No Longer Beta

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As of July 7, 2009 Gmail is no longer a beta product. After five years, many jokes, and even questions regarding the nature of beta software, Google has dropped the beta tag not only from Gmail, but from the other Google Apps as well, including Calendar, Docs, and Talk.

I’m not sure what the trigger was, or what, if anything has changed in the beta to non-beta release. Traditionally in a beta release of software, the publisher releases to a small community of people to test the application and provide feedback on bugs or enhancements. If you have been using Gmail before February 7, 2007 you’ll remember that the limited audience part was dealt with by invitations. You could only start using Gmail if an existing user invited you. However this was somewhat of a gray area because nobody ever seemed to run out of invitations, therefore you could invite people as much as you like. So what was the point?

Once the invitations were dropped and the product was opened to the public, many thought the beta moniker would also be dropped. Not so. After the development of many of the other features and tweaks including labs, offline capabilities, mobile apps, and dozens of others, many thought the beta tag would be wiped away, but it persisted. Even the support channels seem to be the same as they were in the beta world.

So we are left to wonder what caused Google to finally dump the beta tag. Was it constant harassment and joking from the public? I doubt it. Some say it was reluctance from the corporate world to move their enterprise to products that still carry the beta label. I’m not convinced of that argument either. According to the official Gmail Blog there is no real reason, only a lot of speak about WHAT they have done, not WHY they did it. And now that they’ve left the beta world, what benefit is it to us, the Gmail users?

What’s more interesting is they created a labs feature called “Back to Beta”. If you to go Settings, then Labs, and enable this you’ll get the “beta” tag back on the Gmail graphic. The IT voice inside my head tells me to be cautious of turning this on. I suspect it will preclude you from recognizing new features that come out in the future because you chose to stay in the beta world with the “back to Beta” plugin.

We were all scratching our heads why the product remained in beta for so long and without decent feedback from Google, we are confused even further on what the difference is. Had this been Microsoft, Apple, or some other major software company, an announcement and perhaps ceremony would have been made as their beta product makes it to the public release state. What happened Google?

As a footnote, I use one of the themes found in Gmail. I noticed that I still had the beta tag some 24 hours later. I discovered that I needed to change my theme back to default and then back to my normal theme and the beta tag was gone.

Here’s today’s quick tip: Actually, it’s more of an FYI. As of late June 2009, Gmail upgraded the maximum size of an attachment from 20MB to 25MB. Be aware that you may not be able to send email attachments that large if the recipient is on another mail system. If your message bounces, you might want to ask them to start using Gmail.

That’s all for this time… Comments, suggestions, or questions can be sent to gpodcast@gmail.com or check the website for full information and archives of all previous Gmail tips at chuckchat.com. I have no affiliation with Google other than as a satisfied Gmail user. Thanks for listening, and don’t forget to write.

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