I’ve been beta testing software since the 80’s. Back in the pre-Internet days, the software I was testing helped connect computer bulletin boards around the world together. Since the early 90’s, I’ve been beta testing Internet stuff, including the software running email servers.
What is beta testing? A bit of explanation is called for:
When software is first created, the software author does what is called “alpha” testing. In an alpha test, things are almost guaranteed to go awry.
If the software manages to run and appears to work without crashing, it is turned over to a beta test team that puts the software through more thorough testing to see what it takes to break it. Make no mistake, beta software IS broken. The question is simply “how broken”. Because I run beta software on servers that I manage, my wife and I have agreed to certain rules, the most important of which is that I NEVER update software within 24 hours of going out of town.
With solid beta testing, the software author has an opportunity fix problems before the software is released for general distribution. The July Microsoft update that broke Outlook worldwide is an excellent example of what happens when beta testing isn’t adequate before the software is released.
SpaceX has gone through the same process: Early alpha tests of their rockets often resulted in spectacular failures and explosions. As they got better, we started seeing successful beta tests, including the beta test of the Crew Dragon this summer. The Crew Dragon goes into production use later this year.
In the current effort to develop a vaccine to protect us from COVID-19, think of alpha testing as the lab tests and early trials of vaccine candidates and beta testing as the clinical trials that we are now seeing around the world. Beta testing takes time and vaccine trials shouldn’t be ended until the vaccine candidates are thoroughly tested and found to be both safe AND effective.
There is a “Beta Test” that has failed: Coastal Texas is dealing with Tropical Storm Beta this morning. The record number of named storms this year, along with record fires in Australia during their summer and in the American West this summer are being amplified by a warming planet. We can continue to pretend that warming is not happening or that we aren’t largely responsible for it. Alternately, we can move from alpha testing possible solutions to a wide beta test to see which solutions are safe and effective. That is a topic for a future NPR Note.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor