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Bitcoin in Beta Longer than Gmail

Op-ed - Bitcoin in Beta Longer than Gmail

Ten years ago, on April Fool’s Day 2004, Google’s Gmail was released to the public as a beta product.

“Google Gets the Message, Launches Gmail. User Complaint About Existing Services Leads Google to Create Search-Based Webmail…Search is Number Two Online Activity – Email is Number One; ‘Heck, Yeah,’ Say Google Founders…Amidst rampant media speculation, Google Inc. today announced it is testing a preview release of Gmail…”

It would take another 5 years, 3 months and 6 days (or 1,923 days) on July 7th, 2009 before Gmail would be taken out of beta. Google announced “Google Apps is out of beta (yes, really)” that:

“We’re often asked why so many Google applications seem to be perpetually in beta. For example, Gmail has worn the beta tag more than five years. We realize this situation puzzles some people, particularly those who subscribe to the traditional definition of “beta” software as not being yet ready for prime time.”

While Google didn’t offer an explanation, Gmail’s beta moniker would come to no surprise to readers of Tim O’Reilly’s (O’Reilly Media) September 2005 post “What Is Web 2.0.” Tim explained in “End of the Software Release Cycle”that:

“Users must be treated as co-developers, in a reflection of open source development practices (even if the software in question is unlikely to be released under an open source license.) The open source dictum, ‘release early and release often’ in fact has morphed into an even more radical position, ‘the perpetual beta,’ in which the product is developed in the open, with new features slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. It’s no accident that services such as Gmail, Google Maps, Flickr,, and the like may be expected to bear a ‘Beta’ logo for years at a time.”

Jason E. Robbins also noted (PDF) in 2003’s “Making Sense of the Bazaar: Perspectives on Open Source and Free Software” that “open source projects need to release pre-1.0 versions in order to attract the volunteer staff needed to reach 1.0.”

Enter Bitcoin

Bitcoin Version 0.1.0 was launched January 9th, 2009 (shortly after the Genesis Block). Today marks 5 years, 2 months and 23 days that Bitcoin has been in beta (or 164,851,200 seconds… but who’s counting?).

In two weeks, on April 17th, Bitcoin will bear the beta moniker longer than Google’s Gmail “perpetual beta.”

Shortly after Bitcoin was released, Hal Finney, the first beta user of Bitcoin (andrecipient of the first Bitcoin transaction) wrote “Crash in bitcoin 0.1.0” on the SourceForge mailing list that:

“Hi Satoshi – I tried running bitcoin.exe from the 0.1.0 package, and it crashed. I am running on an up to date version of XP, SP3.”

Next week, Microsoft will be ending Windows XP support. Windows XP was released on October 25, 2001 making it 12 years, 5 months, and 14 days it has been supported in some fashion or another. Using Beta 1 Build 2296 release date of October 31, 2000, that makes it just shy of a year that XP would be in beta.

In January 2014, Bloomberg Businessweek broke the story that “ATMs Face Deadline to Upgrade From Windows XP” and it has since been widely reported in what is reminiscent of the late 1990s “Y2K bug” that a surprising 95 of ATMs are still running on Windows XP. Was Y2K an existential threat? Futurist Paul Saffo wrote for in 1999 that “There are two millennium bugs lurking in our future — one in our computers and the other in our culture…This cultural Y2K bug stems from our human fascination with boundaries.”

Banks (like the rest of us) were warned at least two and a half years ago that Microsoft would essentially decommission the XP operating system (as well as additionalwarningsin 2007 and 2010) why did this happen? Windows XP literally became the framework upon which society would build itself. There is a lesson that Bitcoin, the Operating System of e-money can learn from this. Once adoption goes mainstream and mission critical systems are reliant upon you there is no rolling back the clock (Reddit). A crash that Hal experienced in beta would have real world consequences.

Bitcoin the Juggernaut

Bitcoin was released into the wild and cannot be “uninvented.” Satoshi would write on BitcoinTalk “The nature of Bitcoin is such that once version 0.1 was released, the core design was set in stone for the rest of its lifetime.”

Satoshi would soon become afraid that Bitcoin adoption would surpass the rate of development. The catalyst of this event would be WikiLeaks. On December 5th, 2010, about two years after Bitcoin was released, Satoshi would write on BitcoinTalk:

“No, don’t ‘bring it on’ (Wikileaks). The project needs to grow gradually so the software can be strengthened along the way. I make this appeal to WikiLeaks not to try to use Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a small beta community in its infancy. You would not stand to get more than pocket change, and the heat you would bring would likely destroy us at this stage.”

Bitcoin is an ongoing learning experience. Before we had YouTube videos and podcasts from Bitcoin luminaries such as Andreas M. Antonopoulos and Stefan Molyneux it was hard to come by elegant explanations of the Bitcoin protocol. If WikiLeaks would adopt Bitcoin, the knowledge barrier would begin to disintegrate. Anyone could understand just how (r)evolutionary Bitcoin was.

Satoshi would make his last post on the BitcoinTalk forum a week later. WikiLeaks would adopt Bitcoin six months later on June 14th, 2011.

Fast forward to 2014 and we have the February Transaction Malleability issue and Bitcoin Version 0.9.0 would be released on March 19th. Lead Bitcoin Developer Gavin Andresen would would write that “This is a good reminder that Bitcoin is still young and experimental” in “Contrary to Mt. Gox’s Statement, Bitcoin is not at fault” in regards to the alleged theft of Bitcoins from exchange Mt. Gox.

Bitcoin Core History Excluding Patches with Time Between Versions




Detailed Time



6 Days after Genesis




11 Months, 8 Days




6 Months, 20 Days




1 Year, 2 Months, 16 Days




1 Month, 29 Days




4 Months, 10 Days




5 Months, 19 Days




5 Months, 3 Days




1 Year, 1 Month





An extended Bitcoin Core Version History with patches can be found here.

*While release has been referred to as January 9th using the Cryptography Mailing List as a reference as well as Wiki History, the release date could also be January 8th if you are referring to the announcementon Gmane.


In Semantic Versioning Specification (SemVer) Tom Preston-Werner, cofounder of GitHub, (where Bitcoin is currently hosted/developed) explains the versioning process of software.

Version format of X.Y.Z indicate that X = Major, Y = Minor and Z = Patch. Above you will find a table of of all “minor” developments without the in-between patches.

Tom also explains when a major version is assigned to a software product:

“Major version zero (0.y.z) is for initial development. Anything may change at any time. The public API should not be considered stable…Version 1.0.0 defines the public API. The way in which the version number is incremented after this release is dependent on this public API and how it changes.”

Ed Felten the Director, Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton called Bitcoin “…a currency whose rules are determined by open-source governance.” Indeed Bitcoin is the penultimate open source software project that exemplifies the Internet as a decentralized rather than a top down hierarchical system. Bitcoin emerged at the same time that the principles of the collaborative e-democracy were introduced. Collective learning and adoption is a core principle. According to Wikipedia “The direct democracy component of collaborative e-democracy shifts the responsibility of policymaking from government teams (top down) to the collective of citizens (bottom up).” Bitcoin Magazine recently reportedthat Bitcoin and Namecoin appeared in a draft ICANN report just prior to the United States announcement that they would relinquish remaining control of the Internet. One could say that exponential rate of adoption of Bitcoin has outpaced its development. However it is in fact this new paradigm in open source decentralized software governance that has brought about critical mass in the first place and perhaps a leading indicator that the Internet is moving on this same trajectory.

Walking Through Doors

It has been scientifically proven that walking through doors (boundaries) makes you forget. Let’s not make Version 1.0.0 a boundary. When Gmail was released from beta Google “made it easy to re-enable the beta label for Gmail from the Labs tab under Settings”… “for those who still like the look of “beta.” Having this label encouraged the Gmail development team to be creative and think innovatively.

Informal’s Chief Learning Officer Jay Cross wrote in “Beta today, beta tomorrow, beta forever:”

“A professor gave her class a paper on urban sociology to read, explaining that they would be tested at the end of the hour. The professor gave another class the same paper and instructions plus a warning that the material was controversial; it might not be correct. In other words, the paper was beta…The group that read the beta paper scored higher. Why? Because uncertainty engages the mind.”

“This is experimental software” warns the help section of the Bitcoin-qt client. Perhaps Bitcoin version 1.0.0 will bear a warning that “This is existential software.” No one can be certain when 1.0.0 will be released and we like it that way…