Beta Testing

I was reading a couple of articles this morning on C|Net about beta testing iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan. Both articles recommended being wary of beta testing because of the chance of running into bugs. There’s more to it than that though.

I used to beta test software, but stopped doing it quite a while back, mainly because I felt it was too much work for too little reward. I beta tested a couple of games and paint programs for the Apple IIGS, and AOL 3.0 and 4.0 for the Mac. It was nice getting early access to software, but to my mind, if you’re going to be a beta tester, you owe it to the developer to really put the software through its paces, note where something is going wrong, and report what you found. This can take quite a bit of time.

A good example was a problem that turned up with AOL 3, which was a major rewrite designed to bring the Mac software to parity with the Windows software. There was some sort of crashing bug, which I mentioned in passing on the beta message board. The project manager (rightly) took me to task for both being non-descriptive, and not posting a formal bug report. I ended up spending the entire afternoon figuring out what steps I was crashing on, then writing up a description of those steps, and posting it in both the feedback form and the message board. The project manager was nice enough to reply that the report was exactly the kind of detail they were looking for, and that they had found the cause of the bug.

This is all well and good, but eventually I tired of putting in that kind of work testing, and it’s not fair to the developer to beta test if you’re not willing to let them know what you found wrong. I’m perfectly content to wait until the software actually comes out, especially in the case of an operating system.