How to Play Safe with Beta Technology
Depending on your attitude toward risk, seeing "beta" stamped on a website may generate excitement, curiosity or maybe even a desire to close that window as quickly as possible. The beta mark is the technology industry's signal to let you know that its product ― whether it's software, hardware or service ― is ready for public testing, but is still unfinished.
You may have noticed that browsers including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome all launch in beta and it's usually several months or longer before the software is released in its final version to the public. A beta period allows developers to collect feedback from the public and use it to make a better finished product.
Google has created Google Labs, a continuous place for sharing its new features across the company's products including search, maps and Gmail. Look for the bubbling beaker icon under the "more" tab on Google's search page or under settings in Gmail.
Currently, Art Project, a virtual tour of some of the world's most notable art collections, is worth a look. Also noteworthy is Books Ngram Viewer, which compares the frequency of phrases found in the 15 million books scanned as part of Google Books. For instance, you can chart the rise of the word "kid" to mean a child as opposed to a goat, a meaning that didn't catch on until the last decade.
Manufacturers may choose to release a product before it has all of the features it would like to incorporate. For instance, Barnes & Noble recently updated its Nook Color with free firmware that added a full browser to the popular e-reader and last year Sony sent an update to its PS3 that allowed the game consoles to run 3-D movies.
"Even Apple, a company that is known for perfection and control, releases products with known shortfalls in exchange for market data and an early impact in the marketplace," wrote Scott Belsky, founder and CEO of Behance, on his blog, referring to the copy-cut-paste function added to first generation iPhones long after launch. "Getting early feedback can lead to priceless realizations." And ultimately, this also leads to a much more useful product.
The beta label may be considered fair warning by some companies. If the beta product is software ― something that will be downloaded to your computer ― caution is advised.
Most companies build a reporting mechanism into their beta program and are quick to fix problems or "bugs" reported by users.
Before downloading a beta program, do some research. Look for user feedback and developer notes on the site. You can type in the name of the program into your search bar and go to forums and other sites to find out what people are saying. You can still try new programs ahead of the masses, but do your homework before you download.
Occasionally, you may install a beta program that interferes with the operation of your computer. You may find that your computer runs noticeably slower or crashes after installing a new program.
An easy fix
If you find that a recent install creates problems or you simply don't like the program, you could uninstall the offending software, but oftentimes a program uninstall leaves behind debris ― files that are rendered useless by the uninstall but still take up space on your hard drive and could interfere with operations.
Instead, try a restore point to bring your computer back to where it was before you encountered problems. Restore points are automatically created for Windows 7 and Vista users each week and when System Restore detects the beginning of a change to your computer, such as when you install a program or a driver.
The restore point does not affect your data files such as Word documents and photographs.
Here's how for PCs and Macs
Here's how to carry out the System Restore function. Open System by clicking the Start button, right-clicking Computer, and then clicking Properties. In the left pane, click System protection. If Windows asks for your permission to continue, click OK. Click the System Protection tab and then click the System Restore button. You may choose the recommended restore date, which is the most recent, or you may select a different restore point within the last week.
Before you download a new program, get in the habit of creating a restore point. If things go south, it will be easy to fix your computer without the possible hassle of finding and uninstalling programs.
Mac users can use a similar technique by running Time Machine, an elegant piece of software that backs up your entire computer onto an external hard drive. The interface makes it easy to "go back in time" to any hour of any day over the life of the computer and restore the machine to exactly the way it was at that time. Further, Mac users can easily retrieve individual documents and return a computer to its pristine state if they are passing it on to another user.
- First Google Chromebooks Coming June 15th from Acer and Samsung
- Best 6 Personal Computers of 2011
- Turning Electronics Into Cash: The Art of 'Re-Commerce'