In a surprising move, Apple has opened its OS X beta program to all users. Anyone can register on the OS X Beta Seed Program website, whereas, previously, one needed to have a $99 per year developer subscription to access these betas.
Apple says that this program “gives users the opportunity to run pre-release software. Test-drive beta software and provide quality and usability feedback that will help make OS X even better,” but I’m not sure that this is a good idea. While only the bleeding edge users will install the betas, there will still be a substantial number of users who will run them.
Yes, Apple will get more feedback – but it’s not like they don’t already get plenty – but these users will encounter problems. If they install these betas on their primary Macs, they will find, as all of us who have developer accounts have found, that they are buggy. Only near the end of a beta program do these seeds become stable, and, even then, I don’t install betas on my main Mac until the reach golden master stage; that’s the final release version of the software.
Unlike iOS betas – available through a $99 per year iOS developer program – you can run an OS X beta on a device, then switch back to the release version of OS X. With iOS, you have to dedicate a device to running betas, and it’s not possible to downgrade.
So, a word of warning for those wanting to run OS X betas. Don’t install this on your main Mac, or, if you do, make sure to have two partitions: one with the current version of OS X, and another with a beta. The best way to try out these betas is to install them on an external hard drive, to ensure that you don’t lose any data. Because there is a real risk of a beta crashing and causing you to lose everything on your Mac. (Though, to be fair, this is rare.)
Apple’s opening up the OS X beta program is an odd step. They already don’t fix many of the bugs that those with developer accounts report, so getting many more bug reports is unlikely to make a difference. While this is a good thing for users who are not developers, and who want access to OS X betas – journalists such as my colleagues and I will save $100 a year – I don’t see how expanding beta access will improve anything. But this is a sign of the greater openness we’ve seen since Tim Cook took over the company.