Differences between Alpha and Beta testing

We’ve witnessed some confusion regarding the key differences between the Alpha Test and Beta Test phases of product development. While there are no hard and fast rules, and many companies have their own definitions and unique processes, the information in the table below is a good general overview:

Alpha Test Beta Test
What they do
Improve the quality of the product and ensure beta readiness. Improve the quality of the product, integrate customer input on the complete product, and ensure release readiness.
When they happen
Toward the end of a development process when the product is in a near fully-usable state. Just prior to launch, sometimes ending within weeks or even days of final release.
How long they last
Usually very long and see many iterations. It’s not uncommon for alpha to last 3-5x the length of beta. Usually only a few weeks (sometimes up to a couple of months) with few major iterations.
Who cares about it
Almost exclusively quality/engineering (bugs, bugs, bugs). Usually involves product marketing, support, docs, quality and engineering (basically the entire product team).
Who participates (tests)
Normally performed by test engineers, employees, and sometimes “friends and family”. Focuses on testing that would emulate ~80% of the customers. Tested in the “real world” with “real customers” and the feedback can cover every element of the product.
What testers should expect
Plenty of bugs, crashes, missing docs and features. Some bugs, fewer crashes, most docs, feature complete.
How they’re addressed
Most known critical issues are fixed, some features may change or be added as a result of early feedback. Much of the feedback collected is considered for and/or implemented in future versions of the product. Only important/critical changes are made.
What they achieve
About methodology, efficiency and regiment. A good alpha test sets well-defined benchmarks and measures a product against those benchmarks. About chaos, reality, and imagination. Beta tests explore the limits of a product by allowing customers to explore every element of the product in their native environments.
When it’s over
You have a decent idea of how a product performs and whether it meets the design criteria (and if it’s “beta-ready”) You have a good idea of what your customer thinks about the product and what s/he is likely to experience when they purchase it.
What happens next
Beta Test! Production and Release Party!

Some additional points:

  • Both terms (alpha and beta) are used primarily in the technology industry (software and hardware).
  • Most products include both alpha and beta test phases.
  • Both phases are excellent at discovering bugs.
  • Both phases often shift their goals and methods in real-time based on the on-going results.
  • Some companies use terms like field trials, prerelease, customer validation, CAT (customer acceptance testing), UAT (user acceptance testing), and beta testing synonymously.

References & Resources

  • http://www.centercode.com/blog/2011/01/alpha-vs-beta-testing/