Beta Software Good Enough for Production?

Slashdot posts: MS: Beta Software Good Enough for Production Use. “RMX writes “CNet is reporting that Microsoft is starting to license test software for real-world use. In particular, Visual Studio 2005 and the April “community technology preview” of SQL Server 2005 are both supposed to be released sometime in the second half of the year. But Microsoft is claiming the pre-release versions are stable already, so they’re licensing the pre-released versions on the grounds that they ‘are already suitable for running production business applications.'”

Where do you start with an article like this? Microsoft knew they were throwing bloody meat into a tank of hungry sharks.

The good angel pops up on the right shoulder and says “Now, Ted, there’s nothing to gain by commenting on this.” The little devil, looking a lot like the BSD daemon, speaks up “Burn them! Burn them!”

The cheap punchlines are irresistable: “How can you tell Microsoft software is in beta?” “It’s shipping.” *rimshot*

The truth is always somewhere in the middle of extreme positions. I had the honor of working with the Fox Software and Microsoft FoxPro team over the past fifteen years, and when they shipped a beta, it was a beta: feature-complete, pretty much documented, passes a smoke test, not likely to destroy your data, nearly impossible to destroy your machine, solid and nearly ready for production. The Fox Team understood beta meant ready for testing in a form unlikely to cause heartache for their customers, top-notch database application developers.

“Beta” on the other hand, means different things in different parts of Microsoft. An associate devoted an enormous amount of time and effort to mastering BizTalk in Beta One, only to have Beta Two ship with so many changes that it was effectively a new product. A huge waste of time and effort trying to lead the market and “partner” with Microsoft.

Rick Schummer over at Shedding Some Light reacts: “I for one would never deploy a production version of my custom applications with beta products at this stage of development, and I have worked with some rock solid beta versions in the past. What happens to your production products when Microsoft decides to pull a feature out of the product because it cannot be tested sufficiently or they decide it was poorly designed or implemented?”

The Free/Open Source Software community seems to have a different perspective on the idea. Software is hardly ever complete. And if the software is complete, the problem has probably changed, or there’s new hardware to support, a new language to translate, or a new interface to support. So, if the software is sufficiently mature, there’s usually a “stable” version that’s been around for a while, an “unstable” version with new features, but not a lot of history, and an “cutting-edge” version, sometimes a nightly build, for those who want to help develop or test the source hot off the keyboards. So, you pick the version that’s right for you. You find the version that has the features that you need, balances your risk aversion with reports of problems, and see if it meets your needs. Download, build, install, test, evaluate and go live.

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