beta by far: the role of trial software

Following on from some of your less than exuberant feedback about the new Mac converters, I looked into it.

To summarise, the Mac BU have released the beta 1 of the file format converters of Office for Mac.  You can download the converter for Word documents here. More info is at the ever useful macmojo blog

First thing to point out is that this is a BETA and also that it is a BETA 1.  There is a bug-ette in that apparently it doesn't handle some reserved characters from non-english languages or some special Unicode characters such as ™.  Any docs that have these characters seem to screw up or don't convert at all.  Apparently the issues with Unicode was documented in the help with the beta.  There is a fix which will roll out with beta 2 of the converter which is due out soon but I can't tell you when.  This is good to know but doesn't answer why it apparently needs admin rights to run.

What interests me about this is people's expectation for product quality from a beta 1 now.  I remember the day when anything short of RTM was not to be used in production and when beta 1 would be considered only for the enthusiast.  Now that we live in the world of Internet startups, betas seem to be the norm.  Then of course Google don't help by seemingly never bringing anything out of beta because their revenue model is not based on actually selling software but on the advertising click-through revenue that software can create - so why do they care if it's beta - in fact mores the better if they don't have to support it but still get the traction. 

Even Microsoft still uses betas to generate awareness as well as for collecting feedback and testing scale.  Office 2007 had more than 3.5 million beta downloads before launch.  We had set ourselves a target of one million but this was surpassed in under 2 months.  The built in instrumentation in the betas definately helps us a lot to understand how the product is used and to collect bugs but there is no denying that it also generates massive buzz ahead of the release.  With so many people and companies deploying betas into production, the expectations for product quality and increasingly ad-hoc support albeit via communities (and blogs) seems to be ever on the rise.  I suppose with updates coming along continually, the idea of a released "version" is also somewhat grey. 

Talking of betas, live writer has just released a beta 2 so I better upgrade and tell you what I think of it...

Comments (6)

  1. As I said before , beta 2 of live writer is available . I really like it already. Cool new features include:

  2. Rosyna says:

    Just because something is beta doesn’t mean it should automatically be considered lower quality or that it should be excused for having massive bugs. This applies to any software.

  3. dstrange says:

    why not? betas are a tool to get feedback during development.  The point is, that whilst we as beta testers accept that it will be buggy, it gives us an impression on which we can comment.  If it was release quality and had no known bugs, why not ship it?  

  4. Charles says:

    I think what perplexes people – and maybe it needs some more detailed explanation – is why MS has known what the file format for O2007 is for ages (right?) and known how to wangle it about within Windows, which means that the APIs are known (right?), yet the MacBU has taken this long to come up with beta 0.1, which can’t do this and that.

    And that’s quite separate from its bad behaviour as a piece of software.

    Maybe it’s unreasonable to expect such things, but then you need to explain why. These days, being monolithic simply doesn’t work. At least, not if you don’t want people simply to decide that you’re talking down to them, which they hate. Don’t you hate talking to call centres? That’s what this is like: "Hello? Yes? No, it’s a beta. Because it is. No, it just is. Sorry, I said, a beta. Bye now!"

  5. dstrange says:

    you make a very good point about the MacBU integration.  It is a mystery to me why this has taken so long.  In their defence, I suppose they aren’t that large a group but still..

    The other point is just a bit silly though.  It is a beta, it will have bugs, it is not supported and it is not designed to be used in production.  If you don’t like flakey software then don’t install betas.  Its that simple.  It’s not patronising it’s just not a very complicated proposition.  Why people would be ringing a support centre for support on a blatantly unsupported beta baffles me.  These beta testers are just wanting free stuff before its finished without any of the pain.

  6. I saw this and thought those of you with Mac customers might find this useful if Office 2007 is around

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