In the realm of software testing, beta is the second level of testing, following alpha. Unlike alpha testing, beta testing is a form of user testing. Certain users outside of the organization are invited and allowed to use the software and report bugs or requests for features. Software in the beta stage is generally buggy, incomplete, and unsuitable for production. Still, beta tests help identify the severity of the issues and prioritize which to solve before the general release.
Beta testers, the term used to refer to people who use beta software, are enthusiasts who risk using unstable and buggy software — and gain early access to upcoming features, among other incentives — in exchange for valuable feedback to the developers.
What are open vs. closed beta tests?
- Closed beta tests employ a smaller group of testers, usually on an invite-only basis. These tests are commonly held for software in early development or have performance/scaling issues that prevent testing on a bigger scale.
- Open beta tests are beta tests that are open for the public to participate. These tests are generally held in the later stages of development when the software, although not ready, is still relatively stable and does not present significant risk or usability issues.
Most software undergoes both closed as well as open beta tests in subsequent stages.
What is perpetual beta?
Perpetual beta is the phenomenon when some software in general and widespread use still has the beta moniker. Critics regard this phenomenon as a form of malpractice that companies might employ to avoid providing support and taking responsibility for issues in the software.