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App developers for Apple’s OS X and iOS platforms have always had access to betas of new OS versions to test their apps with the new features and challenges presented before they were released to the public.
Individuals could technically access these as well by signing up for a developer account for $99 per year. For those who didn’t want to pay, there were ways to acquire the software, but neither this nor the official method was suitable for the average consumer.
Apple has changed that with the recently-unveiled OS X Beta Seed Program. In this tutorial, I’ll explain what the Seed Program is and how it works, how to sign up for it, and reasons to be wary of becoming a beta tester.
The Pros and Cons of Beta Testing
Testing for software has been around for a long time. It’s usually limited to select groups who are known for their skills of scrutiny. Some software companies like to give their users a chance to try out new versions before they release, usually labeling them public betas, beta being the second stage of testing that is more consistent than alpha.
Beta testing can be used for a variety of purposes. The primary one is to find odd bugs that can only be triggered by specific circumstances and steps. If you get more people to use the software as they would daily, you’ll find a more diverse spectrum of issues.
Another common reason developers use beta testing is for feedback purposes. They want to see what user interface elements and features users do and do not actually use so they can make a more polished and informed end product.
When it comes to the good and bad of beta testing, below is a quick list of what to expect from the OS X Beta Seed Program.
- Try out new features sooner.
- Help with the development.
- Be one of the cool kids with the latest tech.
- It’s free and does not void your warranty.
- There are always bugs, and some of them make daily use impossible.
- It takes a patient person to use pre-release software every day.
- Apple Geniuses may not be able to help you when something goes wrong.
- Reverting to a stable release can be difficult.
Bottom line: If you don’t mind a few strange issues that may prevent you from using your Mac for work, you should be fine. If you are constantly punching the wall because iMessages doesn’t sync properly, stay away.
OS X Beta Testing Basics
Before you consider signing up for the Beta Seed Program, I highly recommend you read Apple’s FAQ regarding it. I also recommend making a Time Machine backup of your computer in case something goes awry in beta testing.
Getting in to the OS X Beta Seed Program is rather easy. You need:
- to be over 18 years old
- have a modern Mac, with specification
- Mac must have at least 2 GB of RAM
- 8 GB of disk space
- OS X 10.9+ installed
The Mac must be available to use for testing, and have a few minutes to set everything up—downloading the software may take a while too, so make sure you have a fast Internet connection.
Signing UpApple has made beta testing more secure than simply downloading a large disk image and installing the software from it. First you’ll need a Beta Seed Program account.
- Go to the OS X Beta Seed Program page and click the blue Join Now button in the bottom right.
- The next page provides a brief description of what the Beta Seed Program is and how you can participate. Click Get Started when you’ve finished reading.
- Sign in with your Apple ID. It doesn’t matter if it has a device registered to it or not. If you don’t have an Apple ID, sign up for one by clicking create one now in the box to the left.
Installing the Beta Access Utility
Now that you have an account, it’s time to download the Beta Access Utility to configure software testing on your device.
- Upon sign in on the Seed Program website, you’ll be taken to the OS X Beta Seed Program Instructions page. Click Enroll Your Mac and select Download Beta Access Utility to get started with the setup process.
- Double-click the MavericksBetaAccessUtility.dmg disk image you downloaded to mount it and double-click MavericksBetaAccessUtility.pkg to begin installing the tool.
- Allow the Installer to guide you through the installation process. When it finishes, the Feedback Assistant app will be added to your Dock and App Store will be launched and begin checking for updates.
Using the Feedback Assistant
Feedback Assistant is a tool included with the OS X Beta Seed Program that allows you to easily send Apple information about any issues that you encounter when testing the software.
It’s a straightforward app. When launched, you’ll be asked to sign in with the Apple ID you are using for the Beta Seed Program. You can choose to have the app remember your password to make future feedback faster.
Once signed in, you will be welcomed to the Feedback Assistant with a quick explanation of what the app does. Click Get Started to provide feedback. Everything in the Problem Report Draft screen is nicely organized; it even loads the system diagnostics file for you automatically.
In the first drop-down menu, you can select the problem area. In the text field below, you can briefly explain the problem. Finally, in the message field, you can list the exact steps required to replicate the issue. On completion, click the Summary tab in the sidebar and make sure all the details look good, then click Submit to send the report to Apple.
Going Back to Stable Releases
Beta testing can get frustrating at times. Apple makes it easy to stop getting beta updates.
- Open System Preferences and go to the App Store pane.
- Unlock the pane if necessary.
- Click the Change button beside the text that reads Your computer is set to receive pre-release Software Update seeds. Select Do Not Show Pre-release Updates. The device is no longer in the OS X Beta Seed Program.
Note that the beta software has not been removed from your computer at this point.
If you need to revert to the days before beta testing, I recommend backing up your documents and apps that have changed since when you started and restoring from a Time Machine backup taken before your began beta testing—you can’t jump back to a stable release unless you wait for the final version of the software to release to the public. If you need help with Time Machine, refer to the guide about OS X system recovery.
Stable Releases Don’t Exist
Unfortunately, you’ll always find a bug in software. iMessage is proof of that. iOS 7 was too. There’s always something to be improved here and there, and there’s always the weird combination of actions that ends up rendering unexpected things unusable.
Betas can sometimes be just as good as stable releases, but they often have their fair share of idiosyncrasies. The nice thing is, you can help Apple iron things out by helping them test things.
After reading this tutorial, you should know how to sign up for Apple’s Beta Seed Program, install the update tool, provide feedback, and go back to stable releases. If there’s something else you’d like to discuss, feel free to mention it in the comments. See you there.