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Google Sites Shed 'Beta' Designation

Google has decided to take the "beta" label off its Gmail service, which has operated for five years and, since its April 2004 launch, now serves tens of millions of users, according to The New York Times.

A "beta" designation indicates a product is in the final stages of testing. It typically occurs after an internal "alpha" product test and the release of a final version.

Three other Google applications, Calendar, Docs and Talk, are also losing their "beta."

According to Director Matt Glotzbach of product management at Google, who sought to shed light on the decision, different teams at Google have different criteria for the meaning of "beta," and only recently has Google decided to standardize them. "It was time to address the issue [of a lack of consistent policies] and bring the products out of beta," he stated.

Strategically, the move could aid Google in its attempts to vaunt the paid version of these apps to big companies that sometimes license such software for their employees. Corporate technology managers generally avoid beta products when considering enterprise resources.

"For business customers, it is an important sign in terms of the maturity of our product offering and commitment to this business," Glotzbach went on. "I've had CIO's tell me that they would not consider a product labeled 'beta'."

Google's apps are already used by millions of businesses — albeit many are one-person operations. Microsoft continues to dominate the market for paid productivity apps.

As for Gmail, a Hitwise report from March finds Gmail visits from US internet users has exceeded visits to YouTube, also a Google property.

Prior to the release of this data, YouTube consistently held 10th place among all websites by marketshare of visits until January 10, at which time Gmail took 10th place. Among all Google properties, Gmail also ranks 2nd behind Google for the week ending March 7th.

Top sources of traffic to Gmail include Google, Facebook and — oddly enough — competitor Yahoo Mail.

Nonetheless, Hotmail remains the largest web mail provider on the Internet, with 343 million monthly users, according to Comscore. Yahoo comes in second with 285 million; and Gmail, at third, is rapidly consuming marketshare with 146 million users. This comes as telling news for email marketers in particular, who must increasingly include Gmail in their email message rendering tests.

Late yesterday, Google announced plans to launch an operating system under the Google Chrome label. The OS would be auto-on and operate almost entirely like a browser. It will also be open-source.

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