I am pretty sure the term beta in software isn’t related to atomic decay, but there are some similarities in that an atom that decays is unstable and decays after a period of time to something more stable e.g. Carbon14 to Nitrogen14.  In the Microsoft world, the time to decay is usually 180 days (compared to a half life of 5,730 years for Carbon 14 to decay) and this results in fallout-  the loss of bugs identified during the beat period, and some performance improvements and small enhancements leading to a very stable released product:

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Following all of the recent product launches, I have now spent a couple of days tearing down my BI demos and rebuilding them to use the released products of SQL Server 2008 R2, SharePoint 2010, Office 2010 Visual Studio 2010, and of course PowerPivot.  The problem with this process is that it’s never going to be a supported upgrade path so I have had to resort to rip and replacing everything short of the operating systems. 

Also, You do need to beware of beta blogs, tweets screen casts etc. where some of the advice, screenshots etc. will have changed now the products have been released.

The good news here is that all the installation is a lot easier, and in that sense SQL Server 2008 R2 for instance is less painful than getting SQL Server 7 or 2000 installed albeit that the install is larger. I also had a lot less trouble in getting PowerPivot working, in that it worked out of the box with me downloading hot-fixes and fiddling with permissions.  However it is important that you don’t try and mix and match beta  and rtm code e.g. putting the beta add-in of PowerPivot for Excel on top of the rtm edition Excel 2010 is not going to work.

Finally remember the beta clock is always ticking, so your demo/proof of concept will decay which could have some fallout for you, but unlike atomic decay it’s down to you to fix.