If you don't want to wait for macOS Catalina, the next version of macOS (which will be released to the general public this autumn), it is possible to download the beta version of Catalina now if you are a registered developer or signed up to the pubic beta program.

Developers were able to get their hands on the beta following the WWDC Keynote on 3 June. Apple said that the Public Beta wouldn't arrive until July, but it was actually released a week earlier than expected, on 24 June. The public beta of iOS 13 arrived on the same day.

In this article we will show you how to get your hands on Catalina now!

There are various ways you could run Catalina on your Mac. You don't have to risk all by making it your primary macOS. We recommend installing it on a partition - which these days is really a volume, which is so much easier to create than a partition was. Read about how to do that here: How to dual-boot Mac: Run two versions of macOS on a Mac.

Alternatively, you could install macOS Catalina on an external drive and run it on that.

Who can download the macOS Catalina beta?

Apple lets developers get their hands on beta versions of its operating system early so that they can make sure that their software works - and so they can use new tools in the next version of the macOS to enhance their own programs ready for launch when the final version of macOS is ready.

The first developer beta of Catalina was released following the WWDC 2019 Keynote on 3 June 2019.

It's not just developers who get an early look in though. Back at WWDC 2015 Apple announced that it was going to let members of the public test the upcoming new version of it's Mac operating system as part of a new, free beta program. That means that anyone can get their hands on the new version of macOS before it is released to the general public later in the year.

The Public Beta of Catalina became available to download on 24 June. A week earlier than Apple’s promised July release date, and a few days before the macOS Mojave beta had arrived in 2018 (that was on 26 June 2018).

Those who are registered for the MacOS Beta Seed Program will be able to download beta versions of the software, and begin giving feedback to Apple to help the company perfect the update before it's released to the public in the autumn.

If you want to be a Public beta tester, you can sign up to join the Apple Beta Software Program here. There's more information on signing up below.

If you are after the beta because you are an Apple Developer this is where you need to go to enrol in the program - here. We have more information on signing up below.

What's the latest version of the Catalina beta?

  • The latest public beta is Beta 3, which arrived on 18 July, about two weeks after the second public beta arrived.
  • The latest version of the developer beta is Beta 4, which arrived on 16 July. This arrived two weeks after the 3rd beta did.

How to sign up to the macOS Beta Seed Program - developer

Registered Apple Developers are able to download pre-release versions of most of Apple's software too, but it costs $99 (approx £74) per year to register as a developer.

To register as a developer head over to the Apple Developer Program registration page and click Enroll. Registering as an Apple developer will give you access to support materials, and enable you to register Macs and iOS devices with Apple so you can use them to run your software.

You can sign in with your own Apple ID (recommended if you're a single developer), or you can create an Apple ID just for the developer account (recommended if you are developing for a company).

You don't have to pay Apple to register as a developer. You can sign up and gain access to all the developer tools without paying a penny. The basic registration is fine for developing and testing an app, although you will need to sign up with Apple for membership if you want to download the developer previews.

How to sign up to the macOS Beta Seed Program - public

If you are a member of the public you can also run the beta - but each version of the beta comes a little later than the developer version. Apple tries to make sure the worst of the issues are ironed out before it goes on wider release. That's why there are often a number of weeks between the first developer beta and the first public beta being released. You can also expect a delay between each version of the developer beta and the matching public beta arriving.

To sign up you'll need to go to the macOS Beta Seed Program website. From there, you can find out more about the program by clicking Learn More or FAQ.

You must be aged 18 or older with a valid Apple ID, and you'll also need to be willing to accept the Confidentiality Agreement, which means you agree not to share information or screenshots of the update.

By clicking 'Get Started' on the macOS Beta Seed Program website, you'll be taken to the 'Sign In' page. If you don't already have an Apple ID, you can create one by clicking 'create one now' in the grey box on the left. If you do have one, however, you can go ahead and sign in using the password you normally use for your iTunes and other Apple services.

Next, you'll be taken to the macOS Beta Seed and Confidentiality Agreement. You'll need to read the agreement (you can view it as a PDF if you prefer by clicking the link beneath the scroll link) and then click accept. Unless of course you don't agree with the terms in which case you'll want to stop the registration process now.

Once you are registered for the Apple Beta Software Program you will need to enrol your Mac here in order to be able to get the updates from the Mac App Store. You will have to re-enrol your Mac if you had previously been a tester.

You will find a download link and your redemption code on that page. Click on the link and enter your code to download the latest beta.

But hang on, there are a few things you should do first, not least be absolutely sure that you want to run the beta...

How to prepare your Mac for the new macOS Beta

Apple gives clear instructions about how to prepare your Mac for the install on the Enroll your Mac page.

First Apple advises users to make a backup of their data and files before installing any beta versions of macOS, stating:

"Always back up your data and files before installing beta versions of macOS. If you have multiple Macs, we recommend installing the Beta on your secondary computer. Backing up files on a Mac is easy with Time Machine, the built-in backup utility in macOS." 

You can find out how to use Time Machine to back up your Mac here.

You'll need to have the latest full version of macOS installed and have 2GB or more of memory with 8GB or more of available space.

How to get the new macOS developer beta

Here’s how to download and install a beta version of macOS on your Mac.

Before you do anything else, back up your Mac! You would also be wise to read the advice we have below about the risks of using the beta.

If you haven't yet registered as a developer you need to return to the section above to follow that guide.

  1. Go to developer.apple.com
  2. Click on Discover > macOS >Download and sign in with your developer account or Apple ID.
  3. Click on Install Profile to download the macOS Catalina Developer Beta Access Utility to your Mac.
  4. Go to Downloads on your Mac and click on the macOS Catalina Developer Beta Access Utility to open it.
  5. Double click on the macOSDeveloperBetaAccessUtility.pkg and the instaler will run.
  6. As soon as Catalina beta is installed it will check to see if there are any updates. Click Update and the latest version will download.
  7. You'll see a promot to install the software, click on Continue.
  8. Agree to the Ts&Cs (more on them below).
  9. Click Install.

How to get the new macOS public beta

The installation process is similar to the public beta.

NOTE: Since this is beta software it might cause problems with your Mac such as freezes and crashes, plus your apps may stop working. If you want to install it we recommend that you don't do so on your primary Mac. If your business would suffer if you were unable to use your Mac due to issues caused by the beta don't install a beta! 

Follow these steps to install the public beta of Catalina when it becomes available:

If you were already running the Mojave Public Beta then you'll find the Catalina Beta as an upgrade via Software Update. Just click on Upgrade Now. You may have to update to the latest version of Mojave beta before you can do so - we had to install Mojave Beta 10 first.

  1. Before you install the beta make sure you back up your Mac - if you decide to stop using the beta you will need to revert to this backup version.
  2. Go Apple's beta webpage.
  3. Click on Sign In and enter your Apple ID and password (or Sign Up if you haven't yet - in which case retutn to the section above for those steps).
  4. Click on Enrol Your Devices.
  5. Click on the macOS tab.
  6. You'll have backed up your Mac, as we advised above, so now click on Download the macOS Public Beta Access Utilty. Catalina beta
  7. The installer should open automatically, but if not, open the download in your Downloaded items folder, it's called macOSPublicBetaAccessUtility.dmg. Double click on the dmg file. 
  8. Go through the steps to install it, including signing in to the Feeback Assistant.
  9. Once you have downloaded the Beta Access Utility you will be able to download the beta via Software Update (which you can get to by clicking on the Apple logo).
  10. Depending on whether you are using Mojave, High Sierra or another version of macOS, you will either see Software Update prompting you to download the Public Beta of Catalina, or the Mac App Store will open on the macOS Beta Page. Click on Download and the public beta version will download.You'll be able to continue to use your Mac while this takes place (it took over half an hour for us).
  11. ONce the beta has downloaded you will see an invitation to install it. When you click to install you'r Mac will shut down, so finish what you are doing as your Mac will be out of action for another half hour or so.
  12. Finally your Mac will restart.
  13. Click on Continue.
  14. Sign in with your Apple ID and password.

The public beta of Catalina is about 6.81GB.

How to update macOS beta versions

You will receive a notification when the next update to the beta is available.

To update to the latest beta version, rather than going to the Apple menu, or the Mac App Store Updates tab, as was the case in the past, updates are available via System Preferences >Software Update.

If you want to download and install Mojave (read this article). You can also read about the latest version of macOS Mojave, including the betas here and our review here.

What does being an Apple beta tester involve?

The purpose of the beta program is to provide Apple with feedback about the upcoming OS. If you experience bugs or other issues, report them to Apple using the Feedback Assistant app. And don’t just say something crashed, explain exactly what you were doing when the crash happened and try and reproduce the crash to see if you can identify what steps lead to it.

Don’t just tell Apple that you don’t like the ‘flat’ look of the user interface. Your purpose as a beta tester is to provide feedback on bugs, not try and assume Jony Ive’s role.

That said, it won’t always be bugs you need to provide feedback on. Perhaps you can’t work out how to do something and a user interface tweak is required.

You can also provide feedback if third-party apps aren’t working as they should - there is actually a 3rd-party Application Compatibility category in which to submit feedback.

Expect there to be bugs and issues in the beta - the versions of macOS available through the Beta Software Program are not finished products, by installing it you are agreeing to become a tester and helping Apple to iron out these issues.

The risks of Apple's macOS Beta Seed Program

It's worth noting that participating in Apple's macOS Beta Seed Program is not a light undertaking, so you should consider whether it's really right for you before downloading and installing the pre-release software. After all, being pre-release software, it's bound to have bugs and issues that could cause things to go spectacularly wrong with your Mac, which isn't helped by the fact that Apple is not obligated to provide any support for pre-release software.

If you only have one Mac, and you're intending to run the pre-release software on that machine, you might want to reconsider. Apple suggests that you should run the pre-release software on a dedicated Mac, not a Mac that you use for business or production purposes.

Also, remember that installing software can take a good few minutes - if you don't have time to wait for 20 minutes every few weeks while your Mac installs the latest version (especially if that's only going to break everything for you) you might find the frustration outweighs the novelty value of having the latest updates.

There's also the important matter of privacy. By agreeing to test the macOS beta software, you're essentially giving Apple permission to collect diagnostic, technical and usage data from you, unless you go through the process of opting out.

For example, the first beta version of Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite came with several known issues, including problems in Safari while trying to access Netflix content, iPhoto, Photo Stream and iCloud Photo Sharing problems, iCloud Drive issues and AirDrop issues, so beware.

Early beta versions of macOS High Sierra attempted to use AFPS (Apple's new file system) on Fusion Drives. This feature was later removed, but those people who had already installed the beta had to perform a complicated uninstall process and revert their Fusion Drives back to the previous file system. Given that Apple has now confirmed that AFPS will be available for Fusion Drives and Hard Drives as part of the Mojave update (finally - more than a year after it was first announced) you might want to think twice about having early versions of it on your Mac if you do have a Fusion Drive or a hard drive in the machine.

The best way to avoid the risks is to partition - or create a volume on - your Mac and install the MacOS beta on a separate partition and dual-boot into it.

Alternatively, you could run the beta from a separate drive, we show you how here.

If you install the beta and then think you made a mistake, here's how to remove revert to an older version of MacOS.

How to send feedback to Apple

Should you come across an error or a bug you should use the Feedback Assistant app to provide feedback to Apple. Launch the app and follow the appropriate steps, selecting the area about which you’re providing feedback and then any specific sub-area. Then describe your issue in a single sentence, before providing a more detailed description, including any specific steps that reproduce the issue. You’ll also be able to attach other files.

You’ll also have to give permission for the Feedback Assistant app to collect diagnostic information from your Mac.

It won’t always be obvious whether something is a bug or just not as easy to use as you might have hoped. Either way, if your feedback is that something appears to work in an illogical way, Apple will want to know that.

If you are having trouble with a third party app you can let Apple know by reporting it through the 3rd-party Application Compatibility category in the Feedback Assistant. However, we’d suggest that you also provide feedback to the app’s developer who will no doubt be grateful.

Public vs developer preview - what's the difference?

The public beta is not the same as the beta being released through the developer program. it is likely that developers will receive more frequent updates including new features not in the public beta. 

Will I be able to update from macOS beta to the final version?

Beta users will be able to install the final build of the OS on release day without needing to reformat or reinstall.

Can I talk about the beta publicly?

According to Apple and the license agreement all beta testers must agree to, the beta is “Apple confidential information.” By accepting those terms, you agree not to discuss your use of the software with anyone who isn’t also in the Beta Software Program. That means you can’t “blog, post screenshots, tweet, or publicly post information about the public beta software.”

However, you can discuss any information that Apple has publicly disclosed; the company says that information is no longer considered confidential.

How to downgrade from the macOS beta

You can always revert to an earlier version of macOS, though depending on how you back up, it’s not necessarily a painless process.

Start by making sure the data on your drive is backed up, then erase the drive and install the latest public version of macOS. When you first startup your Mac you can use the Migration Assistant to import your data from the backup. Here's a more detailed tutorial on downgrading from the macOS beta we also have a tutorial on downgrading to an older version of the Mac OS here.