Beta versions of software programs are pre-release versions of the final product. The term is typically used for “shrink-wrapped” programs targeted at consumer customer segments. “Shrink-wrapped” refers to an easy, menu mouse-click driven installation approach, usually from CDs or DVDs nowadays.
Beta, being the 2nd letter of the Greek alphabet, was originally used to signify the second and last major phase of testing visible to the end-customer in the traditional “waterfall” approach to software development. Other terms used would be User Testing, User Acceptance Testing (UAT), etc.
The first major phase of testing did not use to involve end-users or customers at all, but increasingly this has changed in the use of “iterative” approaches to software development. Better stop there!!