How beta testing adds value

The purpose of beta testing is to make certain that there are no serious issues that could cause problems for end users. Put simply, its purpose is to gain feedback on usability prior to general release. It is better to discover real problems at a time when correcting those problems is the most economical.

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This doesn't mean that beta testing is a perfect guarantee of functionality, or marketability. The quality of beta testing depends a great deal on how it is done. It must be kept in mind that beta testing is a customer facing activity. Consequently, the type of testing done depends a great deal on the intended use of the software, the environment in which the software will be used and the possible difficulties that exist in that environment. This is true in both functional and nonfunctional forms of beta testing.

Simply moving the software out of the laboratory environment is always a positive step. Real environments can have effects on software that could not be predicted in the lab.

The limited distribution of the software to either the target market or to professional user experience testers, provides a testing viewpoint available in no other way. The very fact that it's not the lab environment can create new understanding with regard to usability. While there are some who say that agile testing makes beta testing redundant, the reality is that beta testing is a vital part of the agile framework.

While beta testing is essentially user testing, this doesn't mean that the only information that can be gained is from the user's viewpoint. There is a great deal more than that. Product feedback can provide information beyond just a narrow framework of usability. It can also provide details about what elements of functionality have been overlooked, something that happens with even the best documentation. And it can provide inspiration for new products as well as what would be useful improvements in future versions of the product under test.    

The beta testing of software can reveal previously unknown information that is only capable of being revealed in an operational environment. This helps refine the product so that it better meets user expectations by increasing product viability through understanding and correcting issues that may come up. This enables improvement to take place without the possible blowback that can result from prematurely releasing a product onto the market. Preventing bad public relations from faulty software not only increases the marketability of the application, it also prevents the company from developing a bad reputation that will take time and money to correct in the public's mind. This alone is worth the cost of beta testing.

In a sense, beta testing is a form of proof of concept. Documentation outlines the concept at the beginning of the development cycle, elements of the software are then developed and tested in a modular fashion. While this may include some forms of user testing, it is beta testing that confirms that the software functions as a complete concept.

Beta software testing enables end users, or professional testers acting as end users, to report issues discovered outside the lab environment. This "real world" testing takes much of the mystery out of the product by revealing problems that cannot be discovered any other way.

Beta testing is different and its standards are different from those of the development team. Ideally, beta testing standards should rigorously conform to the standards of end users. It is testing through use and in this way provides a new viewpoint while confirming previous development and testing, at the same time.

There are many approaches to beta testing which differ based on the criteria involved and what users are involved. It is a form of user acceptance testing and may include functional and nonfunctional tests, depending on what the circumstances and user requirements are. While problems may arise that cause the software to crash, beta testing is not destruction testing. Destruction testing is an actual attempt to cause the software or subsystem to fail by overdriving the application or providing it with the wrong kind of input. It is often ad-hoc and is generally carried out by professional testers. However, all beta testing falls into one of two categories, these are "open" and "closed." Open testing allows anyone to access the software and is commonly carried out on applications and games that are intended for a large audience. Closed beta testing is restricted by the developer and may only include those people who will be end users or professional testers performing the roles of end users.  

The beta version of an application will normally contain all the functionality of the planned release in order to make for as realistic a test as possible. This enables testing of all parts of the system and makes error identification easier as there is no contrast between beta and release versions.

Non-functional testing is easier and realistic as the system will integrate into its environment in the same way that the release version will. This is why the hardware configuration that the software will run on needs to be fully known so that there are no surprises that would confuse testing.

The only real difficulty is making sure that testers accurately reflect end users. They must either be end users themselves or testers trained to behave as realistic end users. Testers must be able and willing to provide feedback to developers. Getting feedback can be difficult when testers are "raw" recruits, such as those recruited over the Internet to test new games. They may be more interested in playing the game than providing accurate feedback.

Beta testing is a multi-layered process that can provide vital information regarding reliability, functionality, compatibility and usability to stakeholders  and thereby ensuring that software has reached the highest quality possible before release. This in turn adds value by creating the best possible public relations following initial release. It also provides information that will enable the software to be improved in future releases, and so extending that value into the future.

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