What is a Release Candidate?

The latest version of IE8 is “release candidate 1”. But what exactly is a “release candidate”? I’ve been working as a professional IT developer for nearly 20 years and have only recently become aware of it.

A quick Google shows Microsoft using it for Windows XP Service Pack 2, but I’m struggling to find anything before then.

Wikipedia defines a Release Candidate as “a version with potential to be a final product, ready to release unless fatal bugs emerge.” This all seems a bit woolly to me, as it sounds like a final release. There are clear definitions of Alpha and Beta releases, but this doesn’t seem to fit properly. A Beta is clearly a release that you allow customers to try to get rid of any problems before a final release. So where does a Release Candidate fit into this?

Microsoft itself defines it as “at a stage in the development process where it is ready to be evaluated by users while it undergoes final testing.” Evaluted by users? Final testing? Surely that makes it a Beta.

Personally I never really became aware of RC’s (as I’ll now call it, to save all that typing) until Microsoft started using them. I’m not saying they invented the term but I certainly think they’ve made it fashionable. But, dare I suggest, they’re using it to package Betas as something different. Imagine if IE8 was released as a third or fourth Beta. It wouldn’t sound too good that it’s taken 3 or 4 releases to get rid of the bugs in their software. But name it as an RC and you can maybe get away with it.

For Vista, Microsoft even referred to early Beta releases as “Community Technology Previews” (CTPs). A ponsy name for masking what was, however you name it, a Beta release. Others called then “pre-Betas” (if they were, they were Alpha releases, which should have been internal testing). That meant that they only had to release 2 Betas, even though a number of CTPs had been released prior to this. Sounding familiar? Not surprisingly, the two Vista Betas were followed up by two Release Candidates.

Microsoft is fooling no-one. Personally, I’d like then to call them Betas, which is what they are. Somehow, though, I can’t imagine it happening.


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