– CTP (Community Technology Preview): CTP means Community Technology Preview. It means you can use it but it’s not the final version of a software and things may change when product is finally released. It’s generally an incomplete preview of a new technology in progress. These usually come out before beta and are a way to gather feedback from the community during the development of a product. This is similar to an Alpha release per Jeff’s hierarchy, except that at Microsoft, Features are present to varying degrees and customer can get an idea of where the release is going
– Beta: The software is complete enough for external testing. Beta software is usually feature complete, but may have known limitations or bugs. Betas are either closed (private) and limited to a specific set of users, or they can be open to the general public. Features are mostly implemented but still have rough edges. Quality is fair at this point. The higher number beta, the higher the quality
– RC (Release Candidate): Product believes it’s ready to ship. One last chance for customers to provide feedback and find major blocking issues.
– RTM (Release to Manufacturing): Product is complete and ready to be shipped to customers. RTM stands for “Released to Manufacturing” and is a throwback to the days when software was mostly released as CDs. When a project went “Gold”, it was released to manufacturing who then burned a bunch of CDs and packaged them up to be put on store shelves. True, this still goes on today believe it or not, but this mode of delivery is on the decline for certain types of software.
– RTW Release: RTW is a related term that stands for “Released to Web” which is more descriptive of how software is actually shipped these days. For example, while we like to use the term RTM internally out of habit, ASP.NET MVC will actually be RTW
– SPs (Service Pack): SPs are service packs. It means product updates and bug fixes for that release. While R2 refers to Release 2, and it generally includes enhancements that cannot be included as part of service packs. A Service Pack (or SP) is simply an RTM (or RTW) release of fixes and/or improvements to some software. It used to be that SPs rarely included new features, but it seems to be the norm now that they do. Service Packs tend to include all the hotfixes and patches released since the product originally was released, which is convenient for the end user in not having to install every fix individually.
– Technical Preview: The Windows Technical Preview (TP) is an evaluation copy for enterprise users. Basically, it’s an early test version. Businesses are given the chance to try it out, see how it fits into their routines and provide Microsoft with feedback. Ideally, Microsoft will integrate the collected data into a final product that meets the needs of its
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