After an almost three-year delay, the next major version of Google Inc.'s Urchin Web analytics server software is entering a beta testing period, at a time when some customers have been openly wondering if the product would be discontinued.
After acquiring the product's maker, Urchin Software, two and a half years ago, Google has focused mostly on the hosted software-as-a-service (SAAS) version of the product.
The software's most recent version, 5.7, hasn't been upgraded since 2005. On the other hand, the SAAS version, which is free and called Google Analytics, has gone through frequent updates.
Google's silence and apparent lack of attention for the Urchin software, which is designed to be installed on customers' servers, has upset some who bought the product and have been waiting for Version 6.0 since late 2004.
But on Tuesday, Google announced that the long-awaited Version 6.0 of the Urchin software is entering a closed beta testing program in which customers can request to be included.
Google will also change how the product is packaged. Previously, Urchin consisted of a core piece costing US$895 and optional modules, including one that cost almost $4,000. The new version integrates all pieces in one product that will sell for $2,995.
"We wanted to simplify the licensing model," said Bretty Crosby, Google Analytics senior manager. Plus, it represents a savings for those who would have spent more than $3,000 on the core software and modules, he said.
Companies use Web analytics software to track, measure and analyze their Web sites' traffic. This information can help a company decide how to modify its site's layout to increase sales, as well as evaluate the effectiveness of online advertising campaigns.
A common complaint among Urchin customers has been that they bought support contracts, mostly to get Version 6.0 as a free upgrade, only to see their contracts expire without even a glimpse of the new version.
They will probably be happy to know that Google will offer Version 6.0 free to any customer who bought a support contract for version 5.0, which originally shipped in mid-2003, Crosby said.
Moreover, if customers never bought a support contract, Google will apply whatever amount they paid for their Urchin 5 system toward the price of Version 6.0, which can potentially make it free in some cases, Crosby said.
The new Urchin software version will offer tools to assist in migrating configurations and data from older versions, as well as more flexibility over the processing and auditing of Web analytics data, Crosby said.
Version 6.0 also makes it possible for customers to feed the captured Web analytics data automatically to a Google Analytics account, if they have one, Crosby said.
To request inclusion in the beta program, customers can contact Google channel partners, since Google relies on them to sell the Urchin product, as well as to provide support and consulting.
As recently as two weeks ago, Google declined to tell IDG News Service when, or even if, Version 6.0 would ship, the type of vague, noncommittal answer that customers had been getting since the Urchin acquisition.
Crosby hopes that with Tuesday's news, the lines of communication between Google and Urchin customers will widen, because the product remains very popular, he said, declining to say what its customer base is.
"We expect that this announcement will help to continue to develop a dialogue with our Urchin customers," Crosby said.
Although he refers to the Urchin upgrade as Version 6.0, Crosby said that Google will not call it officially by that name, as the company prefers to distance itself from number-type upgrades.
Urchin was founded in 1995 and, when it was acquired by Google, claimed having over 20 percent of Fortune 500 companies as clients.
On Tuesday, Google will also announce new features for the Google Analytics hosted service.
One called Site Search automates and improves the product's ability to capture data and generate reports on a Web site's search engine activity.
Crosby calls this "goldmine analysis," because it tells webmasters what keywords and terms visitors enter on their sites' search engines and how successful, or not, they are at finding what they're looking for.
Google expects to turn on these two new features for every Analytics user in the coming week.