London software testing news UK

The state of Beta testing

Posted in Software testing by testing in London on May 1, 2008

From IDG no

Every day, new services launch on the Web, often earlier than they should with the thought that “just getting it out there” is a good idea. And many of these are in perpetual beta, like Google’s Gmail.

Once upon a time the term “beta” meant that the software was very close to release, but the developers were still seeking feedback. Betas were typically only distributed to a limited audience of a few customers who understood the risks inherent in using software that might break, and who would report bugs. Those bugs would then be fixed and the final version released for sale.

Today, betas are instantly available to everyone worldwide; there are rarely limits. They are used to attract free publicity, or to drive user demand through “invite only”-style launches. And a beta is not a one-time event. The software changes frequently; new features are added constantly. If problems occur the answer is often not to fix them, but to state that “the product is only in beta”. But people use the product as if it were final. At best, the service might not work exactly as advertised. At worst, your data could be lost, destroyed, or leaked.

This is understandable to a certain extent. Making software or services available on the Internet provides a kind of load testing that no quality assurance model ever could. And tens or hundreds of thousands of users will find bugs and suggest enhancements faster than a few hundred controlled users — if you intend to fix the issues. Twitter has become a very popular service, but it suffers constant breakdowns.

Such a short release schedule also forces competitors to release their “me too” products much sooner than they should have, which leads to a downward spiral in overall quality of the products — a race to the bottom, so to speak. And it forces users to quickly abandon what might otherwise be promising solutions as they try the next new thing rather than wait for the current service to get better.

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