Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Installing Beta or pre-release software is, in effect, asking for trouble. One simple precaution can prevent disastrous data loss.

I recently downloaded and installed a Beta version of a popular application. It slowed everything on my computer down so I uninstalled it and reloaded the prior version. I then tried to do a disk cleanup and it wiped out everything on my laptop including the drive partitions and all programs including the operating system. Since I did not have the disk to reinstall Windows XP I had to take it to a computer shop to get it fixed. What happened?

(The original question was about a specific product, but I get this so often about many different applications, I'm going to address the general case.)

What happened?

You're not going to like my answer.

The good news, if there is such a thing in this scenario, is that you're not alone. Many people simply can't resist doing exactly the same as you.

I'll look at what happened, and what you could have done instead to avoid the mess you experienced.

What happened is actually very simple: you installed pre-release software without taking appropriate precautions.

I'll put it as bluntly as I can: whenever you install Beta or pre-release software you should plan on losing everything on your machine.

That sounds extreme, and it is. I'm not saying that every time you install pre-release software you will lose everything, I'm simply saying that you might, and that you should act as if you will.

"... when you install Beta or pre-release software you should always expect the worst."

The problem, of course, is that it doesn't always happen. In fact, it happens infrequently enough that many people think it never happens, or that it won't happen to them.

Until, as in your case, it does.

I'll say it again: when you install Beta or pre-release software you should always expect the worst.


As I've discussed before, the very nature of pre-release software is that it's not done - it's known to have bugs, and is being released only for testing purposes. You, in using pre-release software, have placed yourself in the role of software tester. The software will fail. The failure could be minor, or as you've apparently experienced, it could be disastrous. The idea is that when you use pre-release software you're being a tester and you'll report that failure to the software manufacturer so that it can be evaluated and possibly fixed.

You don't want to be a software tester? No problem.

Don't install pre-release software.

But what if you really, really, REALLY want to?

There are scenarios where it makes sense. You actually do want to be a tester, or you want to evaluate the software before it's released.

No problem, if you take appropriate precautions.

Actually, it's "precaution", singular, because there's really just one thing you need to do prior to installing pre-release software.

Make a full system or image backup.

Once you have that, even if the pre-release software causes your system to implode, as it apparently did in your case, you can always revert to the backup snapshot that you took prior to installing the software. That way it's as if the disaster never happened.

Too much work? Don't want to take the time?

Then don't install pre-release software.

Let's face it - released software often has enough problems as it is. Installing something that is pre-release and is known to have problems is just asking for trouble.

Trouble that is easily avoided, with the appropriate precaution.

Article C3650 - February 15, 2009 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

jyothish kumar
February 17, 2009 9:00 AM

Thank you for this answer to the question. i was planning to install internet explorer 8 the final beta release. iam not a software tester.guess i was terribly lucky in not doing so .

Lloyd Hite
February 17, 2009 9:57 AM

I installed the first IE 8 Beta version and used it until the final version was released and I never had a problem with it, In fact it ran better than IE 7 ever did.

I'm sure you did. The problem is that hearing this, others will get the impression that it's safe, and move ahead and install the Beta without taking proper precautions. Hopefully they'll be OK, but they could have problems...
- Leo

Norby Fleisig
February 17, 2009 10:22 AM

That's why Virtual Machines were invented. Use that as a "sandbox" to play in; that way a crash won't hose your "real" system.

Absolutely. But setting up a VM is more work, and many people just can resist the siren's call of the "just install this beta and try it out" without taking those extra steps.
- Leo

Moo Moo Veda
February 17, 2009 1:54 PM

What about "release candidate" software. Do you think "release candidate" software causes problems like Beta software does?

Theoretically it's better, but in my opinion if the actual final release is that close, then it's simply not worth the risk. I'd wait for the real, final, release.
- Leo

February 17, 2009 6:00 PM

hi everyone !!! few days ago i installed beta software what so called windows 7 based on trial version from microsoft [ trial will end on august 1th 2009 ] . there ware some rumors that by installing windows 7 you might get into problems like slow machine, system problem and eventually computer crash [ BSOD - blue screen of dead ] . to prevent such a problem i created a partition on my hard drive where i intended to install windows 7 . so i tell you people everything went smooth . so now i have dual boot vista and windows 7 on 2 different partition . so mine advice is create another partition so you can install windows 7 on it. and finally you must make sure you have windows installation cd where windows vista [ or xp ] installed first !!!!!
good luck everyone . go for it windows 7 just great !

"Go For It" only if you have a way to recover if it fails. Backup, other partition, VM, I don't care. Just don't overwrite your only copy of your OS with a Beta version.
- Leo

Richard FDisk
February 19, 2009 1:40 AM

Some people think of Beta as Free,
instead of having to pay for the final product, they get Beta-ware hoping that it's as good as the final cut will be, and is in some "Very" rare instances even better on a particular PC configuration but might crash constantly or worse on most other configurations

Beta doesn't mean free-ware it means please test this for us so we don't have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on tons of different PC configs and charge accordingly for the final cut.

A. Orcan
February 19, 2009 5:09 AM

Whatever is said about Beta goes for many other software as well. I have got many than I have paid for when I set up software I actually owned in three occasions. I had to work for hours to clean up my system and in once my OS updates would not work anymore claiming that I already had the latest version among other problems like preventing setup of some software claiming that I already had it. Internet is a great place to learn about finding out such problems. Check first, then make a backup of your system drive and do not be sorry later. That's why I keep my system drive small and only keep my OS there. Restoring, scanning, defragging, everything is so easier that way.

Phil Mitchell
February 21, 2009 7:16 PM

I loaded and ran a beta copy of IE8 with no problems at all -- then upgraded to the latest release candidate, and my machine has slowed waayy down!!

March 6, 2009 4:31 PM

My husband installed IE8 Beta and now it stops working in the middle of using the internet. We called our cable internet provider and he told us the problem is with our computer. He could not even get Internet Explorer to come on at all. I had to go into control panel and get into it from there. I then installed Firefox and it works well and is so much faster. I wish there was a way to uninstall IE8, and go back to the IE7, but I don't know what it is without cleaning off the whole computer. Do you have any suggestions? We've learned our lesson the hard way.

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