The term release candidate refers to a version with potential to be a
final product, ready to release unless fatal bugs emerge. In this stage, the
product features all designed functionalities and no known showstopper-class
bugs. At this phase the product is usually code complete.
Microsoft Corporation often uses the term release candidate. During
the 1990s, Apple Inc. used the term "golden master" for its release candidates,
and the final golden master was the general availability release. Other terms
include gamma (and occasionally also delta, and perhaps even more
Greek letters) for versions that are substantially complete, but still under
test, and omega for final testing of versions that are believed to be
bug-free, and may go into production at any time. (Gamma, delta, and omega are,
respectively, the third, fourth, and last letters of the Greek alphabet.) Some
users disparagingly refer to release candidates and even final "point oh"
releases as "gamma test" software, suggesting that the developer has chosen to
use its customers to test software that is not truly ready for general release.
Often, beta testers, if privately selected, will be billed for using the release
candidate as though it were a finished product.
A release is called code complete when the development team agrees
that no entirely new source code will be added to this release. There may still
be source code changes to fix defects. There may still be changes to
documentation and data files, and to the code for test cases or utilities. New
code may be added in a future release.
Gold or general availability release
The gold or general availability release version is the final
version of a particular product. It is typically almost identical to the final
release candidate, with only last-minute bugs fixed. A gold release is
considered to be very stable and relatively bug-free with a quality suitable for
wide distribution and use by end users. In commercial software releases, this
version may also be signed (used to allow end-users to verify that code has not
been modified since the release). The expression that a software product "has
gone gold" means that the code has been completed and "is being mass-produced
and will be for sale soon." Other terms for the version include gold master,
golden master, “GM”, gold release, or gold build.
The term gold anecdotally refers to the use of "gold master disc" which was
commonly used to send the final version to manufacturers who use it to create
the mass-produced retail copies. It may in this context be a hold-over from
music production. In some cases, however, the master disc is still actually made
of gold, for both aesthetic appeal and resistance to corrosion.