You Can Now Run Beta Versions Of Apple’s OS X—For Free

People love trying out new Apple software before it’s fully baked, and the company knows it.

That’s why Apple on Tuesday announced the OS X Beta Seed Program, which allows anyone to download and install pre-release Mac software for the sake of testing and submitting feedback before the public launch.

Until Tuesday, Apple charged users $99 a year to test out new OS X software—doing so required a paid-up developer account. (Testing new iPhone software still requires a separate developer account for another $99 a year.) Now, much the same way new OS X software is now totally free to download, it’s also free to try out. All you need is an Apple ID to sign up.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Apple program without an ominous confidentiality agreement, one that declares all beta software, including “its nature and existence, features, functionality, and screen shots,” to be confidential information that cannot be disclosed to anyone without written permission from an authorized Apple representative. Once you’ve signed away your right to even show the beta version to third parties, Apple will provide you with a special “Beta Access Utility” that offers access to pre-release versions of OS X within the “Updates” panel in the Mac App Store.

This policy change for pre-release Mac software comes a little more than a month before WWDC, the annual developer conference where Apple typically unveils new versions of iOS and OS X software. Still, it doesn’t look like Apple plans to expand this program to iOS just yet. Which has got to be frustrating for iPhone and iPad fans, who exhibited considerable interest in upgrading to iOS 7 ahead of its public release date last year.

Considering that Apple is expected to unveil a new version of OS X at WWDC 2014, it will be interesting to see to what extent users and developers participate in the new beta program are able to access the new software, as well as how well the actual Seed Program actually works. 

Either way, there will be plenty of users interested in experimenting with the unready OS X software, even if it’s glitchy, now that Apple has pulled down the $100 barrier. It’s a win for users who aren’t developers but want to try out new Mac software before it’s fully ready. It’s a win for Apple, too, since this program will undoubtedly attract many users and, presumably, plenty of constructive feedback as well.

Lead image by Flickr user Daniel Dudek-Corrigan, CC 2.0

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