When there’s a Beta version of a program you’re really fond of, should you use it? You’re excited to see the new features, but also cautious about potential drawbacks. How can we weigh up the pros and cons?
The much anticipated release of the TeamViewer 12 Beta has got me thinking about previous Beta versions of software that I’ve used.
Last year there was a Beta version of my favorite operating system that was about to be released, and I really struggled with the decision of whether to install it or not.
“What if it’s buggy? Totally different from what I’m used to? Or just downright stupid?” I asked myself.
“But I really want to see the new features! I’ll regret missing out on what is just as likely to be the most advanced version ever.” I reasoned.
I guess we’ve all been there at some point or another, and it’s always the same questions.
To put an end to making these decisions with our gut – which is never a completely reliable source, let’s try to focus on the facts: What are the advantages and disadvantages of using the Beta version of a program?
But first of all – let’s get the facts straight about what Beta versions are.
IBM First Used Beta Versions
At some point in the middle of the last century, IBM started using the Alpha/Beta terminology as part of the software release life cycle.
These tests were run to have programs tested under real-life conditions. While developers can search for flaws from their perspective, no debugging can serve with the unpredictable behavior of the average user.
As to Betas, there are closed or private ones that are only available to a restricted group of people, and the so called open or public Betas, open to either larger groups of people or anyone interested.
In general, these groups must fulfill certain requirements, but on many other occasions just about everyone can test them out.
The Purpose of Betas
Companies let people test their programs for a number of reasons, but primarily to:
- Gain insight in why and how people use the program
- And therefore, their favorite and least favorite parts
- Find out, if the user benefits from the features at all
- Uncover bugs and general problems
These points are all supposed to ensure customer satisfaction and to enhance the products quality for the final version.
The Duration of Beta Versions
The testing phase of Betas can last everywhere from a few weeks up to several months.
There may even be an abrupt stop, if there are heavy issues discovered that will not allow for further progress.
The other extreme to be talked about here are so called “perpetual Betas”.
For some companies, they’ve long become a common practice, e.g. Google labeled some of its services like Gmail as beta for even a few years.
The Advantages of Using Beta Versions of Software
Using a Beta undoubtedly has many advantages, really. Some of them might not be obvious at first, admittedly.
Though here’s one that is: You’ll see a new product before anyone else outside the Beta group. It is an exclusive right, not granted to many!
You can be part of a narrow circle of your favorite program’s community, where you may share your thoughts and ideas for the Beta and the new version.
No average user will be able to compete with your level of knowledge about the software by the final release. You’ll long know your way around the new features, while the general user base doesn’t.
Make Better Use of Your Hardware
Even though a Beta version is not perfect, there might already be vast improvements when it comes to optimizing processing speed and overall usage of what your hardware has to offer.
The Beta might e.g. be available in a 64-Bit version, allowing for an effective use of your CPU, if you run a 64-bit operating system.
Another topic that grows ever more crucial for all of us is the battery life of our mobile devices. Seriously, what’s more annoying than an empty battery?
Fortunately, developers know these problems and work on more efficient battery use, too.
Boost Your Productivity with New Features
Apart from looking more fancy, new versions often provide functionality that makes your life much easier.
The Beta might fix the things that you always criticized in the existing features.
But there may also be some entirely new features that cut out much effort spent on work that could be done much easier, because it’s always the same steps.
Or you don’t have to open up all sorts of other applications, if the developers included tools that do the job within their own program.
These possible improvements can make your work more enjoyable and effective.
Support the Developers
For me, one of the most important advantages to mention here is the possibility of shaping the final product yourself.
If you believe that the program is great, be it due to its innovative capacity, it serves a good cause, or you just think more people should use it, you can help the developers create the best product they can.
When talking about our favorite software, there’d be nothing more satisfying than seeing your feedback implemented, don’t you think?
And that’s not unlikely, since one purpose of Betas is to gain the user’s feedback to begin with.
Can I Really Make a Difference?
Yes, you can for sure!
The more feedback you give, the more of a difference you make.
Since successful Betas themselves can make the difference between the product becoming a success or a failure, your opinion makes up a big part of that.
See, every bug you report, any kind of misunderstanding, usability/accessibility issue, etc. that is uncovered thanks to you is most likely to be fixed as soon as possible.
Let the developers know what aspects about the new features you like and what you don’t like, what else you would appreciate, and anything that could help to ensure your satisfaction at the final release.
The Potential Drawbacks
Not all Betas are made the same. Some Beta versions are released at a very early stage – months or even years before the final version.
With that in mind, let’s have a look at what some of the drawbacks might be of using a Beta version.
Primarily, there are two factors to consider here:
Depending on the stage of development before the Beta was released, you could run into not a few bugs.
Nevertheless, you should keep in mind that a Beta cannot be considered an accurate representation of the final product, because the purpose of such an early-stage Beta is to improve on the current stage of development.
If you find your workflow rather disrupted by a new design where e.g. things are in different places that they used to be, consider if these changes could be useful once you’ve grown used to them.
When I catch myself feeling reluctant towards a new design, I remind myself that it will likely only take a few hours of usage to have it feel natural again.
That’s thanks to more intuitive design, which in turn is often implemented with new versions.
As for security, which is always a big topic with everything related to a computer:
Only install Betas that come from trusted sources! You can’t know what a file labeled beta from some person on the internet actually does to your computer.
This is especially important when working with machines that have critical data on them.
However, don’t forget that some Betas actually have significant security upgrades!
What If I Want to Stop Using a Beta Version?
So what happens if you go ahead and start using a Beta, only to find that it really doesn’t match up to your expectations?
In this case, quitting the Beta should be absolutely no problem.
If for any reason you don’t want to take part in the Beta anymore, you can always uninstall the program or get back to the older version you might have used before.
Remember, that you’re not bound to a contract by any means. The only one who decides, if and when you use the program, is you.
If you’re interested in exploring the next version of a program you already enjoy, trying out the Beta is the way to have a look at something that only few people got to see up to that point.
In fact, right now you can be one the first people to try out the TeamViewer 12 Beta!
You can be a valuable source of feedback and help to shape the final outcome and also get a number of advantages out of it.
The Beta phase can vastly vary in duration from program to program. You can quit anytime without facing any consequences that would put you in a bad position, though.
As a final statement, I think it’s always at least worth giving the Beta version a try! I rarely found myself disappointed.
Why don’t you tell me about your experiences with Betas? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!