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When a new product, such as a software program, is created or upgraded, there are several stages in development before the manufacturer sells it commercially. The first stage is an "alpha" version, in which software testers within the company test and debug a program as necessary. A "beta" version is the name for the second stage, in which it is often released for free or at a reduced price to a group of external users for additional testing. Websites also commonly go through this phase during development, to see how well they function for a large user base.
Purpose and Different Types
The beta version of a software release is considered to be a preview; though it may include many standard features, it is not yet ready for wide release or sale. During this phase, the developers collect feedback from users about the product's functionality, including what they like and what should be changed before its wide release. A beta version of a program can be either "closed," which is limited to a specific group of users, or "open," which is available to the general public. During this testing, developers might release numerous versions of a program, including improvements and bug fixes with each iteration.
Restrictions or Limitations
Although the beta version of software might include much of its functionality, it is not usually meant as a commercial product. Companies might be allowed to use a graphics program in beta, for example, to create new images or products, but they cannot sell what they create unless they pay for a commercial license. Computer games, especially online games, often go through beta testing to find bugs and ensure it will function properly at release. While people can usually play in these tests for free, once the testing is over, they have to pay for the commercial release of the game to play it again.
Products in beta often have limited, if any, technical support available to users. This can be frustrating for some people, but is a consequence of the fact that the product has not yet released commercially. Since users are not paying for the program, frustration based on poor customer service is usually forgiven as bugs and errors disappear with each patch or update. Some products remain a beta version for years, during which time they may be used by a wide audience as if they were full versions.
Usage in Website Development
A beta version can also refer to a website that is made available to test its features and gain audience feedback. During this time, certain features might not function properly. This process is often used to ensure compatibility between the code for the site and different web browsers and computer systems. Beta version sites are frequently first placed on secret domains that are only available to their test audience, before being transferred to their real domains for public viewing and use.
Origin and Other Usage
The word "beta" comes from the second letter in the Greek alphabet and originated with early hardware tests for International Business Machines (IBM) computers. It has entered common usage, especially among frequent computer users. "Beta version" is often applied as a slang term to refer to any product or service that seems unready for mainstream release, especially as a criticism for something sold commercially.