Apple sends users scrambling for OS X Yosemite

Ships first public beta of an upcoming Mac OS since 2000

Apple today released the public beta of OS X Yosemite, giving non-developers their first chance to preview an upcoming Mac operating system since 2000.

Notification emails have begun reaching customers who registered earlier for the beta program. Those emails included a redemption code and a link to the Yosemite beta download.

People who have registered but have not received the notification email can proceed directly to the beta website, log in with the same Apple ID used for registration, and then click through to a page where a redemption code will be provided and a download link will appear.

The public beta is identical to the fourth developer preview that Apple released on Monday, although the build numbers are slightly different. The beta is pegged as "14A299l," while the latest developer preview was tagged as "14A298i."

Until today, Yosemite was available only to developers, who pay $99 annually for access to prerelease Mac software. Developers have had access to Yosemite since June 2, the opening day of Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), the venue Apple used to unveil OS X 10.10.

The beta requires OS X Mavericks, the 2013 edition Apple shipped last October, as well as 2GB of system memory and at least 8GB of free storage space on the Mac's drive.

Yosemite will run on iMacs from the mid-2007 model 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.

Apple advised customers to back up their Macs before installing Yosemite -- an excellent idea, and easily done with Mavericks' Time Machine -- and in an FAQ reminded users that if they change their minds and want to dump the beta, they will have to erase the drive or partition, and restore the backup from Time Machine.

Other caveats apply as well, including changes to iCloud and the iWork documents stored there.

But one of the most touted features of Yosemite -- "Continuity," especially the "Handoff" component -- cannot be used by public beta testers because they also require iOS 8, the iPhone and iPad mobile operating system slated to ship in September. Only registered iOS developers have access to iOS 8.

Apple will not offer a similar public beta for iOS 8.

Participants in the Yosemite beta will be able to install the final edition overtop the preview when the polished version launches this fall. Computerworld has forecast that Yosemite will ship on either Oct. 15 or Oct. 22 -- the two dates that best match the timeline the Cupertino, Calif.-based company used last year for Mavericks.

The last time Apple gave the public access to a beta version of an upcoming Mac operating system was in 2000, when the company charged $29.95 for the privilege of running an early edition of what later became OS X 10.0, aka Cheetah.

It is still possible to sign up for the Yosemite public beta from Apple's website.

Mac owners who have already registered for the public beta program can go directly to a page on Apple's website to obtain a redemption code for downloading the preview from the Mac App Store.

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 gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Read more about mac os x in Computerworld's Mac OS X Topic Center.

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