What is a beta test ?
Usually in software development, there are a number of phases of product design and implementation. It has become common in the industry, but by no means a standard, to refer to Alpha and Beta test phases, and various release versions of a product. Generally, once the basic format of a product has been created, it is given to a number of users who are asked to report on the usability of the software and to suggest improvement. This is the Alpha test. After several cycles a final product emerges, complete with all its features, and probably a number of bugs. Usually, a larger group of testers is asked to use the software and report any bugs found. This is the Beta test. When these bugs have been eliminated the product is "released" commercially and is usually called Version 1.0. This process is sometimes called going gold. Zero defects is the goal, but even large commercial releases have bugs so the process continues for the life of the product. Each major design change of the product may repeat the above process with version numbers often (but not always) incrementing in the form 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and so on. Minor releases may or may not go through this process in such a formal way, and increment in the form 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and so on. The build number refers to an internally used number that tracks the version of the project for the development team. This is often appended to the Major and Minor version numbers, and if often a large and apparently randomly increasing number. For example 1.2.547, 1.2.722, 1.2.1047 and so on. Generally only the developer knows the difference between the various builds.
Quite often Alpha testing is done in house, and beta testing externally. Because the term beta test is better known, we will use it to describe the external phase of our software testing.
These testing phases are somewhat arbitrary. In reality bugs are often eliminated in the Alpha test, and features changed or added (or even removed) in the beta test. The famous Microsoft Windows 95 beta test versions had features later not found in the full release, and in Australia drivers were added to the commercial release (or shortly after) that were not found in a beta release.
What do we mean by a beta test ?
Our beta test is perhaps a combination of Alpha and Beta tests, in that - we are still open to input for the final form of the product. Simply - you test the system in your business and provide us with input for the final form of the product.
Why you should be a beta tester ?
Being a beta tester allows you to find out more about a product that you may use in your business. It allows you to have early input into the final shape of the program in the event of design problems. You can develop a close relationship with the vendor of the product, giving you greater access to fixes and information. It gives you time to integrate the product into your business, and keeps you ahead of your competition.
Free support while in the beta test phase.
We will also attempt to fix bugs before we release a beta version, and we will be as prompt as we can in fixing problems that are discovered.
What do we expect from beta sites ?
An understanding of what a beta site is. A willingness to offer positive criticism of the product and prompt reporting of bugs. We would also expect a beta site to respect any confidential information they were given.
What would we like from a beta site ?
We would like to think that when we have all the problems removed from the product, and the beta site is happy with the product, that they would be prepared to be a reference site. (And of course speak in glowing terms of the product!).
Why you should NOT be a beta tester ?
If you are looking for a way to save dollars by investing in a beta test version rather than the full product, then you are asking for trouble. About the only guarantee we can give with beta test software is that there WILL BE PROBLEMS WITH IT. You may save money. You may be first with the product, and gain a competitive edge - You may get "free support", but these should be secondary considerations. If your business will depend on the software you should not use it - the whole point is that the developer is hoping that you will find any problems that might remain in the product, before the commercial or final release. Basically, what ever you have heard about Murphy's law applies doubly for computer programs, and quadruply for beta tests!