Just Say No Thank You (to Apple's Public Betas)

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #132


Not so long ago, Apple required beta testers to sign a draconian non-disclosure agreement. Then, if you spoke publicly about a beta you’d not only be banished from the Apple Developer program, but possibly subject to legal action.

That was then. These days anyone can join the beta testing fun by downloading a public beta of OS X 10.11 El Capitan or iOS 9. That scares the hell out of me. I know that many users don’t realize that “beta” is just a euphemism for “unfinished, untested, and almost certainly bug-infested software.”

So first I’ll tell you how to join the Apple Beta Software Program, then I’ll spend the rest of the column explaining why I think it’s a bad idea for most users to install them.

To get in on the action, visit https://beta.apple.com/sp/betaprogram and enroll with your Apple ID. It’s easy but you’re asking for trouble unless you are properly prepared.

Before you install either beta, reread the fine print that says, “Install (betas) only on non-production devices that are not business critical. We strongly recommend installing on a secondary system or device, or on a secondary partition on your Mac.” I’ll go a step further — you’re an idiot if you install a beta on a Mac or iDevice you can’t afford to erase (and probably more than once) while you’re testing.

In the case of the OS X 10.11 beta, only install it on a secondary partition or external drive. But first make at least two backups of your startup disk, just in case. Then, take the time to test your backups by restoring some files from them. If you’re an idiot to install a beta on a device you need, you’re an even bigger idiot if you install a beta without first making and testing backups.

To be even safer and save the time and trouble of rebooting every time you want to switch between Yosemite and the El Capitan beta, install the beta on a separate Mac instead of a separate partition or disk. That’s how I’m doing it, using my new (refurbished) MacBook Air exclusively for beta testing so I can continue using my “real” Mac regardless of how much grief the beta gives me.

As for the iOS 9 beta, I’d only install it on an iPhone or iPad you don’t use for anything important. You may find that third-party apps don’t work properly (or don’t work at all), or that the beta has bad habits like draining your battery 10x faster or crashing your iPhone in the middle of a phone call. And, of course, you’ll probably have to erase and restore the device more than you’ve ever erased and restored a device before. Finally, don’t forget to make a couple of backups before you install the beta... I can pretty much guarantee you’ll need them.

Even though I’m a certified geek, I wouldn’t install either beta if it weren’t my job. If I were you, I’d skip the betas (and the first release, too). Smart users will wait for the point release updates — OS X 10.11.01 and iOS 9.01 — and will encounter fewer issues as a reward for their patience.

There is one last thing: If you do decide to install the beta, do the right thing and report the bugs you encounter to Apple.  

And that’s all he wrote…