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Confessions of an Old Fogey
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Why does Microsoft "Time Bomb" its beta releases?

Why does Microsoft "Time Bomb" its beta releases?

  • Comments 24

One question that periodically comes up is "Is <x> beta time bombed"?

First off, what's a time bomb?  It's a chunk of code that's intended to disable a beta release sometime after the beta ships.

I believe that all MS beta products have to be time bombed, I know that all the products I've worked on recently have been time bombed.  The time bomb can be mild (you lose the ability to send or receive new email), or it can be severe (the product refuses to start/boot), but all beta products are time bombed.

As far as I know, the reason is buried deep in the roots of Exchange.  When Exchange 4.0 shipped (back in 1994ish) there had been several previous beta releases.  What Microsoft didn't realize at the time was that these early beta releases of Exchange were "good enough" for the sites that were running that beta.

But the beta had a bunch of bugs in it - not serious enough to make the product unusable, but enough to cause interoperability problems with existing email systems (I really don't remember the details, but the problem was something minor like that the SMTP gateway generating uuencoded TNEF blobs instead of converting to MIME, or something like that).

We fixed the problem long before RTM, it only existed in the one beta release of the product.  However these beta servers continued to be run by companies that had received the beta for several years after we released the product.  The consequence of this was that Microsoft continued to have people reporting that Microsoft Exchange was producing illegal messages.

The thing is that no shipping product had those bugs.  The problems were seen because some very small subset of customers hadn't upgraded to the shipping version of the product.

As a result of this (and other similar problems), Microsoft started time bombing beta releases - that way they Microsoft can guarantee that beta releases don't cause problems long after the product RTMs.

  • Thursday, August 11, 2005 2:45 AM by Andreas Johansson
    > Norman, is that the left of the right hemisphere? ;)

    The new hemisphere. So new that it didn't even exist when it was occupied by American native races ^_-
  • First, I'd like to apologize for going off-topic!

    @Dean Harding and Norman Diamond:
    Sorry, written words on a website don't carry emotions with them, we must evaluate what's being said without any emotional clues from the writer, so I sincerely didn't think his comments were ironic or sarcastic! To me, they seemed an expression of his real feelings, and as such, completely offensive!

    Until himself tells me it was ironic or sarcastic, I stand with my view!

    @Norman Diamond:
    I really didn't understand your comments about Brazil being on the same hemisphere of US!
    Are you European? Did you really thought it was an ironic comment even before reading my answer?

    Ok, I don't have enough knowledge about these companies to evaluate if you're right or wrong, I won't comment it, then. But I wasn't trying to point good examples of successful corporations, I just wanted to show to Red Blooded American that what he side was completely unrealistic!

    @ D. Philippe:
    As I said initially, English is not my first language. So I'd like to ask you the exact meaning of "trolled"!
    Sorry, I coulnd't find it on my dictionary, and I've seen it in several foruns and always wondered what was it's meaning... :)

    Now, going on-topic! :)
    @Aaron Hockley:
    You said exactly what I was thinking when I read this post! Granted, there can be technical reasons for time bombong betas, and I really think what Larry said makes sense. But event though engineers may have had good intentions when they decided by time bombing, it's obvious that this works really great for marketing purposes, as will make impossible for people to keep using the betas for free without limitations.
  • Larry, you didn't mention one pertinent downside of time bombs: accidentally leaving them in the final release. This just happened w/ the HDA bus driver QFE - I believe it timed out just this week. Oops!


  • Antonio,

    I have the same feeling. Actually I think RBA have a wrong vision on "open source" and some other subjects. And sadly I've seen posts on some BBS/newsgroups of non-American countries which promotes the use of Microsoft products made similar comments too. This is not necessarily his fault, but those who told him to think this way. So let's not get this thread flamed.

    [More out-topic to backup my comment above] It happenes to me that one day I've seen someone who claims to be one of the professors to say something like this within a BBS of one university. And students are supposed to trust what the professors said, so...

  • Somewhat belatedly
    riffing on
    and his discussion of

    time bombs in beta products,
    I'm reminded...
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  • Regular readers may remember that little mini crisis that happened with Tysabri last year that I posted

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