You may have heard that a new version of OS X is coming later this year. At WWDC Apple unveiled some of the new features you can expect to see in the next version of OS X - called OS X El Capitan - you can read all about them here: Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan: the new features coming in the new version of the Mac operating system.

El Capitan will launch this autumn, but some users will be able to get hold of it much sooner than that. Read on or find out how to get OS X El Capitan before the official launch date here.

We'll also share the ten things you should do before installing the new operating system.

[Find out more about what Apple announced at WWDC here: Apple's announcements at WWDC]

If you are looking for how to install Yosemite skip the first few sections of this story and go straight to 'How to prepare your Mac for a new version of OS X'.

Here are our top ten features coming in OS X El Capitan

How to get the OS X El Capitan beta

Initially it will only be developers who are members of Apple's developer community that will be able to download the software. But Apple is also repeating the successful public beta programme that it ran last year, so consumers will also be able to get their hands on the beta versions of the software in July.

The OS X El Capitan beta has been available to developers since 8 June, if you are signed up to the Apple Developer Program you will be able it download it now. You can now join the OS X and iOS developer programs for a single fee of $99 (£64) a year, rather than joining the two programs for $99 each per year. Developing for the WatchOS is also included in that fee. To join the Apple Developer Program enrol here.

You don’t have to be a developer to get your hands on the OS X El Capitan beta though. A public beta is now available for consumers. You can sign up for the Apple Beta Software Program here. To join the program just sign in with your Apple ID and accept the Apple Beta Software Program Agreement. Once you have signed up for the public beta you will get a verification code and a link to download the beta:

  1. Visit Apple’s Beta Software Program page. ?Log on using your Apple ID
  2. Click on Enrol your Mac
  3. Click on the Download link and enter your personal redemption code.

If you register for the OS X Beta Seed Program you will be able to download test versions of the software, and give feedback to Apple to help the company perfect the update before it's released to the public in the autumn.

In 2014 Apple limited the beta program to the first million registered users, this year it appears that there is no cut off.

You can read more about registering for Apple's Beta Seed programme here: How to join Apple's OS X Beta Seed Program: Get OS X El Capitan on your Mac before public release.

How to install the OS X El Capitan beta on your Mac

The public beta program will let you download and run beta versions of OS X 10.11. Be aware that you will be testing pre-release versions of OS X El Capitan. Running a pre-release version of the software means that you should expect to experience bugs and performance issues.

When you receive the email from Apple there will be a download link and a redeem code. You will be able to download the Mac OS X 10.11 Installation from the App Store.

Follow these instructions to install the beta: 

  1. Open the Install OS X 10.11 Preview file in the Applications folder.
  2. Click Continue.
  3. Click Agree and Agree.
  4. Click Install.
  5. Enter your Admin password.

However, we don't recommend that you install El Capitan on your main Mac - or if you must, then you should install it on a secondary partition of the Mac or on an external hard drive (more on that below). Either way, we’d recommend a full back up before you install it. 

El Capitan is a beta product, so not all of your apps and programs will work. Furthermore, you might find it crashes and is unstable.

If you want to install the beta of Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan on your Mac, you could dual-boot the beta alongside your current edition of Mac OS X Yosemite. With a dual-boot installation, you are able to choose between using Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan and 10.10 Yosemite. However, to do so you will have to wipe your whole system. More on that below.

Read next: What to do if your Mac doesn't finish installing an update

How to install the OS X El Capitan beta on an external hard drive

Luckily you don't have to install the El Capitan beta on your Mac at all - you can install it on an external hard drive. 

You'll want to use a fast drive if you can - Thunderbolt drives are comparable to the internal drives on a Mac, but if you do not have a Mac with Thunderbolt then consider using a USB 3.0 drive.

Adding a second hard drive, formatting it and installing Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan on it is the safest way to get a good look at the new operating system. It'll leave your current configuration intact and allow you to play around with Mac OS X El Capitan.

To install El Capitan on a external hard drive follow the following guide:

  1. Connect the external hard drive.
  2. Launch Disk Utility (choose Go > Utilities to find it).
  3. Select the drive in the sidebar (the root drive, not the volume it contains).
  4. Click Partition.
  5. Ensure that Partition Layout says 1 Partition.
  6. Give it a name like "Mac OS X El Capitan".
  7. Click Options and ensure that Guide Partition Table is selected. Click OK.
  8. Click Apply and Partition.

Now download the Mac OS X 10.11 installation from the Mac App Store and follow these instructions to install the beta on the hard drive: 

  1. Open the Install OS X 10.11 Preview file in the Applications folder.
  2. Click Continue.
  3. Click Agree and Agree.
  4. Click Show All Disks.
  5. Highlight the external hard drive.
  6. Click Install.
  7. Enter your Admin password

To run El Capitan, open System Preferences > Startup Disk. Select the drive you wish to start up the Mac and click Restart. You can also hold down Option during startup to pick the drive you wish to use to start up the Mac.

How to dual boot the OS X El Capitan beta on a Mac

If you don't have a spare external hard drive (or the one you have is slower than you would like) you can partition the main hard drive into two separate drives and then install OS X 10.11 El Capitan on one and Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite on the other.

The only issue with partitioning your drive is that you will have to wipe your internal hard drive and reinstall Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite along with the new beta version.

If you want to keep any of your current work, you need to create a backup of Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite and ensure that it will fit on your smaller partitioned drive.

To create your partition follow these instructions:

  1. Boot Mac OS X into recovery mode (Hold down Option during startup)
  2. Use Disk Utility in recovery mode to wipe the main hard drive and split it into two partitions.
  3. Use the Install option in Recovery to install Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite onto the main partition.
  4. Next restore the data to Yosemite from your Time Machine (or other backup)
  5. Follow the steps above to install the OS X 10.11 Preview onto the second partition.

Read: How to partiton your Mac

How to dual boot the OS X El Capitan beta using Virtualisation software

You can also install Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan inside Mac OS X Yosemite using virtualisation software such as Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion, or Apple's own Boot Camp. The virtual route enables you to test out Mac OS X in a safe environment without affecting the Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite installation.

We think virtualisation is the best option if you already have this software and just want to take a quick peek at the new features.

It is possible to install El Capitan within a virtual machine, but currently the developers of the virtualisation tools are scrambling to include El Capitan support, so don't expect a simple install until they do, and you may find it runs slowly (or not at all).

There's this Reddit post which details how to install the El Capitan beta in Parallels.

How to install OS X El Capitan (or OS X Yosemite if you haven't yet)

Once the full version of the new OS X El Capitan comes out later this year, the same rules will apply when it comes to downloading and installing it as applied last year when Yosemite launched.

When OS X 10.11 launches you'll now find it on the Mac App Store. For now, you can find Yosemite there. If you haven't installed Yosemite yet, this is where to go. In order to download and install the new operating system, simply open the Mac App Store on your Mac, or click here and follow the on-screen instructions. Before you do, though, you should prepare your Mac for the update by following the steps listed here.

Also, it's worth noting that it could take several hours to download and install Yosemite, we expect it to be a similar situation with OS X 10.11.

In the meantime, read our ultimate Yosemite tips

How to prepare your Mac for a new version of OS X

Just as with Mavericks (OS X 10.9), Yosemite was free and pretty easy to install. However, before you perform any big update to OS X, you should complete a few tasks to ensure that your Mac is ready to go. Read next: OS X Mavericks vs OS X Yosemite.

Before installing a new operating system it's worth doing a bit of housework. Here are ten things you really ought to do before OS X 10.10 launches (and you'd better hurry because that could be today!)

See also: Explore Yosemite's iTunes 12

1. Find out if your Mac will be able to run OS X 10.11 or 10.10 Yosemite

This one is a biggy. If your Mac can't run OS X 10.11 or OS X 10.10 Yosemite then I'm afraid there's no new software update for you. Don't panic, though, Apple has kept the list of supported Macs the same as the supported Macs for OS X Mavericks, so if you're already running Mavericks you'll be able to get Yosemite and we think the same will apply for OS X 10.11.

You'll find a full list of the supported Macs in our Will your Mac run OS X article.

Check the specs of your system by clicking on the Apple logo on the top left of your screen and selecting About This Mac.

2. Make sure you have sufficient RAM to run OS X 10.10 or OS X 10.11

If your Mac is on the list of supported machines, it's likely you won't run into any problems, but it's worth checking that you also have enough RAM to run OS X El Capitan or Yosemite. Apple says you'll need at least 2GB RAM, although 4GB is advisable. All the supported Macs have at least 4GB RAM - if you have less than that it might be time to consider upgrading to a new Mac, or installing more RAM – if you decide to do that, make sure that the RAM you choose is compatible.

Read about how to update the RAM in your Mac here.

3. Make sure you have enough space for the new version of OS X

Apple suggests that you should have 8GB of free space on your Mac's drive before you install a major OS X update, but we recommend aiming for 15GB to 20GB. The Yosemite installer was 5.16GB, so expect similar from El Capitain, and you'll need to allow some room for temporary files. Expect the installer for OS X 10.11 to be similar.

Here's an article about freeing up space on your Mac.

4. Get access to the Mac App Store

If you are still running Leopard and don't have access to the Mac App Store you really really really need to upgrade! The next version of OS X will be available only via the Mac App Store and the Mac App Store arrived in Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. Luckily you can still get hold of a copy of Snow Leopard from Apple. It costs £14.

Read our article that explains how to get a copy of Snow Leopard.

5. Update your software for OS X 10.11 or 10.10 Yosemite

Before you upgrade to the new version of OS X, make sure you install the latest updates to Snow Leopard, Lion, Mountain Lion or Mavericks (whichever you're currently running).

To make sure you are up to date, click on the App Store icon in the Dock and select Updates. You can also click on the Apple logo at the top left of your screen and select Software Update from there. Read: Yosemite versus Windows 10 comparison

6. Update your third party apps

Make sure you have updated any third party apps too. Those updates may include changes that are required for upgrading to Yosemite and if you don't run the updates they may not work properly once you have updated.

To update apps you've bought from the Mac App Store, launch the App Store app and click the Updates button in the toolbar. Then click Update All, simply providing your Apple ID and password when prompted.

For apps that you purchased elsewhere you'll need to manually install updates. You can check if there are updates available from the application's menu, in Microsoft Word, for example, it's a case of clicking on Help > Check for Updates.

Check compatibility with your third party apps before installing OS X 10.10 or OS X 10.11. That way you will be up and running immediately, rather than being frustrated by your favorite apps and add-ons not working.

We will feature a list of apps that don't work with Yosemite as soon as we know of any issues.

Read how to customise your Mac here: How to customise your Mac desktop

7. Ditch really old software

If you're still running Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6), you may still be using a few PowerPC programs - software that was never updated to run natively on Macs with Intel processors. Apple used to provided software called Rosetta that translated PowerPC code so it could run on Intel Macs. When Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6) launched Rosetta was no longer installed by default, but it was possible to download and install Rosetta if you wanted to run a PowerPC program. However, Apple killed Rosetta completely when Lion (10.7) was released, and it remains unavailable to this day.

Any PowerPC apps you have won't work when you update your system, so you'll either need to ditch them and find alternatives, or stay in the dark ages and run very old software.

To find out if any of your applications are PowerPC programs, launch Snow Leopard's System Profiler utility (in /Applications/Utilities), select Applications (under Software in the sidebar), and then click the Kind column header, which sorts the list of applications by processor type. Any programs listed as PowerPC will not work with the new operating system, they won't even work in Yosemite, Mavericks, Mountain Lion, or Lion.

8. Make sure your Mac is healthy

You should make sure that your Mac is completely healthy before installing a big update to the system.

Open Disk Utility (in /Applications/Utilities), select your startup drive from the list on the left, click the First Aid tab to the right, and then click Verify. If Disk Utility finds problems, you'll need to boot from a different volume to perform the actual repairs using the Repair Disk button.

Boot into recovery mode (by holding down Command+R at startup) and use Disk Utility from there to perform the recommended repairs.

You can also run the Apple Hardware Test (for Macs older than June 2013) or Apple Diagnostics (for Macs from June 2013 or later). Both tests check your Mac for other hardware issues, such as bad RAM.

Read more about using Disk Repair to fix a Mac here.

9. Back up your Mac

Before updating to OS X 10.11 or 10.10 we recommend that you back up your Mac, and test that the back up worked before you do anything else. You can use Apple's Time Machine to create a back up that will recover your Mac exactly the way you left it prior to the install, but alternatives include SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner both of which will create a bootable clone backup of your Mac.

Read more about backing up your Mac using Time Machine here.

10. Set up iCloud

When you install OS X 10.11 or 10.10 you are likely to be pestered for your iCloud details because these days iCloud is heavily integrated into many apps and system services. Make sure you are logged into iCloud and enable syncing before you start updating and things should go smoothly.

We also have a comparison preview of El Capitan and Windows 10 here

Read: How to use Spotlight in Mac OS X El Capitan