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What is a Pre-Alpha Version?

Smartpedia: A Pre-Alpha version refers to a very first internal status in the development of a product or software, following the software design.

Pre-Alpha Version – the state of development before the alpha version

The successful development of software requires a procedure that combines different phases, information and decisions. Software design describes a blueprint that deals with the realisation of defined requirements by defining the infrastructure as the technical basis, the software architecture and the design of subsystems, components, modules and classes. The pre-alpha version is the very first state of a software, in which the first basics of this design are implemented. In terms of time and content, the pre-alpha version is – as the name clearly expresses – the development status that lies before the alpha version.

The alpha version includes first functions or parts of functions of a planned release and is the basis for first tests and early feedback from internal stakeholders.¹ The pre-alpha version often offers no possibilities for tests or feedback by people outside the development department; it is simply too early for that. And this is a clear indication that it is essentially an internal label that developers use to communicate to stakeholders that the time for first impressions or testing has not yet come.

Differences between Pre-Alpha and related terms

In the course of product and software development, expressions that are tangential to the conceptual cosmos of the pre-alpha version are used again and again. Here you will find a small definition of terms:

A click dummy is a clickable prototype with very little functionality that allows for early user feedback in the conception phase. It may give the impression of a largely “finished” product, even though it provides no or very little functionality. It is literally a dummy solution that enables the clicking of elements such as buttons, buttons or links and thus helps to

  • test different layouts and designs,
  • check user expectations,
  • react to user behavior,
  • and develop websites, web applications or apps in an agile way.

Depending on the organisation, click dummies can be used in the pre-alpha or alpha version of a development.

The minimum viable product is a “usable” product with minimal features. It is a version of a new product, service or business idea that is created with minimal effort and used to gain customer or user feedback. The goal is to create a product with few features in order to find out as much as possible about the product, customers and/or business model with minimal effort. The challenge is to define the “minimum” in such a way that the product is already usable, i.e. “viable”, and thereby delivers an initial benefit to customers. And thus a pre-alpha version could represent the very first state of a defined “minimum”.

In software development, a walking skeleton refers to the simplest implementation of a complete functional area of a software. “Walking” means that the minimal implementation is already executable, “skeleton” means that the major part of the functionality – the meat, so to speak – is still missing. In terms of prototype development, a walking skeleton is like a minimum viable product, a vertical prototype that propagates a vertical puncture across all layers of the architecture in order to be able to present a runnable solution at an early stage. And this makes it clear: a pre-alpha version could represent a development stage of a Walking Skeleton.

Pretotyping is a method of testing product ideas as quickly and cheaply as possible. The term pretotyping is made up of the words “pretend” and “prototyping”. So it is simply pretending that a function exists, because ideally that is enough to identify the need for a solution, the type of use and possible challenges. In terms of product development, a pretotype is therefore something completely different from a pre-alpha version, which after all embodies a first, real version of a product.

Conclusion: In the context of product and software development, terms are often used that overlap or complement each other in parts. In general, a pre-alpha version refers to a very early stage of development that is not yet suitable for testing or actual use. Thus it is mainly an internal label without a fixed set of features or functionalities.

Pre-Alpha Version - the state of development before the alpha version

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[1] The pre-alpha version is usually not mentioned in the release management, milestone plan or roadmap.

Some publications state that pre-alpha refers to all activities that occur during a software project before the initial execution of formal tests; thus the term would not declare a state in the course of a development, but rather group a series of activities.

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