Why you probably shouldn't join the Apple OS X beta seed program

After limiting its beta software to developers Apple is inviting civilians under the Kimono to test OS X, iTunes and other pieced of its desktop software.

Apple's Feedback Assistant helps user file bug reports - Jason O'Grady

Apple is showing a new facet of its corporate identity by allowing everyday users to test upcoming software releases. Previously the domain of registered developers, Apple is now allowing anyone to sign up for its AppleSeed testing program. The change is a pivot for the uber-secret company and has the hallmarks of something that Tim Cook would do. 

Apple opened its beta program to civilians because it wants feedback on new code. The program is valuable because more people testing its code and reporting bugs will allow Apple to ship higher-quality products, which benefits the entire Apple community.

I generally don't recommend installing beta software (especially operating systems!). Beta software is unfinished and contains bugs by definition. It is intended for people that wish to test new functionality and with the time to write detailed bug reports. If you aren't willing to file detailed bug reports, do yourself a favor and stick with the tried and true public software releases.

It should be obvious, but it's worth mentioning here: beta software should never be installed on production machines, machines with sensitive data on them, machines used for mission critical/lifesaving work or machines used to earn a living. Beta software will crash, it could cause data loss and even require you to reformat your entire HDD/SSD. A full backup is a requirement.

I use a MacBook Pro Retina as my main production machine and treat it like a cash register. It's backed up in triplicate and nothing gets installed on it that would cause it to break (or jam the register drawer from opening).

On the other hand, my second Mac is a MacBook Air 11-inch that I use for software development and testing. I don't keep much personal information on it and I do use it for testing the multitudes of software that I come across over the course of being a professional writer. I employ a similar strategy on my iPhones.

If you understand the caveats above, accepts the risks, and are willing to file bug reports, then feel free to sign up for the AppleSeed testing program by following these steps:

  1. Go to the AppleSeed testing program landing page
  2. Click the "Join" button
  3. Log in with your Apple ID and accept the confidentiality agreement
  4. Download the small utility "MavericksBetaAccessUtility.dmg"
  5. Install it 
  6. Check the Updates tab of the Mac App Store

Once you perform the steps above a new app called "Feedback Assistant" will be installed into your Utilities folder (and added to your dock) which allows you to file bug reports. You should only join the AppleSeed program if you plan on writing detailed bug reports. If this doesn't appeal to you or sounds off-putting, you shouldn't join.

Apple's Feedback Assistant application - Jason O'Grady

If you launch the App Store you'll also see two new pieces of beta software in the Updates tab which you can test:

  • OS X Update Seed 10.9.3 (13D45a)
  • iTunes 11.1.6
OS X Update Seeds appear in the Mac App Store - Jason O'Grady

If you've got the inclination to provide detailed bug reports and an extra machine to test software on, I encourage you to join the AppleSeed program. If you need your machine to be reliable and to make a living you should definitely skip it and wait for the software's public release.