Operating Systems

Apple Trusts a Million Users to Check Out Yosemite

In a rare move, Apple on Thursday rolled out a beta version of its upcoming desktop operating system, OS X Yosemite, to a million “testers.”

The company pulled the wraps off Yosemite at the World Wide Developers Conference in June and has been tweaking it for developers since that time, but this latest version is a beta that as many as one million members of the public can download.

This is the first time Apple has offered a public beta of OS X since it introduced the operating system in 2000.

While members of the public are being invited to test the Yosemite beta, downloads first need to be approved by Apple. Those who download the OS must promise not to publicize information about their experience using it, and agree not to post screenshots of its interface to the Net.

Opening Yosemite to a large a public beta is out of character for Apple, which is known in the industry for its obsession with secrecy.

“They have had public betas before for past versions of an OS, but this is the largest I have seen to date,” Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, told TechNewsWorld.

“Apple wants feedback and actual testing for bugs from the broader Mac community,” he said. “Those who sign up for this are more likely to be heavy Mac users, and they could deliver valuable info to Apple before the final version is released.”

Benefits of Community Review

Although rare for Apple, public betas are not unusual in the software industry.

“They must be starting to realize that a community-based review is an efficient way of getting good input on products,” IDC Analyst Al Gillen told TechNewsWorld.

“Microsoft has done massive data reviews of Windows operating system products for the last 15 to 20 years,” he added.

The public beta also may reflect a recognition of the complexity of the Mac universe.

“There’s a much more diverse set of applications and peripherals now available, and there’s no way for Apple to test every possible variation,” Bob O’Donnell, founder and chief analyst with Technalysis Research, told TechNewsWorld.

“This gives them a chance to get a wider set of applications and accessories checked and see if they work or not, and solve some problems before the product is released,” he added.

At the same time, there are risks to releasing an unfinished product to the public.

“You can open yourself up to issues if a bunch of people put it on their primary machines and the software turns out to be buggy,” O’Donnell said.

Despite those risks, he “wouldn’t be surprised to see more companies doing this, because of the diversity of devices that people are using.”

Better Connectivity

With Yosemite, Apple is taking the OS in the right direction, O’Donnell noted. “They’re acknowledging that people are increasingly using multiple devices and that connectivity across the devices is important.”

Many of those connectivity features designed to allow OS X to work more harmoniously with the new iOS 8 won’t be in the public beta, however.

Connectivity features include allowing a Mac to control an iPhone so phone calls and text messages can be sent and received from a Mac without touching the iPhone.

You’ll also be able to use a Mac to turn on the personal hotspot on an iPhone.

There’s a Handoff feature that enables a Mac to remember the last thing you were doing on an iOS device, and vice versa, so you can pick up where you left off as you move from device to device.

In addition to the new cross-device connectivity features, OS X’s interface is overhauled in Yosemite — it’s flatter and looks more like iOS. Spotlight, OS X’s built-in search engine, has been expanded so Web searches can be performed without opening a browser.

Apple’s native apps — Safari, Mail and Messages — have been beefed up in Yosemite, too. What’s more, Apple is challenging Dropbox in Yosemite with iCloud Drive, which allows information to be stored in traditional files and folders in Apple’s iCloud.

John Mello is a freelance technology writer and contributor to Chief Security Officer magazine. You can connect with him on Google+.

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