Jeremy's written an excellent piece on how people forget the 'beta' label on products.
Traditionally we are familiar with beta software which we could install on our machine and try out the product before it went live.. and usually there was a gap of couple of months between a beta and the final launch of a product. With Internet services the same cycle continued, but some companies choose to stay in the 'beta' mode for longer then usual.. and the company leading the pack is Google.
Almost all google products other then search have the 'beta' stamp on them. But having the tag for more then a year (unless you are ID software or Microsoft) does not speak too good about the company's product cycles. Take Froogle, it was launched on December 12th, 2002 and its about to turn 2 years old soon with the beta tag. And to be honest, I haven't seen any new features added to the product since 2002.
So has the Froogle development team moved on to other things ? Will Froogle ever go gold ?
What about News, Orkut, Gmail etc etc ? Orkut is one of the worst product ever launched by google ( maybe that's why they don't brand it under google directly) and I am ready to bet 100 bucks it will have the beta tag for at least another year. And I wonder how many years I'll have to wait before gmail is thrown open to public ( non-invite version ).
The future is in beta ;)