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beta (BAY-tuh, BEE-) noun

1. Mostly working, but still under test; usually used with `in': `in beta'. In the Real World, systems (hardware or software) software often go through two stages of release testing: Alpha (in-house) and Beta (out-house?). Beta releases are generally made to a group of lucky (or unlucky) trusted customers.

2. Anything that is new and experimental. "His girlfriend is in beta" means that he is still testing for compatibility and reserving judgment.

3. Flaky; dubious; suspect (since beta software is notoriously buggy).

[From the second letter of the Greek alphabet.]

"By the time this column appears, AOL may have released a newer beta of Netscape 6. Until a final version comes along, remember that preview releases are not fully tested and stable--use them at your own risk." Scott Spanbauer, You've Got (Real) Mail: Netscape Does AOL, PC World, Sep 2000.

More spam... As many of you pointed out, Spam (R), a trademark of Hormel Foods, was coined as an acronym of SPiced + hAM. Monty Python's Flying Circus, a comedy troupe from the UK, is a favorite of a great number of hackers. In one of their skits, the word `Spam' is offered ad nauseam--more than one hundred times: http://montypyth on.net/scripts/spam.php3. Read it and you will see how spam achieved the dubious distinction of a word used to refer to the indiscriminate mailing of unwelcome messages.

Erratum: In last week's posting on Parkinson's Law, Cyril Northcote Parkinson's middle and last names were interchanged.



This week's theme: words from the hackers' jargon.


Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes. -Edsger W. Dijkstra, computer science professor

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