[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Click Tips
Rob Freeman
By Rob Freeman
Click tip-ster

Rob Freeman, Click Online's very own Mr Fixit, troubleshoots your PC problems.

Paul Mitchell, from Birmingham, England, contacted us asking:

When I download new things it says Beta afterwards. What does BETA stand for?

Beta is computer jargon for a version of a piece of software which has not yet been released commercially and is still in a period of testing.

Most software designers will make beta versions of their products available so that bugs and faults can be reported by the early users and then fixed.

When you are using Beta software, be prepared for it to give you grief now and then. Beta is actually the second release of software for testing.

The first release is called, surprisingly, an Alpha release. Alpha releases are not usually complete enough to be tested by the public, which is why you will generally see more Betas in the public domain.

There is a great website for looking up little terms like this. We have covered it before, but it is worth reminding you about the fantastic resource that is Webopedia.

New terms are added regularly, and there is a term of the day. Webopedia is a good site for a short definition.

If you want something a little meatier, then remember Wikipedia, whose entry on software development goes into software release procedures in some depth.

Now for that beta software, two sites for you: Betanews mixes news stories about up-and-coming software releases with downloads themselves.

There is a system of ratings and a feature which lets you know what the changes are since the last release.

If you are a gamer, you will like Beta Watcher, which is a notice board of upcoming games needing beta and sometimes Alpha testers to search for bugs.

Bear in mind here that being a formal Beta tester sometimes involves a commitment of time from you, and you may have to meet certain conditions, like having a particular type of computer setup.

Barry Tickner, from the UK, e-mailed us to say:

I use ADSL broadband to get on the web and I find that early in the day the speed is good. Yet after midday, in the afternoon and early evenings, it is so slow that I often cannot access the sites I am looking for. Late at night it is easy to access pages. Is anything wrong with my broadband provider or is it my PC?

It would surprise me if your problem was not something that has been noticed by a great many other people as well.

Did you know that the bandwidth you are paying for is actually in a pool that is being shared with up to 50 other people at once?

This is known as contention - and a 50 to 1 contention ratio is very common in Britain.

Why do companies impose these limits? Economics. Think about it: you are only using bandwidth and transferring data when you are downloading or uploading something.

So if you load a web page and then spend 20 seconds reading it, you are not using any bandwidth while you read and it is very efficient for someone else to be using it in the meantime.

You probably will not notice this if you are surfing outside peak times, because you are unlikely to be sharing that pool of bandwidth with very many other people.

The trouble is, at busy periods you may be sharing with all 50 of them, and that means you get hit with the world wide wait.

You have pinpointed the peak times in your e-mail: lunchtimes and the early evenings when people get home from work.

Some broadband ISPs offer a much lower contention ratio, but it will cost you more.

If you have any questions or queries, please visit "Contact us" (link on the top right-hand side of this page) to get in touch.

Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at 2030, Sunday at 0430 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. A short version is also shown on BBC Two: Saturday at 0645 and BBC One: Sunday at 0730 . Also BBC World.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific