Having been a somewhat early adopter of 3D, I have been lucky enough to be included in Beta tests for various 3D-based software that I use. Why… I’m not sure. When I see what some fellow beta testers out there do to break the software, I’m amazed and downright astounded at the lengths they will go to. All to find bugs for the devs to correct and keep you from the frustration of finding a bug the hard way.
We all know they don’t catch all the bugs… no matter how many beta testers there are out there or how hard they work to find them. Eliminating bugs in software is almost like eliminating bugs outdoors (real bugs… real outdoors… you remember those things). Certainly not as impossible as that scenario, but close. Particularly when fixing one bug leads to a cascade of new bugs.
One thing I know for sure, having done both, I’d rather beta test than be a developer, and I’ve yet to work with a dev that had a horrible attitude. Most have been very welcoming and charming… or at least as much charm as us computer geeks can generate.
I would love to name names, software, devs, and the beta testers, but confidentiality agreements do not allow it. These people really do deserve more credit than they get… on both sides. When you update an application that has been beta-tested you will still find bugs but just imagine how many there would be if there was no beta testing?
Huge open betas can be a real nightmare to manage on the dev side. While they have their place, I mostly participate in the invited private betas because they are better managed and the response to bug reports is much quicker. There is nothing wrong with an open beta, other than it takes a lot of resources to manage it and can be very expensive. A small company would probably lose a dev or two to answering questions and putting out fires instead of pounding code.
Let me also talk a bit about alpha testing. This is such an early stage that you might not even want the thing on your computer, and requires testers that know how to fix things on their own system if the initial Alpha goes south. Particularly in the old days when direct memory management was tricky for even seasoned devs, locking up a pc was easy to do back then, data loss could occur. I do not participate in many Alphas for this reason and the fact that I most likely can’t offer anything to the project at this point.
Most successful companies run into problems eventually. I’ve mentioned before about the user base growing so large and diverse in hardware that it can become a nightmare to just push out a simple fix for one problem that doesn’t lead to another problem on an older or unpatched system.
Beta programs generally recruit “power-users”, a term used to describe a small portion of users that push the software to the limits and beyond. The type of person that makes a developer say… “I didn’t know that could be done”. Not everyone is a power user, unfortunately. And not every power user gets invited, either. Management of the test may limit participation.
This is not meant as a slight. I don’t know of a dev or dev team that doesn’t value their userbase in some form. Except maybe some of the abusive users that think the app world revolves around them and will scream to devs about things not going their way.
This type generally isn’t invited back on the next update. The devs have enough to deal with. Making them take abuse or referee between testers is not desired by anyone, and I’ve seen devs take a lot of crap without skipping a beat in development.
All this being said, the next time you get an update to your software, you might find bugs no matter how hard it was tested. And, if it was tested like some of the betas I’ve been in, you have some mighty beta testing warriors armed with the knowledge and skills needed to do the job to squash as many of those pesky critters as they can.
As is the case in most things… only a small percentage of that pool actually contributes to the test in visible ways. However, having other power users in the pool brings a tacit approval from them of what is being tested, found, and patched.
In general, we owe a lot to those few, unnamed warriors, that put aside time from a busy schedule to help improve a particular software application, fighting bugs, crashing their systems, and possibly costing a few hairs off their heads in the process.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.