The World Still Isn't Your Beta Site
By Stephen Lawton
years ago, I wrote an editorial in another magazine entitled "Notice
To Software Developers: The World Is Not Your Beta." Not only has
this warning not been heeded, things seem to be getting worse. In that
rant, I took companies to task for releasing software that simply wasn't
ready for prime time. Today, we not only have some vendors distributing
questionable - if not useless - software, we also are forced to provide
extensive demographics to use it.
There is a danger here. We do not live
in those same benevolent days when users could trust that the software
distributed on the Net was free from malicious viruses or, even worse,
intrusive code that revealed personal information. Not only am I concerned
with poorly written and infected code, I'm concerned about privacy.
Beta, by definition, means it is buggy;
it's not a finished product. My concern is that beta software is getting
out of hand. While it might be heresy to say this, I think vendors should
take more responsibility with the beta software they distribute. In
some cases, it's starting to appear that companies are calling software
a final release version because they are bored with putting out betas.
They call it final and then start with a new set of betas. This has
improved a little in the browser arena, but there's a lot of other beta
and alpha software ready for consumption.
Some information systems managers hold
back from using beta packages, opting instead for released products.
They do this for two reasons: Final software generally is more reliable
and of higher quality, and the IS manager will have more control over
versions and licenses. However, with so many users downloading their
own versions of beta software, the potential for problems still exists.
When I started writing about technology
in 1978, beta software was something that you gave to special users
– those savvy enough to be able to test the code and report back on
bugs. Today, there is a plethora of software available for download
that, simply put, is just plain junk. Quality meant something then,
but I'm not sure it has the same meaning today.
But there are other, more insidious reasons
for distributing software - or any product - free on the Net. It affords
an opportunity to gather significant amounts of personal data about
the person downloading the software. Once the vendor obtains this data,
it very likely will end up in the hands of marketers who will be very
happy to share it with marketing firms willing to pay big bucks for
Marketers know far too much about me
already - I don't want to help them any more than I must. Privacy is
more than just elusive. Once it's lost, it's gone! Forever! Unless you
change your identity, your demographics will become part of the national
experience. Maybe I'm overstating this a little, but I value my privacy,
and I'll not let software companies grab my demographics just for the
right of being their guinea pig.