In asexual populations, the rate of adaptation is basically limited by the frequency and properties of spontaneous beneficial mutations. Hence, knowledge of these mutational properties and how they are affected by particular evolutionary conditions is a precondition for understanding the process of adaptation. Here, we address how the rate of adaptation of asexual populations is limited by its population size and mutation rate, as well as by two factors affecting the fraction of mutations that confer a benefit, i.e. the initial adaptedness of the population and the variability of the environment. These factors both influence which mutations are likely to occur, as well as the probability that they will ultimately contribute to adaptation. We attempt to separate the consequences of these basic population features in terms of their effect on the rate of adaptation by using results from evolution experiments with microorganisms.