OS X Mavericks
Apple OS X Beta

Good news for early adopters. Will iOS be next?

If you�ve got a Mac and like trying out new software, Apple has a proposition for you. Join its new OS X Beta Seed program, and you�ll be able to download free test versions of future editions of OS X from the Mac App Store, before they�re released to the general public.

As with all beta programs, what�s in it for the software developer in question is real-world testing. Apple will be able to get feedback from program participants while it�s still possible to fix any glitches which turn up.

With any other product and any other company, this wouldn�t be news: It�s the way things work, generally speaking. For instance, Microsoft released a free consumer preview of Windows 8 in February 2012, months before the final operating system shipped in October.

Apple, however, has usually held its betas close to the vest. It�s distributed them to people who pay $99 a year to register as an OS X or iOS developer, but doing so has required those folks to sign an agreement saying they won�t discuss the pre-release software in public.

Actually, that mandate is still in place: As the Verge�s Chris Welch points out, signing up for the Beta Seed requires you to agree that you won�t blog, tweet, share screen shots or otherwise spill the beans.

The Beta Seed site never says that signing up for the program entitles you to get every new version of OS X early. In fact, the only version of OS X it mentions by name is Mavericks, the current major release. So I don�t think it�s a given that Beta Seed testers will get immediate access to the next version after Mavericks when it comes along, possibly at Apple�s Worldwide Developer Conference in June. But it would be nice if they did: It will have major new features, and any further Mavericks updates probably will not.
It�s traditional in stories such as this one to include a stern disclaimer that installing beta software can cause major problems and therefore isn�t for the faint of heart. I guess that�s true. Full disclosure, though: For years, I�ve installed most betas the moment I can get my hands on them. So far, I�ve lived to tell the tale. It may be risky, but it can also be a rewarding experience.

How about iOS? Apple isn�t making any mention at all of its mobile operating system, and it would be a much bigger decision for it to let consumers install such betas. Early versions of smartphone operating systems are far more likely to have crippling problems than desktop ones, and it�s tougher to reverse the process if you regret installing them
I can�t imagine that Apple wants to provide tech support for people who install an iOS beta and then discover that their phone no longer functions as a phone. Maybe the company will cautiously provide seeds of very late, almost-done betas�also known by names such as �release candidates,� and typically just about as polished as final software. Here�s hoping.