Google peels 'beta' label off Gmail, other Google Apps

After years in beta, Gmail, Google Calendar, Talk and Doc finally lose training wheels

Google Inc. today took the training wheels off some key hosted Google Apps offerings that have spent years in beta-test mode.

Google announced late this morning that it's peeling the beta label off some main Google Apps services, including Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk and Google Docs. The Google Apps suite targeting businesses was launched two years ago and has been in beta ever since. Gmail, though, has worn the beta tag for even longer -- more than five years.

Matt Glotzbach, product management director for Google Enterprise, wrote in a Google blog post that the super-long beta period puzzled some users, who believed that the beta label meant the services weren't ready for the enterprise.

"Ever since we launched the Google Apps suite for businesses two years ago, it's had a service level agreement, 24/7 support, and has met or exceeded all the other standards of non-beta software," wrote Glotzbach. "And we run our own business on Google Apps, as do more than 1.75 million companies around the world. We've come to appreciate that the beta tag just doesn't fit for large enterprises that aren't keen to run their business on software that sounds like it's still in the trial phase."

He added that all of the applications in the suite met Google's standard for coming out of beta, so the term "beta" will be removed from all of the product logos today.

Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc., said it's a move that might make Google Apps more appealing to the enterprise.

"Taking the beta tag off of Google Apps is kind of like taking the training wheels off of your kid's bike," he said. "If there were problems, Google could always fall back on the 'but it's a beta' line, either explicitly or implicitly. But now that the apps are fully baked, they don't have that excuse anymore and will be held to a higher standard."

But Olds also noted that Google Apps -- beta or not -- are still held to a different standard than competitive packaged software.

"That standard is still fairly low, as most users don't expect quite the same level of fit and finish in free or inexpensive applications as they do in a full-price suite like Microsoft Office," he said. "I'm not sure that this move will garner them any more users, but it might make the suite a bit more attractive to skittish types who shy away from the beta label on everything from software to videotape formats."

Google has taken several steps this year to help push Google Apps into the enterprise, coming out with offline access, and support for BlackBerry and Outlook users.

Google today also announced new features for Gmail.

One new tool, called e-mail delegation, will enable administrative assistants to handle and send e-mail on behalf of other people. Google also added an e-mail retention tool that is geared to help IT administrators lay out policies about when e-mail will be purged from the system.

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