Microsoft: Please! Stop Handing Out Beta Software Like Candy!!

by Jon Davis 19. June 2008 04:48

I'm really getting annoyed by the signal-to-noise ratio coming from MSDN over the last year or two with regard to releases versus CTP's and betas.

Beta releases are really supposed to be hush-hush, "sure you can use it but it's not supported, it's available because we need you to test it and report your findings while planning your future deployments". It's inappropriate, though, to pass out beta software as if it was already ready to go.

I'm a HUGE believer in early previews and betas, don't get me wrong. I don't wish Microsoft would stop releasing them. I just wish they would stop marketing them as though they are production supported. Openly releasing Visual Studio 2008 Service Pack 1 Beta directly on http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/vstudio/default.aspx is a really dangerous move because we, the customers, have no guarantee that when the RTM build goes gold the Beta build will uninstall correctly or that the RTM build will successfully overwrite the beta build. Actually, when it comes to development tools and platform SDKs, how many times have you heard the disclaimer, "Installation of this beta software is not recommended on production workstations. We recommend using Virtual PC or a test lab."

Come on, if you're plastering "Download Beta this! and Beta that! today!!" all over your primary tools resources web site, you're just making yourselves look like a company with nothing but beta software. And that's only the second worst thing to vaporware.

I would normally be very excited about beta releases. I just expect them to be packaged and delivered in a way that isn't pre-marketed--I want them documented and detailed, but not shoved in my face in sales pitches in place of examples of how I can use or support what I already have--and then I expect service packs and support for the current released version of a product to be readily available on the product web page. SQL Server's web site has infuriated me time and time again, making my head spin as I scour the Microsoft web site to try to find the latest Service Pack download, when they are throwing at me everything but the kitchen sink to try to gain my interest in stupid success stories, trial versions, and, most prominently, the next version's beta!!

People everywhere, get this through your heads: support for your existing customers is more important to your long-term image than vaporware, sales pitches, and blinking LEDs.

 

On the flip side, I just had a mental flashback of a warm and fuzzy feeling I have towards a beta thing Microsoft engaged in a few years back. It was this wonderful experiment called the ASP.NET Web Matrix, which was basically a beta version of Visual Web Developer Express back in the day. Microsoft had a dedicated site for it--they did not plaster it all over the Visual Studio web site (although they did plaster it all over http://asp.net/), they gave the beta software its own space, isolating it from paying customers of the real Visual Studio. And then, they took feedback. The forum threads were filled with great ideas and wishlist items.

:) Good times.

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About the author

Jon Davis (aka "stimpy77") has been a programmer, developer, and consultant for web and Windows software solutions professionally since 1997, with experience ranging from OS and hardware support to DHTML programming to IIS/ASP web apps to Java network programming to Visual Basic applications to C# desktop apps.
 
Software in all forms is also his sole hobby, whether playing PC games or tinkering with programming them. "I was playing Defender on the Commodore 64," he reminisces, "when I decided at the age of 12 or so that I want to be a computer programmer when I grow up."

Jon was previously employed as a senior .NET developer at a very well-known Internet services company whom you're more likely than not to have directly done business with. However, this blog and all of jondavis.net have no affiliation with, and are not representative of, his former employer in any way.

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