Update: Google Apps lose the beta label

Gmail, Calendar, Docs, and Talk are losing their beta tags in a move intended to calm concerns among IT managers and CIOs

Google will drop the "beta" label from Gmail, Calendar, Docs and Talk in one fell swoop on Tuesday to rid its Apps communication and collaboration suite of this problematic tag that spooks many IT managers and CIOs.

Google is also announcing specific enhancements to Apps, including the ability for someone to delegate use of their mailbox and for administrators to set policies and parameters for e-mail retention.

[ Back in May, Google first mentioned plans to shed the beta tag from some Apps. | Discover what's new in business applications with InfoWorld's Technology: Applications newsletter. ]

Matthew Glotzbach, Google Enterprise product management director, acknowledged that from the outside the decision to graduate Gmail, Calendar, Docs, and Talk out of beta at once may seem arbitrary.

However, the removal of the beta label from those services is rather the "culmination" of a years-long process of maturation through which the products have exceeded internal goals for reliability, quality and usability, he said.

Glotzbach also granted that Google lacks a uniform set of criteria across its different product groups for determining when a product should and shouldn't carry the beta label.

"We haven't had a consistent set of standards across the product teams. It has been done individually. We're going to fix that," he said.

While the beta issue is less important for consumers, it is a major roadblock for the Enterprise group's efforts to market Apps, especially when dealing with large companies and their IT managers and CIOs.

"This helps ease the minds of IT executives at companies that have looked at beta as a potentially distracting or concerning label," Glotzbach said.

Now, Apps, which also includes the Sites wiki and site creation application and Google Video, a YouTube-based video-sharing service for business, will have no beta-labeled components.

Google has finally understood that enterprises don't view beta labels on a product as a positive sign of consistent innovation, which is how Google has historically defined the term, Gartner analyst Matt Cain said.

In many large organizations, deploying beta-labeled code for essential applications, such as e-mail, is simply out of the question, he said.

"It was a fundamental misreading of the enterprise market," he said. "Google didn't understand that in the enterprise, beta isn't a good thing. It's a bad thing."

By insisting on keeping key Apps components in beta, Google has been playing into the hands of competitors, which have gladly used the beta issue to argue that the suite wasn't ready for prime time, Cain said.

"One could ask why it took Google so long to get rid of the beta label," he said.

The decision probably followed an intense debate inside Google, which the pragmatists in the Enterprise group ultimately won, since they are the ones who have to hit the street and try to sell Apps to senior IT executives, Cain said.

Gmail, Calendar, Docs and Talk are also losing their beta tags as stand-alone services for consumers.

Google has been trying hard to lure large businesses to Apps since the introduction of the Premier version of the suite in February 2007, and has accelerated those efforts recently with enhancements like offline access for Gmail, support for BlackBerry devices and a synchronization plug-in for Outlook.

"We've been knocking down barriers one by one for enterprise adoption of Apps Premier," he said.

The company is now seeing on average one large company adopting Apps Premier per week, Glotzbach said. Google defines a large Apps account as one with 1,000 or more Premier seats.

On Tuesday, Google is announcing another such customer win. Fairchild Semiconductor is moving about 5,500 end users in 18 offices worldwide from Lotus Notes to Apps Premier, which costs $50 per user, per year.

In the coming weeks, Premier customers will get e-mail delegation capabilities, which come in handy when assistants need access to executives' mailboxes to deal with messages on their bosses' behalf.

Another new feature to be delivered in a matter of weeks will be the ability for administrators to set up e-mail retention policies, which is important in particular for companies that need to comply with regulations regarding document storage and retention.

On the back end, Google is boosting the reliability of Apps, which is a hosted software suite. Google is implementing "live replication of data" among its datacenters which will result in "near instant disaster recovery," according to a Google statement.

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