Ford does not ask keen motorists to test a new braking system and pharmaceuticals will at least pay guinea pigs willing to take new drugs but the release today of a second beta of Internet Explorer 8 is a reminder that the software industry is perhaps unique in asking customers to test, gratis, just how broken its products are before making them generally available.

Time was when pre-release software was coveted and only intended for a few insiders: specialists that had access to the equivalent of the recording music industry’s white-label demo vinyl. Today, thanks in part to the internet, everything is in perpetual beta and hundreds of millions of us are amateur product testers.

Most betas are free to use (thanks for small mercies) and it is interesting to see how program code changes from chrysalis to butterfly and ugly duckling to occasional swan. But CIOs surely need to replace restrictions on how these programs circulate in their organisations. Pre-release software is so called because it is expected to be imperfect: buggy, immature and lacking in features, functions, fit and finish, never mind stability and support.

The likely result of using beta software is malfunctioning systems. Hobbyists, geeks and enthusiasts might tolerate this outcome; those charged with the efficient running of enterprise infrastructure should not. There is no need or lock-down but appropriate processes to mitigate the risk of beta software on business procedures is required.

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