A beta is any software still under development made available during a software release life cycle to a select few to test, examine, and report problems. Beta testing allows developers to find problems they may have missed and fix them before the program is released.
Software in this stage of development may be called betaware.
Closed beta vs. open beta
Often, there are two beta testing phases: OB (open beta) and CB (closed beta). An open beta, also known as a public beta, is beta testing open to anyone; those testing are called beta testers. Closed beta (private beta) is beta testing that is only available to select individuals or company employees.
How to be a beta tester
Many games (especially online games) in the final stages of development have an open beta for several months, allowing anyone interested to play and report problems. Becoming a beta tester for any program or game requires either registration or sometimes only a download of the program from the company's website.
Participating in a beta is always free and should never be purchased. Many scam artists sell copies of a beta program or the activation code to unsuspecting people wanting to play a game before any of their friends. Often, these codes are fake or disabled codes to play the game.
Why is it called beta?
Beta is the second letter of the Greek alphabet (after alpha).
What is a public preview?
A public preview is another name for a beta. With a public preview, the software or product is introduced to members or everyone as a trial before it's officially released. This preview helps the developers see how it performs when several people are using the product at the same time around the world. This trial period also lets those using the product know it's still being developed and tested.