Unwilling beta testers

Reading Dave Cormier on “free beer” as applied to the use of open source software in education, I was struck by the concept of unwillingly beta testing someone else’s software. We often joke that we are unwillingly “beta testing” Vista, Leopard, or GMail, implying that it’s ironic for the user community to fulfill a role that a software company should rightly fulfill with its employees. It just struck me today (why so long, I hesitate to guess) that open source software does exactly the same thing, except that the OSS community is more up-front about it. Both proprietary and open-source communities have made user testing a standard part of their business models, both set up mechanisms to gather feedback, and both stand to make money from your testing (though proprietary software makers tend to put more emphasis on the money part). May we grouse about discovering problems in buggy proprietary software that we paid for and then willingly embrace the same role for free, community-authored software. Yes, I suppose?

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