Wed 7/23 Public Beta

Earlier this year, Apple announced the availability of the OS X Beta Seed Program. Allowing anyone with a valid Apple ID to try-out pre-release versions of OS X. Up until the announcement of OS X Yosemite, the OS X Beta Seed Program wasn’t very interesting. But starting tomorrow, Apple will begin distributing pre-release copies of Yosemite, the next major version of OS X, to the first million people who have signed up. This marks the first time the public has had access to a pre-release version of an Apple operating system in over 14 years.

The first Mac OS X Public Beta was released on September 13th, 2000 for the price of $29.95. It came on a single CD, accompanied by the following message.

Dear Mac OS X Beta Tester, You are holding the future of the Macintosh in your hands.

Mac OS X is a new, super-modern operating system that will usher in a new era for the Macintosh. New from the ground up, Mac OS X is specifically designed for the Internet and includes advanced technologies for incredible improvements in stability and performance. It also features a stunning new interface called Aqua.

This Public Beta will give you a chance to start using Mac OS X and give us a chance to hear what you think. Let us know by visiting our website at

Thanks for your help and for being a part of Apple history. We couldn’t do it without you.

The Mac OS X Public Beta allowed users to preview key Mac OS X features including preemptive multitasking, protected memory, and the Aqua user interface. It included many of the standard Mac OS X applications, including TextEdit, Preview, Mail, QuickTime, and the Terminal. The Mac OS X Public Beta was the first consumer release of Mac OS to include a command line interface.

Included with the Public Beta, but not in any subsequent versions of Mac OS X, was a simple MP3 player. iTunes had not been introduced yet. Other oddities included moving the Apple Menu to the center of the Menu Bar.

Here is what John Siracusa had to say about the new aesthetic:

Since the iMac introduction in 1998, the aesthetic theme for Apple’s hardware has been to center-align everything: logos, drive slots, speakers, etc. This has already caused functional problems.

Look no further than the centered drive eject button on the G3 and G4 towers. That centered button is attached to a large plastic bar behind it. When the button is pressed, it moves the bar which in turn reaches the actual drive eject button located on the right side of the CD/DVD drive mechanism and activates it. That’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway. In reality, that plastic bar often flexes to the point where repeated presses of the external button are required. To this day, my wife cannot eject CDs from my G3 via that button. It takes a special touch to get the Rube Goldberg contraption to connect with the actual drive eject button, and she has not yet mastered it.

Given Apple’s recent transition to a centered layout for its hardware designs, I’m actually surprised the menus aren’t centered in OS X. The moral of the story: Apple has proven it is willing to sacrifice usability for the sake of adherence to an aesthetic theme. The centered eject button is one hardware example, and the centered Dock is a software example. This is a bad trend.

If you think about it, a centered Apple Menu never made sense. Any sufficiently complex application would have overrun a centered Apple Menu with drop down menus.

Native third-party applications for the Mac OS X Public Beta were few and far between. Early adopters had to turn to open source or shareware alternatives, giving rise to an active homebrew software community around the new operating system. The poor state of the Carbon API contrasted with the relative maturity of Cocoa, giving rise to an anti-Carbon bias among OS X users that still persists to this day. Legacy Mac OS applications were restricted to the Classic Environment.

The Mac OS X Public Beta expired in Spring 2001, following the official release of Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah. Owners of the Public Beta were entitled to a $30 discount on the price of Mac OS X. But due to demanding system requirements, many opted to wait before adopting Mac OS X as their primary operating system. It wasn’t until the introduction of Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar, and Quartz Extreme, that Mac OS X would start to feel snappy.

The differences between the first Mac OS X and Yosemite are great. But Apple’s motivation behind releasing beta software to the public is still the same.

To make the next version of OS X our best yet.

Here’s to “holding the future of the Macintosh in your hands.”