So, you've just installed GameMaker: Studio and you go to run it for the first time, and it asks you whether you want to be on the Stable updates channel or the Beta one. Which do you go for? Well, the short answer is probably "if you have to ask, choose Stable", but in this post I'll explain the differences and the procedures around the two channels, plus how to move between them.
First of all, let me assure you that all GameMaker: Studio versions do go through a testing regime before we release them - and this process is getting more rigorous all the time - so even on the Beta channel you won't get an untested release!
The Beta channel is the default channel for when we release all new versions of GameMaker: Studio. As such, you will receive updates the most frequently and will get the cool new functionality as soon as it is available, but there are more issues to be concerned with and you will typically end up making a larger number of changes to your projects in order to keep them compatible with changes to GM or to work around an issue. The release notes will give you information on the changes for each release, but you will always need to test your project thoroughly with each new release. We recommend you treat GameMaker: Studio with a little more caution if you're on the Beta channel - save more frequently and ensure you use backups or SVN, etc.
Once a release has been out for a little while (somewhere around 1-2 weeks) we'll then assess if it was stable or not. Did we receive a large number of bug tickets for this release or did a change in it cause a big surge in FAQ look-ups? That sort of thing. Assuming it all went smoothly, a version may then be promoted to the Stable channel. Note that I say "may": any issues with the build will mean no Stable release and you would have to wait for the next Beta to be around two weeks old before the next chance of an update. So, be aware that updates will be at a much slower rate on this channel. This does mean, however, you can be confident that when a new version is offered you can update to it and get a much better version than your current one.
If you're not interested in reporting bugs or contacting the Helpdesk or being active in the GameMaker Community, then we would strongly advise that you stick to the Stable channel.
Moving from Stable to Beta is very easy and you can freely move between them. Moving back to Stable requires a little extra work and a download, but the process is pretty painless.
With standalone copies of GameMaker: Studio, when it is running, simply right-click the tray icon and click the Beta channel. The next time you start GM it will then check for an update as normal and offer you the most recent beta release.
For Steam users you will need to right-click GameMaker: Studio in your library and choose the "Betas" tab, then make your choice here. Steam will then search for any updates and start downloading it to be installed before you can run GameMaker: Studio again.
To move back to Stable, for standalone users you will need to toggle the tray icon back to Stable and then shut down GM. Now download the last stable version from http://www.yoyogames.com/download/studio/free and install it over your existing installation just like a regular update. Steam users should open the library when GameMaker: Studio isn't running and toggle back to "none" on the betas tab, and then Steam will automatically install the Stable version.
Be aware that if sometihing does go wrong during an installtion you should back up any keys/certificates and other user-created files you want to keep from your existing installation before you uninstall GameMaker: Studio! To find these you should check %appdata%\GameMaker-Studio and %localappdata%\GameMaker-Studio in Windows's Explorer. For Windows XP users the localappdata shortcut won't work and you must go to %USERPROFILE%\Local Settings\Application Data instead.
So, hopefully this has answered any questions you may have around the update channels, but if you'd like more info the Helpdesk will be happy to answer your query.
Additionally, when reporting bugs via the Helpdesk or Mantis you will see a GameMaker version number field. This seperation of Stable and Beta is largely the reason why you're now requested to always submit this information.