Is ‘perpetual beta’ a good thing?

Do you remember when software came in a box with discs and instructions that you installed on your PC then parked on your shelf? This is a fading memory with software on the web and continuous updates, but is this ‘perpetual beta’ a good thing?

When you hear about ‘beta versions’ of software you probably think about “a pre-release version of software”, which rings alarm bells about constant changes and buggy code.

But there’s more to it than that with advantages like faster time to market, continuous improvement and high-responsiveness to user needs. This is the ”perpetual beta” pattern  identified by Web 2.0 guru Tim O’Reilly as a key indicator of success for Web 2.0 applications, where:

product is developed in the open, with new features slip-streamed in on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis

It’s no longer a ‘throw it over the wall’ approach to your customers but a continual conversation with them. This has ups and downs for the business – with ups like reduced costs to release and opportunites for close relationships with your uses balanced against downs like avoiding feature overload, thrashing and poor quality. But, it can be painful and challenging as GateGuru found out through a cycle of poorly received releases. Which highlights the highs and lows for customers – with highs like easy updates and no-cost upgrades but also lows when the product doesn’t work or makes changes you don’t want!

So if you think ‘perpetual beta’ might be a good thing, then read on and see how PDF Expert rates against the best practices of O’Reilly’s pattern. PDF Expert from Readdle is a clever solution which allows you to read, sign and annotate PDFs, fill out PDF forms on the go, and even synchronise with Dropbox, SkyDrive or any WebDAV storage.

PDF Expert ticks a lot of the best practices of the ‘continual beta’ pattern:

PDF Expert

PDF Expert from Readdble.com

  • They release early and often with their agile development and automatic test, as their release history shows.  The favourable user reviews proves they can get their product out quickly but also make sure it meets acceptable quality standards.
  • They engage users as co-developers and real-time testers by reading their user reviews on the product site but also through an open thread to their customers and using their blog to help their users.
  • They then implement the feedback and instrument their product to match as their press releases explain and have also gone further to incrementally create new products to both offer their customers new products but also capitalise on their in-house skills.

PDF Expert has also avoided some of the common problem areas:

  • They have avoided the feature excess issues some of their competitors faced but unfortunately this has left them with a no-frills label as the conclusion of this review suggests
  • They have done better than the unfortunate example above from GateGuru and avoided release thrashing but they have not been so responsive as their frequency of releases is a bit uninspiring but at least they have success and manage their first impressions nicely as some reviews highlight
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