Many are familiar with the Microsoft Beta programs wherein users get access to pre-release products, such as Windows 7. But very little know the different programs Microsoft adopts in testing these pre-release products. Through Microsoft Early Adopters Programs(EAP), Microsoft connects with various customers and users, giving them access to their pre-release products and testing them.
The EAP consists of three stages:
Technical Adoption Program(TAP)
The TAP is available to very limited and select customers/partners by invitation only. The number of participants in the TAP would be very less and work closely with the Microsoft employees. They have access to almost every pre-release product. There are four different types of TAP:
- Product Validation
- Product Evaluation
- Rapid Deployment
- Solutions Implementation
The goal here is to ideally improve the customers/partners experience in validating,evaluating Microsoft products.
Ascend - Beta 1 Releases
The Ascend Beta 1 program is available to Managed Partners. Managed partner status is awarded by Microsoft to a select number of Microsoft Gold Certified Partners. Microsoft works closely with these Managed Partners conducting sessions,hands-on-labs and deep technical training on the product. As early adopters, Ascend participants will be among the first partners recognized for building and deploying applications. This program is limited to about 300 participants and strictly invite only.
Touchdown - Beta 2 Releases
The Touchdown program is very similar to Ascend, except that its available after a first public Community Technology Preview(CTP) release. Touchdown is available to managed ISVs worldwide. This program is limited to about 1500 participants.
One thing to note though is that usually the beta programs are again broken down to:
- Technical Beta
- Public Beta
Technical Beta is invite only, but to a broader audience. Usually this happens by Microsoft sending you an invitation code and registering at the Microsoft Connect website using that token. The Public Beta is open for all and starts few weeks after the Technical Beta. The technical and public beta participants may vary from one product to another, that is, it does not gaurantee that if you had been invited earlier for a program, you would get another invite later.
The current Windows 7 also falls into the Microsoft's EAP. Windows Vista SP2 also followed similar path wherein invites were sent to select testers earlier and a public beta was released 4 weeks later. If we look back at the releases (that we know so far) of Windows 7 - The pre-beta release, which was released at PDC might be an exception.
UX Evangelist reports that similar programs have now been kicked off for Office 14 too - the next version of Microsoft Office. (Office 14 is not the official name for the next version of Microsoft Office)
With Windows 7 Beta 1 getting ready for a release at CES, invites have been already sent to select testers. it is highly anticipated that there will be an announcement of public beta at CES. It is worth getting to know how Microsoft makes use of their EAP to get their products tested,evaluated before the final RTM release. But this doesnt 'declare' that a product is bug free. The Microsoft EAP is a way Microsoft could test and evaluate how far their product is ready to hit the market.