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Jim Morris's Thought of the Week (or month, or year, ...)

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Endless Beta

Google News spent three years in Beta release, GMail is still in Beta, and the Google Earth T-shirt notes that the Earth itself has been in Beta for 4.7 billion years. I’m beginning to get the message: In the future, many software offerings will have a minimal Alpha phase before release to the public and no Gamma phase (if that’s what you call the period after Beta). The development team will get the software up and running, release it, and keep enhancing it for its lifetime, perhaps changing the software daily.

Software wants to change; it’s the nature of the beast. All hackers wish to operate this way – and it takes years of training, some of it painful, before they accept the rigorous test and release regime of industrial software. The Software as a Service business model seems to offer us an escape back to the time when every bug could be fixed immediately and every new idea tried instantly.

However, the Endless Beta requires a new kind of software engineering. The freedom to release at will must be tempered with the discipline to make every release an improvement with fewer bugs and better features. The practices of the Open Source community with its hierarchy of release controllers (a.k.a. “committers”) demonstrate one successful method: Each person’s changes are checked by a more responsible person in the community.

The method for testing will change since the entire user community will be an involuntary test organization. The software will contain elaborate monitoring facilities that log every bug and difficulty users encounter without their awareness. The development team will come in every morning (or night), apply triage to the logs, address the most important things, and put out a new release.

The pace of testing and fixing will become relentless with competitors struggling to match each others’ offerings on a daily basis. It will seem like an endless programming contest. Be careful what you wish for, hackers.

posted by Jim Morris @ 2:56 PM 


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