What Is Beta Software?

How to be a beta software tester

Beta refers to the phase in software development between the alpha phase and the release candidate phase.

The software is generally considered "complete" by the developer, but still not ready for general use due to a lack of testing "in the wild." Websites, operating systems, and programs alike are often said to be in beta at some point during development.

Beta software is either released to everyone (called an open beta) or a controlled group (called a closed beta) for testing.

An illustration of alpha, beta, and release stages with a knob
Olivier Le Moal / Getty Images

The Purpose of Beta Software

Beta software serves one main purpose: to test performance and identify issues, sometimes called bugs.

Allowing beta testers to try out the software and provide feedback to the developer is a great way for the program to get some real-world experience and to identify how it will work when it's out of beta.

Just like regular software, beta software runs alongside all the other tools that a computer or device is using, which is often the entire point—to test compatibility.

Beta testers are usually asked to give as much feedback as they can about the beta software—what sort of crashes are occurring, if the beta software or other parts of their computer or device are behaving strangely, etc.

Beta testing feedback might just include bugs and other issues that testers experience, but often it's also a chance for the developer to take suggestions for features and other ideas for improving the software.

Feedback may be given in a number of ways, depending on the developer's request or the software that's being tested. This could include email, social media, a built-in contact tool, and/or a web forum.

Another common reason someone may intentionally download something that's only in the beta stage is to preview the newer, updated software. Instead of waiting for the final release, a user (like you) could download the beta version of a program, for example, to check out all the new features and improvements that will likely make it into the final release.

Beta Software Safety

It's generally safe to download and test beta software, but be sure that you understand the risks that come with it.

Remember that the program or website, or whatever it is that you're beta testing, is in the beta stage for a reason: the bugs need to be identified so that they can be fixed. This means you're more likely to find inconsistencies and hiccups in the software than you would if it were out of beta.

If you're worried that your computer may crash or that the beta software may cause some other unsavory problem with your computer, we recommend using the software in an isolated, virtual environment. VirtualBox and VMWare are two programs that can do this, or you could use the beta software on a computer or device that you don't use every day.

If you're using Windows, you should also consider creating a restore point before you try out beta software so that you can restore your computer back to an earlier time if it happens to corrupt important system files while you're testing it.

The Difference Between an Open Beta and a Closed Beta

Not all beta software is available for downloading or purchasing like regular software. Some developers release their software for testing purposes in what's referred to as closed beta.

Software that's in open beta, also called public beta, is free for anyone to download without an invite or special permission from the developers.

In contrast to open beta, closed beta requires an invitation before you can access the software. This generally works by requesting an invitation through the developer's website. If accepted, you'll be given instructions on how to download the software.

Becoming a Beta Tester

There isn't a single place where you sign up to be a beta tester for all kinds of software. Being a beta tester just means that you're someone who tests beta software.

Download links to software in open beta are usually found alongside the stable releases at the developer's website or possibly in a separate section where other types of downloads are found, like portable versions and archives.

For example, the beta version of popular web browsers like Mozilla Firefox Quantum, Google Chrome, and Opera can all be downloaded for free from their respective download pages. Apple offers beta software, too, including beta versions of macOS and iOS. Google's Android Beta program is similar, but for Android devices.

Those are just a few examples, there are many, many more. You'd be surprised how many developers release their software to the public for beta testing purposes. Just keep your eyes out for it—you'll find it.

For example, you can also try new Android apps before they're officially released. If you open the app store on your Android device and navigate to an app you have installed that has a beta option, tapping Join lets you update to beta versions from now on.

As mentioned above, information about closed beta software downloads are also usually found on the developer's website, but require some kind of permission before use. You should see instructions on how to request that permission on the website.

If you're looking for a beta version for a specific piece of software but can't find the download link, just do a search for "beta" on the developer's website or on their official blog.

An even easier way to find beta versions of the software you already have on your computer is to use a free software updater. These tools will scan your computer to find outdated software, some of which can identify which programs have a beta option and even install the beta version for you.

More Information on Beta

The term beta comes from the Greek alphabet—alpha is the first letter of the alphabet (and the first stage of a software's release cycle) and beta is the second letter (and follows the alpha phase).

The beta phase can last anywhere from weeks to years, but normally falls somewhere in between. Software that has been in beta for a very long time is said to be in perpetual beta.

Beta versions of websites and software programs will normally have beta written across the heading image or the title of the main program window.

Paid software can also be available for beta testing, but those are normally trialware that's programmed in a way where they stop working after a set amount of time. This may be configured in the software from the time of the download, or may be a setting that gets enabled when you use a beta-specific product key.

There might be many updates made to beta software before it's ready for final release—dozens, hundreds... maybe thousands. This is because as more and more bugs are found and corrected, newer versions (without the previous bugs) are released and continually tested until the developers are comfortable enough to consider it a stable release.

  • What is the Apple Beta Software Program?

    The program lets anyone with a valid Apple ID who accepts the Apple Beta Software Program Agreement try pre-release software and provide feedback directly to Apple. It is free to sign up for the Apple Beta Software Program, and there is no compensation for testing software.

  • What is Google beta software?

    Google has several beta programs, such as Android Beta for Pixel, which allows Pixel users to try pre-release versions of Android and test-drive new features. Other Google beta software programs include beta testing the Google app for Android and beta testing new Android apps.

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