The Web or how to get buggy software

EXE Magazine, September 1997

‘Remember how exciting these Net upgrades used to be?’ This appeared in Need to Know ( when commenting about the availability of the beta of FrontPage 98, the final version of Netcaster and DirectX 5.0. I do, and I even remember before the Web when software was sent on CD-ROM and before that on floppy disks (3"1/2, 5"1/4 and vaguely the time of the 8"). Back then the difference between alpha, beta and final versions was clear. Commercial software meant final.

Today, you can buy some beta versions, often called Previews just to muddle things further. Instead of hiring staff to release software with no known bugs many (if not most) companies rely on wide Web distribution of early code to find bugs. Versions 1.0 are as transient as the pre-final ones, a Web year later – ie 3 months later at most – there's an update and so on.

End-users are always at least a few versions late when they're lucky, or if they have an Internet connection often have a non-working computer. Developers are working with (too) many betas and have to maintain compatibility with the version of the day. They spend too much time downloading betas, and then looking for patches. Maybe if the source of commercial applications was available to read, software houses would be more careful as to what they release as their reputation might depend on it.

David Mery

(C)1997, Centaur Communications Ltd. Reproduced with the kind permission of EXE Magazine.