What is an Alpha Release?
An alpha release is the first development and first field release of a software product. The product is relatively immature and unstable in this release with only the most critical functions implemented in considerable detail.
In the traditional software development lifecycle, the alpha release is preceded by requirements analysis, research and planning, software design and software development. It is part of the testing phase and is followed by the beta release.
An alpha release is distributed to a limited number of mostly internal users such as the product’s own testers and developers. Alpha releases typically have numerous bugs, errors and glitches. The goal is to find as many of these problems as possible and eliminate them before the beta release. It is an opportunity to improve on and iterate the product. Once the identified flaws are gotten rid of, developers can work on the user interface (UI) and design.
A beta release is a more mature version and is made available to a larger user base mostly constituting the general public. While the alpha release explores functionality and features, the beta release explores bugs and other issues. The alpha release may provide the first chance to truly test the product but it doesn’t mean developers should rush into it. Plenty of work must go into the pre-alpha processes (including prototypes) to minimize the time and effort needed to remove early bugs.
Alpha release was most significant in the classic software development model. Its prominence has somewhat declined with the rise of the agile methodology and DevOps.