Apple has ended speculation about future OS X upgrades by inviting everyone to take a look whenever they like.
This is a smart move because it means anyone who wants to know what's coming in OS X can join the OS X Beta Seed program to find out. Everybody wins: Apple gets much better feedback, and users get much better software: bugs will be identified and sorted out.
Apple has been able to do this because OS upgrades are now free. This means Apple no longer has to protect future sales, because there are no sales. Most smart Mac users will install the most current OS when it is released; while curious Mac users will install beta releases. Apple loses no cash, gets a better product, and maintains interest in its software while also ending speculation.
Speculation can generate unreasonable expectation. Apple traditionally declines comment on speculation, leaving customers free to believe what they read. While this generates interest in the company's plans, it can also create disappointment among those customers who believe some of what they read on some rumor sites.
Where has this information come from?
Until now, OS X pre-release information has usually been leaked to sites by Apple developers with access to pre-release software who have consciously and deliberately broken non-disclosure agreements signed in exchange for access to the software. This is not Pulitzer Prize status investigative reporting demanding intensive journalist endeavour; it is nothing more than a breach of confidence.
I imagine Apple has considered litigating against those who have actively and deliberately broken secrecy agreements in order to make money from publishing online reports.
The best defence to such actions has always been the public interest argument: there is huge public interest in what is planned for the world's second most widely distributed PC OS.
However, now everyone can take a look at the software that public interest defence argument no longer exists -- though Mac users who want to take a look at the future of OS X must now agree not to discuss what they find out when using these betas. Apple is pretty clear about this within its OS X Beta Seed Program FAQ.
We don't know what will happen to those who breach Apple's confidentiality clause in future. Will Apple permit some discussion of its software, or will it prosecute to protect its secrets? The inclusion of the clause suggests the latter. In the event the company does prosecute for breach of confidence then those who have broken that confidence can no longer cling to a public interest defence.
If I'm right, then I imagine we're at the beginning of the end for unsanctioned OS X pre-release stories. Apple-focused bloggers will now have to do something other than breaking confidentiality agreements or exploring LinkedIn's Apple employee pages to tell their tales.
There's no reason Apple will not want to protect its secrets, given the imitative nature of some of its biggest competitors. The new Beta Seed Program suggests Apple wants to maintain a link with its most active users while protecting those secrets -- which means you won't see much information leak.
Apple's open could become closed. But anyone who is interested in what the company is working on will now be able to take a look.
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