Do you like doing things first? Do you like discovering cool new operating system features? Do you not mind if your computer has the occasional Blue Screen of Death or Kernel Panic? If so, consider the exciting world of being a public beta tester!
While some Linux distributions are constantly open-source works in progress, Microsoft and Apple were traditionally closed systems that usually only let registered developers install the testing versions of their upcoming operating systems. But that changed a few years ago, perhaps when companies realized they could make better final software with more people banging around on the prerelease versions — and filing complaints about stuff that didn’t work.
So, what do you need to join in? For both Microsoft and Apple, you need to sign up with the respective testing program, agree to install the software and provide feedback on what you see. You also need compatible hardware on which to install the beta software. Important Point: This should be a computer or device that is NOT your primary, mission-critical machine.
Apple’s free volunteer public testing club is called the Apple Beta Software Program. You need to register an Apple ID to get in, but you can play around with prerelease versions of both macOS and iOS.
Microsoft calls its beta club the Windows Insider program. If your PC meets the system requirements and you join to become a member of the Windows Insider team, Microsoft allows you to download each new build of the next Windows version to learn, test and share your feedback. You can sign up using the Windows Insider option within the current Windows 10 Settings app — in Settings, go to Updates and Security, then Windows Update and select Advanced Options. You can also sign up for the program on the Windows Insider page on Microsoft’s website.
As with any unfinished hardware or software, proceed at your own risk. Being a beta tester isn’t for everyone and a some folks may start to feel like the kids that Tom Sawyer convinced to whitewash the fence for him. But for alpha dogs who like to be first, going beta can be very exciting.