.

In actuality, though, the right path for Google is pretty clear. Longtime Gmail users are usually surprised to learn that the tool is still considered beta in Google's eyes, since Gmail made the jump from consumer ware to business-ready enterprise application a long time ago. (And new features like the 41-language-translation capability and LDAP support only increase its standing.)

TechCrunch's Arrington says Google is leaning toward biting the bullet and removing the beta tag from enterprise-targeted wares "sometime soon." And sooner is better. Come on, Google, it's time to lose the beta crutch--and win over the enterprise.

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