Apple unwraps OS X Yosemite public beta Thursday

Preview will be based on latest developer build

Apple will release its first public beta of OS X Yosemite early Thursday.

Redemption codes for the beta, the first OS X preview available to the public in 14 years, will go out via email tomorrow to those who have registered with the program, which Apple unveiled last month at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).

According to reports by people briefed by Apple, the Yosemite sneak peek will be available at approximately 10 a.m. Pacific time, 1 p.m. Eastern time.

The public beta will be identical to the fourth developer preview that Apple released on Monday. That update was available only to registered developers, who pay $99 annually for access to prerelease Mac software so they can begin crafting or modifying their own applications.

Apple will update the developer preview more frequently than it does the public beta. Apple issued two developer builds in June, another pair this month.

Although Apple has declined to set a launch date for the final, polished version of Yosemite, Computerworld forecast that it would ship on Oct. 15 or Oct. 22 -- the two dates that best match the timeline the Cupertino, Calif.-based company used in 2013 for OS X Mavericks, Yosemite's predecessor.

While the timetable remains uncertain, the price has not: OS X Yosemite will be available free of charge to all customers with eligible Macs.

To run the public beta, Mac owners must be using a machine that meets Yosemite's hardware requirements. The Mac must also already be running Mavericks.

OS X 10.10 -- Yosemite's numerical designation -- will run on iMacs from the mid-2007 model on; on 13-in. MacBooks from late 2008 (aluminum case) and early 2009 (plastic case) forward; MacBook Pro notebooks from mid- and late-2007 and on; MacBook Air ultralight laptops from late 2008 and later; Mac Mini desktops from early 2009 and after; and the much beefier Mac Pro desktops from early 2008 and later.

With the public beta in circulation, it's certain that Yosemite will have a leg up on user share compared to past upgrades. Mavericks, for instance, powered one-tenth of 1% of all Macs in September 2013, the month before it released; that figure was based strictly on use by developers, who were the only ones authorized to run the operating system.

The earlier start will likely drive Yosemite to a higher user share than Mavericks over time as well. As of June, Mavericks powered 59% of all Macs in use and, by Computerworld's projections, it will end its reign with around a 70% share before Yosemite is officially launched in October. That will make Mavericks even more popular than OS X 10.6, a.k.a. Snow Leopard, at the zenith of its dominance in mid-2011.

But Apple could be running a bit of by choosing to release an early build to the general public.

If the beta is not as stable as Apple thinks it is, and if lots of people run into problems with it (and the developer preview that shipped Monday is far from problem-free, according to reports), Apple may come under fire. Many users, trained by a constant barrage of betas over the past years by companies that regularly issue works in progress (Google comes to mind, but Microsoft has also been a big believer in the power of previews), simply don't make a distinction between what's finished and what's not. That could lead to grousing and grumbling even while defenders remind everyone that a beta is a beta for a reason.

Mac users who want to try the public beta must register on Apple's website.

Apple is releasing its first public beta of OS X Yosemite. Is that a smart move?

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter, at  @gkeizer, and on Google+, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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