Here in Net Communities towers palatial penthouse office suite, the tension has been building all day. Will it be the Blonde or the Badger? Those of you not following BBC’s ‘The Apprentice,’ might not know what I’m talking about, but in certain circles the programme has definitely captured the imagination. To find out more check out the BBC’s site here .

What has this got to do with IT? In traditional employment terms an apprentice is generally taken to mean someone who is learning a particular trade or craft, in today’s offices such individuals are generally called trainees, a phrase that somehow doesn’t have the same sort of grit and sawdust heavy industrial feel that apprentice does. You never really hear about apprentice project managers or systems analysts, but I feel in some ways you could think of a Beta version of a programme or application as the product in its apprentice stage.

A Beta release of a programme is in fact the second part of the development stage, the first being Alpha. The full cycle runs, Alpha, Beta, Release Candidate, Gold/general release. Alpha & Beta are the first two letters of the Greek alphabet and are the first two stages, though occasionally there is a pre Alpha release. With the Alpha version, the application has been designed to meet all the software requirements, but is still full of bugs (these are sometimes called security features.) In the Alpha stage of development a programme, it is first released to software testers, who judge the correctness and completeness of the software, this is usually measured according to the levels of reliability, stability, portability, maintainability and usability that software demonstrates. After it has been put through its paces the package will then proceed to the Beta (or what I’ve decided to term the apprentice) stage of its release.

The Beta stage is sometimes termed pre-release, and is the first version of the product that attempts to contain all the features of the finished product. This has generally only been used for internal or demonstration purposes. It is though sometimes put out to a wider audience for them to start testing its strengths in a real word situation; the most notable case of this happening recently was with Microsoft’s release of the Vista Beta out to a wider community in which to test it out. You can think of this therefore as the software’s own time as an apprentice, can it perform all the tasks for which it was hired (implemented,) or does it still have new skills to learn and some rough edges to smooth down. Only once this stage is complete can the application be considered as fully up to the task, i.e. having completed its apprenticeship, a strained analogy I know, but I was trying to work my current favourite TV programme in there somehow.

Release candidate the next stage is the finished product, this is sometimes termed gamma, and is the final version of the product unless any fatal bugs are found. It is but a short step from there to Gold/general release and said product appearing shrink wrapped in a PC world near you. To find out more about the development stage, check out this informative Wikipedia article here.

Well here the temperature continues to rise (though that might have something to do with bright sunshine and no air conditioning.) I’m sure we’ll all be on the edge of our seats tonight rooting for our favourites, see you back here later in the week some more amazing definitions.