Developing in beta keeps ISV on the cutting edge

In today’s somewhat shaky market, almost any venture can be seen as a risky one, however a Quebec-based independent software vendor is redefining risk by launching applications all built with beta and release candidates of an unreleased product.

Xceed Software Inc. in Longeueuil, Que., has built its new suite of software with the beta and release candidates of Visual Studio .Net, which is officially released on Feb. 13. Xceed creates components for developers that enable them to integrate streaming data compression, ZIP compression, encryption and FTP libraries into products in development.

According to Xceed’s chief architect, Pascal Bourque, using the beta was a natural choice for the company.

“The first contact we had with .Net was at Microsoft’s Professional Developers conference in Florida in 2000. We came back with a pre-release version – not even a beta, but we knew that it would be our next platform for development. When the first beta came out in November 2000, we seriously started working in the platform,” he said.

“We wanted to be cutting edge,” Bourque continued. “We wanted to target software developers, and knew that those people already working with Microsoft technology would want to upgrade to the new platform, so we wanted our products to be ready at the right time. We wanted to have a final version of our own products working when Visual Studio .Net came out on the shelves, so we got to work.”

Michael Flynn, senior marketing manager of developer tools at Microsoft in Mississauga, Ont., admitted that Xceed is only one of a few dozen companies across Canada that has been working in beta.

“There are massive benefits to using beta for the integrator, the ISV, or any corporation,” Flynn said. “Clearly, under the hood of .Net there are significant advancements, and whoever’s earliest at adopting it will have the most experience with the product when it goes live. If you’re not taking advantage of beta, you’re hurting yourself.”

Flynn explained that the popularity of developing with beta versions of Visual Studio .Net was generated from developers and not from Microsoft itself.

“We’re not pushing our beta; our customers are pulling beta,” Flynn said. “They’re demanding it regularly.”

Microsoft allows developers to use the beta tools by providing them with a Go Live licence, available at www.msdn.microsoft.com/vstudiowww.msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio. This allows developers to work on their products without breaking any licensing agreements by registering and committing to buy the proper licence for the tools when they’re officially available.

Will Zachmann, an analyst with Meta Group in Stamford, Conn., agrees with Flynn’s assessment and suggests that there is more benefit than risk when developing with a beta product.

“There’s no particular risk here,” Zachmann said. “Microsoft betas today are typically of a quality that’s as good or better than what we saw as first formal product releases quite a while ago. Yeah, they have a few glitches, but there’s not a single complex piece of software out there that doesn’t get fixed and patched. By the time they get to the release candidate stage, there are very few risks. These are not your grandmother’s betas.”

While Xceed’s vice-president of research and development, Odi Kosmatos, does admit to odd moments of frustration as new versions were released, overall, he is satisfied with the experience and would suggest using beta versions to other developers.

“There’s always a risk, but unless you always want to take the safe path, I’d recommend it,” Kosmatos said. “To be working in that kind of constantly moving environment for something that is worth it, it is exciting.”