Opinion – Ok, I get it: Beta software isn’t software that should be run on computers you rely on every day. Betas are merely previews of products we can use to get a glimpse of the future and should be treated with care as bugs and hiccups are almost certainly part of the deal. Microsoft’s latest IE8 Beta surely has bugs as well, but there is one surprise that is a bit beyond my comfort level: Some users may actually not be able to uninstall this beta anymore.
Microsoft and beta software is a story all by itself. In fact, Microsoft treats beta software very differently than most software companies do. While betas are typically developer-only packages elsewhere, Microsoft betas are a fixed and important part of the software release and marketing process that began with Windows 95 and IE4: Microsoft gave away thousands of Windows 95 Betas in prize drawings back in 1994 and the actual IE4 launch was initiated with the IE4 beta – I still have my beta T-shirt given out at a launch party back then.
IE8 continues that tradition. It is only the second beta, but Microsoft’s IE8 pages treat the software like a final release. Yes, it is still called beta, but Microsoft has set up a fully-fledged product page with videos and flashy product demonstrations. Microsoft tells visitors on its site to “Get Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2, the latest version of Microsoft's free web browser.”The download buttons for the “latest browser” clearly point to this beta 2, while “older versions” are mentioned at the very bottom of the page. There is not a single warning that this software may have bugs and should be treated carefully. If you are new to this game, you surely have the impression that this is a version close to the final (it actually is) and that this is the IE you should download.
With that in mind, especially one bug that was pointed out this morning by Gregg Keizer at Computerworld, is a bit strong in my mind.
Users of Windows XP SP3 who simply install IE8 Beta 2 may actually find the browser being locked into their system without any chance to remove the browser without a full reinstallation of the operation system. According to a Microsoft IEBlog post, this scenario will be in place if you installed Windows XP SP3 after installing IE8 Beta 1 and you now choose to install IE8 Beta 2 on top of Beta 1 - and ignore a window with a warning. Microsoft said that you will be able to install Internet Explorer 8 Beta2, but once installed, you will not be able to uninstall either IE8 or Windows XP SP3 later.
“If you chose to continue, Windows XP SP3 and IE8 Beta2 will become permanent. You will still be able to upgrade to later IE8 builds as they become available, but you won’t be able to uninstall them,” program manager Jane Maliouta wrote in her blog post.
So, if you are using XP SP3 you may want to follow Maliouta’s advice. But I believe it wouldn’t hurt either if Microsoft published such issues on its IE8 product page and not just in a blog, which not everyone will read. In the end, it is a beta and it should be treated this way - by users and Microsoft.