We get asked all the time why Google keeps its products in beta for so long. And Gmail, five years after launch, is consistently a subject of this questioning, even of jokes.
Some people thought that once we opened sign-ups, Gmail should have come out of beta.
Some people think we should wait until we launch < one of ongoing secret projects >.
Others say that, over the last five years, a beta culture has grown around web apps, such that the very meaning of "beta" is debatable. And rather than the packaged, stagnant software of decades past, we're moving to a world of rapid developmental cycles where products like Gmail continue to change indefinitely.
The end result (many visible and invisible changes later) is that today, beta is a thing of the past. Not just for Gmail, but for all of Google Apps — Gmail, Calendar, Docs, and Talk.
However, we realize that after five years, this leaves some of you wrestling with some tough questions. How will you ever get used to using Gmail without that familiar grey "BETA" text greeting you when you log in everyday? What example will you cite the next time you make an internet joke about perpetual betas? Don't despair... for those of you long-time Gmail-ers who might feel some separation anxiety, we've got a solution. Just go to Settings, click on Labs, turn on "Back to Beta," and it'll be like Gmail never left beta at all.