There are some occasions when a company or individual wants to allow people to use their website or software before it is fully tested and complete. Sometimes users may notice flaws that a developer overlooks. This public early release also allows for a marketing buzz to build for an anticipated final release. Different companies use “beta” and other labels to make pre-release products available, though they often come with caveats. Here is a rundown of how different companies often choose to release beta versions of their products:
If you do a web search for “Adobe labs” you will find that news about some of Adobe’s product updates in the pipeline is available. From time to time an early version of their popular Flash Player can be downloaded from the labs. You can also download pre-release versions of some of their other software through the labs.
With minor exceptions, Apple only makes pre-release software available to developers. This software is called a “Developer Preview.” The developer is placed under a contractual obligation to not share any information about the pre-release software until it is made available to the general public. One current exception is the “iTunes in the Cloud” part of the iCloud service coming some time in the fall. Another is the “iWork.com Public Beta” which allows users of Apple’s iWork productivity software to share and collaborate through documents on the Internet.
One company willing to often share early work with the public is Google. One example is “Music Beta by Google”. The company’s website says that this service allows you to, “Upload your personal music collection to listen anywhere, keep everything in sync, and forget the hassle of cables and files.”
If you Google “Google labs” you will find a website that lists the “new ideas” the company has in development. The Gmail and Google Maps webpages also have experimental “labs” features available through the settings.
Before its final release, Internet Explore 9 was made available as a public beta. Microsoft generally makes a “release candidate” available for their headline software when they are near a final release. If you Bing “Microsoft Connect” you will find a website listing products accepting feedback. Some of these are in the beta stage of development.
Occasionally companies will make early versions of hardware available. Google recently gave away free Chromebooks to a limited number of developers and testers. Many other software companies also make their offerings available as betas or release candidates before their final release.
As previously stated, there are some caveats to using these beta versions. One is a willingness to use something that is not complete. Another is the understanding that some features may be missing. The notion that the product may not work as expected, that It might quit unexpectedly in a crash and that it may hang and refuse to respond are all possible issues that are more likely to occur in beta versions. If you can deal with this potential, you can get a sneak peek at the future of your favorite software.