A beta test is where some software or an application is released in a limited way so consumers can use it. By doing this, the product is road-tested in a real-world environment so that any issues with it can be identified before the product is fully released into the marketplace. Beta testing is normally the last round of testing before the product goes on general release. Typically, beta testing takes place in order to identify any bugs or issues with the product so that they can be resolved in lieu of the general release itself.
Users A beta test is normally conducted by users - who would normally be consumers - within a controlled environment (such as using production hardware and networks which would be the same as in the general release). By allowing prospective consumers external to the company to use the product, an opportunity is created to expose the product to a more realistic environment and to the actions of the people who need to be satisfied by the product. The reliability of the product can be observed as well as any security issues. It is usually not possible to assess the product in the same way in the manufactured developmental environment of a lab.
Open and closed The environment in which the testing is carried out can be described as either open or closed. In open testing, the product can be accessed by anyone. Normally, whoever is using the product will be informed in some way that they are using a beta version of the product. Because anyone can use it in this way, the user will be warned that the product may contain bugs. The user may also be advised on how they can provide feedback to development or marketing staff. In comparison, closed testing is contained: use is restricted to a specific set of users. These individuals tend to be current customers of the business, consumers who are early adopters of the product, or people who are paid beta testers. On occasion, closed testing might be conducted by diverting users to a beta ‘area’ or site instead of the main one. Closed testing might sometimes be referred to as ‘private beta’ compared to open testing that is sometimes referred to as ‘public beta’.
Length How long a beta test lasts depends on the product and the nature of the problems that are identified. Indeed, if major issues are found, a product may be retracted with further testing required further down the line. If new but trivial issues are consistently discovered, the period of time given over to testing may be extended. If a business is confident that all significant issues have been addressed, even though minor ones still exist, a decision to end the testing may be taken. The rise of the internet has made it increasingly possible to keep some products in a continual beta state, otherwise known as ‘perpetual beta’. Developers will favor this tactic as it allows them to constantly add and refine new features at will.
Alpha and beta The term ‘beta’ has been inherited as it relates to the second letter of the Greek alphabet. This is in comparison to ‘alpha’, the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and also having been adopted for the earlier phase of product development: ‘Alpha Testing.’ The main difference between beta and alpha testing is the people doing the tests. Normally, alpha testing is carried out by internal company staff within a lab or some other controlled conditions. This is necessary for the beginning for a variety of reasons but does preclude being able to predict how the product will react in a real-world setting. Hence the need for the second phase: beta testing.
Placing a product into beta testing exposes it to a wider mix of users. How they will then utilize the product will depend on the background of the user and what they wish to achieve. In this way, the flexibility of the product can be assessed and unexpected issues ironed out.
Beta testing enables the business to measure the performance of the product before it is completely exposed to the market in its final form. By doing this, any mistakes or oversights can be addressed before extensive resources are committed to getting the product released. Without this safety net, a company could make a profound mistake and suffer a potential disaster. Beta testing also facilitates an understanding of the scalability of a product and how reliable it will be in a real-world environment. What is more, this phase of product development creates another opportunity to harvest feedback from individuals and groups outside the business. This is especially attractive to the product manager. Beta testing too can be used to validate hypotheses or inferences about the product and certify that it meets the requirements and expectations of the consumer.
This phase of the development of the product can be used to fine-tune the planning for its release. Communicating, advertising, broadcasting, positioning, and general marketing of the product might be given new consideration based on the performance of the product in a beta test or the feedback garnered there. It may even prove beneficial to exclusively invite influential people within the industry to testing since positive reviews from them can generate buzz and excitement around the product.
Beta testing has come into its own over time, especially with the appearance of the internet and its shifting to the forefront of modern life. It is becoming increasingly common to leave a product in its beta phase so that it can be continually updated and adapted with new features. The internet has streamlined the delivery of software: it is easier and cheaper to get a product to the consumer. Technology exponentially increases in pace so that businesses in the software arena in particular must remain highly dynamic. To remain competitive they must endlessly renew and revitalize their product line. This also means scurrying to meet competition in the market when a new product enters it, which can be often.