Why I Don't Make Betas

I’ve been watching the results of the first Beta of another piece of software the last couple days by a developer we’ll call BetaMaker. I even tried it out. It has problems, like every other incomplete piece of software. The sheer number of problems is larger than I expected, and I’ve been trying to understand why that would be.

Ultimately, I think it stems from using large scale development methodology with a small scale team.

Everyone who has used software on a computer for any length of time these days understands what a beta is. It’s a version of the software that is incomplete and may have bugs. Usually, a beta build comes after an alpha build that is not made public. A beta build is often the first public release of a piece of software.

Beta’s work great for large teams making large pieces of software. They generally have testing resources that test each build on large numbers of configurations of computers over the course of the development cycle. Beta’s are generally supposed to be feature complete, and close to release, but may have bugs.

I’m a lone developer. I have a limited number of fingers, eyes, and brains (some might suggest that my brains are more limited than other parts). I also have a limited number of computers. In other words, I can’t replicate the testing that goes on in a large development team employing a typical development cycle.

Developers create bugs while they are writing software. They don’t see them for any number of reasons, including poor planning, incomplete understanding of the problem space, blindness, and fatigue, among others. Bugs are easiest to fix when they are caught close to the time that they are created. The code is fresh in the developers mind and there aren’t layers and layers of other code on top of what was just done.

Since I can’t code and test at the same time, and I have other limited resources, if I followed the alpha, beta, release style of development, when I reached beta, there would have likely been a large number of bugs lurking that are hard to find because they exist in code I hadn’t looked at in six months or more. This, I think, is what’s happening to BetaMaker.

To solve that problem, I do lots of incremental releases with a limited number of changes. You get new features on a regular basis and the bugs that slip out are quickly fixed when found. The best thing is that StoryBox has been relatively stable since about three months into development, unlike BetaMaker who spent two years building something without anyone seeing it, only to find themselves snowed under with issues.

4 thoughts on “Why I Don't Make Betas”

  1. and would you believe I just read on their forum a comment from someone claiming that is the best beta they used? I have logged years of using beta versions of number of applications, and all I can say is the Betamaker’s is probably the worst beta I have ever had hands on (worst in terms of completely bug ridden and annoying to use).

    They announced when they will release it, and had to stick to it. Most other developers don’t do that anymore, they just release when it’s ready and don’t promise anything.

    No clue about their home platform version, but as for their Windows one, I’m reading their boards and have absolutely no clue what all the raving fans are talking about. Vast number of them probably never used other software than Word or some of those writer-software packages that look like last updated for Windows 3.1 platform.
    Anyway the raving masses and enthusiasm is their most valuable asset and with that they will be able to pass over current beta easily and with 2.0 it wil become fairly interesting software.
    But StoryBox will further advanced by that time as well 🙂

  2. Ah, someone figured it out 🙂 Sorry about the delay in approving the post. I’ve been busy learning all sorts of cool stuff from David Farland about writing. And you are right. StoryBox is going to be improved by then.

  3. I have 2 licensed writing software and trying 3 others. Of the latter, I gave up on one and continue to keep the other 2 (Storybox and BetaMaker’s). Before NaNoWriMo started for this year, I decided not to use BM’s until the official version is released, because I didn’t want to deal with having to update the beta programme every few days.

    I am not used to the actual writing inside a writer software programme, so while I have done a fair bit of planning inside Storybox (the Box of Notes is what I use the most), I am doing the actual writing on my AlphaSmart Neo and also with Q10 on my netbook. But if I do invest in a licence, I will train myself to write inside the software.

    The “rave reviews” for the Win beta version of BM’s software are based on the rock solid reputation of its Mac vesion. For a long time, Win users have been hearing about how great the software is to help plan writing, but they have not been able to use it because they are on the Win platform. By the way, Mac users are some of the best “evangelists” in the world. So now that a Win version is available, they are testing it and it really is an excellent software, but the Win version will have a long way to go to catch up to its Mac sibling.

    I’d told myself I’ll wait for the official version, and I’m attracted to the discount for successful NaNoWriMo participants. But I already own 2 other licensed writing software that I hardly use anymore, and I’d really like to buy something for once that I will continue to use.

    BTW, Mark – is the discount you posted on the Storybox discussion thread in the NaNo Technology forum still available?

  4. Yes, the coupon is still available, and will be through the fifth of December. Choosing StoryBox because you don’t want to update every few days isn’t exactly the reason to choose StoryBox. I update StoryBox frequently with new features and bug fixes. You can, of course, skip updates if the changes aren’t interesting or don’t affect you, though I recommend updating as often as you can stand it. No software is ever perfect and StoryBox is no exception. I do my best to keep those imperfections as small as I can make them, however.

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