Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Alpha? Beta?Theta? What do we call our software release?

OK, so we're closer to release, and in a week, we'll request five restaurant owners to play around with our application at

Only, we've got a semantic problem! Is this release a prototype, an alpha or a beta? A private or closed beta perhaps? Or maybe a pre-alpha of sorts? What about the next release?

Is it even good luck to use greek alphabets anymore considering the way the Greek economy is going? Is Chinese the new Greek? After all, the Alpha-Beta nomenclature for software releases happened only because IBM simply decided to use what they had in place for hardware.

Our understanding of Alpha & Beta was further clouded by Google's liberal use of the Beta tag before 2009 (before they started going after Microsoft's business customers). And then, Flickr even had a Gamma release!

Here are a few things we learnt. You may find them useful:

  • Pre Alpha phase = pre testing phase
  • Once you start testing internally or with a really small focus group, you're in the Alpha phase
  • The culmination of the Alpha phase is a feature freeze - features that will find their way into the Beta release
  • Alpha and Private Beta are the same.
  • The common prefixes to 'Beta' are closed (limited to a selected group) or open (to a larger group, usually the general public)
  • Beta release is the same as a prototype / preview / early access (for some reason, I thought that for web apps, the alpha release was the prototype)

Other terms downstream that we won't cover here: Release Candidate (RC), Golden Master (Apple's version of RC), Gamma, Delta, Omega & Zenith (yes, they all exist), RTM, GA

Interestingly, Google redefined Beta so much that 'Perpetual Beta' found its way into popular lexicon - with O'Reilly throwing their weight behind it.

And never one to mince words, Jason Fried wrote about it and a Jason (presumably Fried) writes in the comments of the same article:
"Beta is just a way to not be responsible for the shit you put on the web"

Image courtesy:


  1. Lux, May your eyes start dancing with customers and you feet start walking to the bank! MN

  2. Thanks, tango (yes, I know who you are :)