If you’re interested in a digital road trip to Yosemite—Apple’s new Mac operating system, not the national park it’s named after—you better call shotgun fast. Apple has opened up OS X Yosemite to the masses via a new OS X beta program that allows developers and otherwise curious Mac users to opt into future Mac software releases before their official launch.
Unlike the iOS beta program, which still requires a $99 a year developer account registration with Apple, the OS X beta is open to the precocious general public, all for free. The catch? Only the first one million folks get in line—and when it comes to a company like Apple, one million spots can fill up fast.
If you’re ready to make a move, it’s easy to opt in on Apple’s official OS X Beta Program hub. While it’s open to everyone, you’ll need an Apple ID (the login and password you use to make App Store and iTunes purchases and the like) to sign up. At this point, it’s pretty much that easy—though do be conscious of Apple’s notoriously stringent Terms of Service agreement (which I’m sure none of us intend to violate).
Also, you’ll need to be running OS X Mavericks, the current version of Mac OS X software, available as a free Mac App Store download here.
Bear in mind that much like any other prerelease software, the beta version of OS X Yosemite is far more likely to contain bugs and prompt system crashes than a final-release operating system. Apple warns: “We recommend installing OS X Yosemite Beta on a secondary Mac, since it may contain errors or inaccuracies.”
Not a bad idea, though we imagine if you’ve read this far already that this probably isn’t your first rodeo.
Note that while the OS X Yosemite sign-up website is now up and running, you’ll still have to wait to download the beta itself, which will arrive as a Mac App Store redemption code in your inbox when Apple deems it time. It’s a good idea to back up your Mac in full with Time Machine (or a tool of your choosing) before taking the plunge.
Unfortunately, some of OS X Yosemite’s more exciting features won’t make the beta release (yet, anyway), including phone calls, SMS, Handoff, Instant Hotspot, and iCloud Documents. Nonetheless, there should be plenty new to play with, and naturally Apple encourages you to report any lovely idiosyncrasies you run across through a built-in feedback tool in order to help sculpt the final release of OS X Yosemite due out this fall.