Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Beta/CTP Process

VSTS is the first time I have seriously gotten involved with beta testing (well, pre-beta testing really) a product. I love how Microsoft has opened up the development process of their next generation tools to all developers, and not just a select few. That said, there are some people who are not so happy with what they are doing.

Rick Strahl sees Microsoft's current approach as Beta Perversion. While I think he raises some interesting points, I think his biggest hangup is with the words "beta process". After reading his blog, I have an understanding for how Microsoft has done beta testing in the past, and how they are doing it differently now. I like how they are doing it now. I think, however, they should remove the word "beta" and stick with calling things CTPs (Community Tech Previews).

As Rick mentions, the word "beta" denotes a certain stability. In the same vein, it also denotes a certain inflexibility, in that usually when a product is in beta, only the major bugs get addressed. In contrast, with the way Microsoft is doing VSTS with the CTPs, we are getting the ability to influence and make changes to how the software works, which I think is a cool thing.

Josh Ledgard has written a good response to Rick's post. He also makes mention that maybe they should not use the word "beta", and that the word "beta" might be what is hanging some people up. Here is a quote from his post:

"What needs to happen, in the future, is that more teams need to act like the Foxpro team and treat the MVPs (or best customers) as part of the product team. These customers should have the opportunity to be reading our specs for Orcas soon after they have been written and ever before any code has been produced."

Not that I am an MVP, or would probably be included in the above class of people, but I think this is a great idea. I would kill to have the kind of early access, and I do think it would be fitting for MVPs and other select customers to have that access.

Rick also made mention about all the press about the "next great development tools", at the expense of the current development tools. I agree with him here. Sometimes the press does run with the "latest and greatest" at the expense of the "here and now". I have suffered from the "do I try and do it now, or do I wait for the new tool, which will do so much more for me" syndrome. But then again, I love having all the information at my fingertips. Its being able to process all that information that is difficult sometimes, but that is my problem, not the people writing the information.

Here is part of Josh's response to that concerning VS2005:

"The funny thing is that I think marketing had less to do with this perception than the product teams being told they could be more open and then being publicly excited about what they where working on. It's a period of adjustment for us and customers as we learn how to be more open."

I think blogs have had a heck of an impact in letting people know about the latest product information. And I would never want to go back to the pre-blog days. I love how open the people at Microsoft have become, and how I can make a comment on their blog, or send them an email, and I get a response! Rob Caron, who I had the pleasure of meeting at Tech Ed 2004, has been instrumental in helping me get up and going with VSTS. I've traded emails and blog posts with several other members of the Team System Team, and the blogosphere in general. I'm digressing from my original topic, but I think blogs are the best thing to happen for developers in a long time.

Rob asks the question, in his post "Write about the 'here and now', or the 'soon to be':

"What about 1.0 products? When is the right time to write about them? I think back on the deluge of books that was published for .NET long before it shipped, and I can’t help but wonder what to expect for Team System."

I don't think there is any good answer to this question. Personally, I don't think they should start cranking out those books until the first solid Beta 1 release. (There's that word beta again! I'm going to have to do like Scoble did with the word "blog", and start donating money!). However, there really is no way for Microsoft or any other vendor to stop people from writing books about pre-release software. I know of a couple of people who have already started a Team System book, using a CTP from a couple of months back. As long as it is promenently displayed on the book that the information may not be current, I guess there is no big problem with it. Some people prefer to have the information consolidated into book form for them. Others like reading it on the Web and piecing information together from different blogs. To each his own, I suppose. I'll admit, I have bought a couple of ASP.NET 2.0 books, and I will probably buy a couple of Team System books as soon as they come out.

Ok, this is by far my longest post to date. To wrap it up, I think Microsoft should consider not using the word "beta" until the software is at a much more stable, and unmutable, point. I think they should continue to use the CTP moniker, and I think they should continue to release CTPs every three months. I for one love having the latest CTP to play with.


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