that has been released to a cross-section of typical users for testing
before the commercial release of the package.
Before a commercial software program is released to
the public, it usually goes through a "beta" phase. During this stage,
the software is tested for bugs, crashes, errors, inconsistencies, and
any other problems.
Software that has not yet been released but has
received an alpha test and still has more bugs than a regular release;
"beta software is usually available only to particular users who will
What Does This Mean?
it means is that Beta Software is available early, but it brings with
it some considerations, that you should evaluate before you install
and use it.
Note: Commercial resellers don't carry or offer Beta
software usually. Beta releases are almost always available only form
Beta Consider This Carefully
all Betas are created equally.
For example, Betas from Microsoft undergo exhaustive
testing by untold numbers of human and automated testers before they
are offer to the public. You
can be reasonably comfortable that Microsoft's Betas are fit for use -
they will have a few bugs, and funky features, but generally are safe.
On the other hand, Betas from lesser companies may very well be
destructive, so you have to know who to trust. However, even
giants like Microsoft have released for horrific Betas as well.
Generally speaking, Betas are a great way to gain
access to the latest technology, and many times without having to pay
for the product, since most betas are free during the Beta period
(which sometimes never ends). However, for the average user, who
is not pushing the envelop (except into the mailbox), Betas are
unnecessary sources of frustration, and may even shut down a small
business while waiting for the Beta fix. For most users, you should
still stick to the released product, unless you really really need what the Beta
This goes back to the trust issue. If you are
using an established product, and offered a Beta by that publisher,
you are probably safe to proceed with the Beta - if you really need it - since you knew the
released product before the Beta version. On the other hand, if
you are searching for the latest widget program and you find a Beta for a
product/program you have not been using - avoid it - you don't know
the track record of the publisher.
ALWAYS backup your system before installing a Beta!
I know, you can't wait to try it, but ANY software can destroy your
system! Beta software even tells you it is buggy, and may have
defects that can affect your precious data and files - so don't trust
it - back up!
Be sure that the Beta has an Uninstall Feature before
you install it. This will at least give you a chance to recover
if the Beta goes berserk or you decide it is not worth the hassle.
Be sure that there is a way to get support for the
Beta version. Most publishers of Beta software DO NOT provide
support (they will log your bug report, but that is it) - you are on your own! SO make sure you know how to get
the answers you will need working with Beta software.
Be sure that if you are installing a new Beta of a
program you already use, that you have the media of the original
version so you can go back to it if you need to!
If you are downloading a Beta from the web, ONLY
download it from the Beta publishers website (or authorized clone
site), since this will have the latest and authorized version of the Beta.
Never EVER download Beta software from a file sharing service (like LimeWire).
To be safe, stick with commercially released software!
Beta Is Not Beta
Not all Betas are Betas. Some software
publishers practice a little trick of semantics. They will leave
the Beta label on their software forever. Publishers like
Lavasoft were famous for this - their released product was labeled
Beta. So again, it comes down to who you know and trust.
One of the reasons for labeling perfectly good
software as Beta, is that it removes certain responsibilities and
liability, since you are always agreeing to use the Beta at your own
risk. This is also done as a marketing tool to attract the "live
on the edge" users in the marketplace, who will try anything new - and
by definition, Beta means new.
software installed on your computer, websites go through release
stages as well. The more serious web publishers, like:
Google, AOL, and others; put their web applications through the
various stages just like stand-alone software. Though usually,
this is more a tactic to control
during the finalization stages of release, than it being true Beta.
Their Beta releases can be very
finished with just a few quirks left to work out. In the case of
web betas, these are generally harmless to your system, though you
have to be careful with trusting them with critical data.
Beta Safe Than Sorry
So remember, next time you see Beta on a program
available for download, or
even a website, remember the Beta Tips above, and to be a skeptical
consumer. Make absolutely sure you are willing to risk your
system and your data to this self-admitted flakey piece of programming
promiscuity! And Beta wish for a bit of luck in the process!
Dr. Tim McGuinness