Is Apple's Free OS X Beta A Sign Of Big Changes?

Apple released a free beta of its OS X operating system to all Mac users, raising the prospect of big changes ahead for the look and feel of OS X. In a post on the OS X Beta Seed Program website, Apple said the aim of the new seed program is to allow current Apple customers to "test-drive beta software and provide quality and usability feedback that will help make OS X even better."

"This may be foretelling that the next OS release will be a radical departure, and a little inventive," said Jerry Zigmont, owner of MacWorks, an Apple consultant based in Madison, Conn. "Maybe they are planting the seeds to get people comfortable with the new beta program."

The last time Apple released a free beta version of its operating system was the original OS 10, and only Apple loyalists who couldn't wait for the jump from OS 9 were the ones using the program.

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"If you had something new and slightly inventive, that would be the time to release a beta program," said Zigmont. "Why else would they do this? Why would they kill that $100-a-year licensing stream and open up the beta to the public?"

In the past, Apple has made beta versions of its operating systems available to developers who paid $99 annually. Making the beta free to Mac customers opens the door to more user feedback and, maybe just as importantly, will allow customers to become familiar with it.

"Apple is not one to shun money," said Zigmont. "They take money when they can. It will signal a little bit of a paradigm shift. It could be another sort of convergence that the Mac will look more like iOS."

Similarly to when Apple first released the iPhone and iPad, the tech giant also changed the mouse on its Macbooks and made it an available option for the iMacs, allowing for similar commands to that of the new touch-screen hardware featured on the new mobile devices.

"What could better drive hardware sales than to have people used to these touchware technologies?" Zigmont said. "The software drives the hardware sales."