Apple today said the public can try out early versions of the OS X Yosemite operating system, the first time since 2000 that the company has let large numbers of outsiders get an early look at an upcoming Mac operating system.
OS X 10.10, which was given the Yosemite moniker today during Apple's annual developers conference, will launch in final form later this year. Apple's top software executive, Craig Federighi, did not disclose a release date other than to say it would be "this fall."
If Apple follows last year's timetable, it will ship Yosemite after iOS 8, most likely in the second half of October.
But Federighi did promise that Mac users who sign up with its OS X Beta Seed Program, which debuted to little fanfare six weeks ago, will be allowed to download and install a beta version of Yosemite.
When? Federighi didn't say.
Apple's website promised that the Yosemite beta would be "available for you to install soon."
The last time that Apple allowed the public access to beta versions of an operating system was in 2000, when it charged $29.95 for the privilege of running an early edition of what later became OS X 10.0, better known as Cheetah. Since then, only registered developers -- who pay $99 annually -- have been able to obtain unreleased copies of its desktop OS.
Apple will limit the Yosemite beta to 1 million participants.
As with April's beta program -- which focused on early versions of upcoming updates to OS X Mavericks, last year's upgrade -- the Yosemite program legally muzzles participants. Registered developers are also prohibited from sharing what they know about Apple's pre-release software.
"You agree that you will not disclose, publish, or otherwise disseminate any Confidential Information to anyone other than individuals who are enrolled in the same individual seed as you, or as otherwise expressly permitted or agreed to in writing by Apple," the terms and conditions stated (download PDF).
An accompanying FAQ repeated the warning in the more understandable, "Don't blog, post screen shots, tweet or publicly post information about the pre-release Apple software."
Only Mac users currently running Mavericks are eligible for the Yosemite beta program.
Apple has not yet disclosed which Macs will support Yosemite when it ships later this year, or which earlier versions of OS X can be upgraded to OS X 10.10, but the Mavericks requirement hints that any Mac able to run that edition will be able to run at least major parts of Yosemite.
Apple also warned users that some Yosemite features, including several that Federighi demonstrated Monday during the WWDC keynote, will be unavailable in the preview. "Since the beta software is unfinished, some new features will not be available, such as phone calls, SMS, Handoff, Instant Hotspot, and iCloud Documents," Apple said.
Registered developers can obtain the first preview of Yosemite today.
Mac owners may sign up for the Yosemite program on Apple's website.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.