Five reasons to stay away from Apple's OS X beta seeding program

Apple's letting the general public test pre-release OS X Mavericks software. There are good reasons not to sign up, however

Apple on Tuesday announced a beta seeding program that enables anyone — not just registered developers — from gaining access to pre-release OS X Mavericks software and applications from Apple. There are some good reasons to get involved, but there are an equal number of reasons to stay away from it. Here are a few.

1. It's pre-release software

Alpha, beta and other pre-release software generally has bugs or other shortcomings that can cause problems. Sometimes those problems are complete show stoppers that will shut you down hard.

Some problems that you're currently having may actually get fixed by pre-release software; after all, bug fixes and maintenance updates are a big part of what goes on with these things. But other problems may be introduced that you wouldn't otherwise experience with actual release software, because other beta participants have already reported the issues, which Apple has fixed.

2. There's no support

During your participation in the Seeding Program or in a particular seed, Apple is not obligated to provide you with any maintenance, technical or other support for the Pre-Release Software.

Good luck getting help if you need it, should you run into trouble with the pre-release software you're testing. You're potentially creating a headache for yourself and, if you're in a business or institutional environment, a headache for your IT support staff. In fact, depending on your institution's policies, you may not be allowed to install pre-release software, so if this is on a work or school computer, check with your IT staff before doing so.

That also means that you're unlikely to get a lot of help from the local Apple Genius at your Apple retail store or from AppleCare, if you give them a call. Bottom line: You run into problems, you're likely on your own.

3. You're not allowed to talk about it

Except as expressly permitted in this Section 6, you agree that you will not disclose, publish, or otherwise disseminate any Confidential Information to anyone other than individuals who are enrolled in the same individual seed as you, or as otherwise expressly permitted or agreed to in writing by Apple.

This is probably the least enforced — and least enforceable — clause in the agreement. People have routinely run their mouths about Apple beta software for years — witness the avalanche of details that emerge about iOS and OS X during and after every WWDC — and Apple really does little, if anything, to stop it, except to say nothing when asked directly.

Still, according to the letter of the agreement, you're only allowed to talk about it with other beta seed participants. Apple makes blabbing about it sound ominous, too:

Accordingly, you agree that Apple will have the right to seek immediate injunctive relief to enforce obligations under this Agreement in addition to any other rights and remedies it may have.

4. This is your only Mac

If you have only one computer you do most of your work from, please don't use it as a guinea pig. If you run into a complete show-stopper that hoses your Mac, you may be completely screwed without having to restore your Mac from a backup. Hence Apple's proviso:

The Pre-Release Software is not intended for use, and should not be used, in production or business-critical systems.

5. You're concerned about privacy

You also give Apple the right to collect diagnostic, technical and usage data from you (you can opt out, but that takes a bit of extra work). None of this data is personally identifiable, according to Apple. But in an era when we're on heightened alert about NSA and countless security issues, some of you may not be comfortable sharing any data with Apple, and need to be wary.

Have you signed up for the seed program? Having second thoughts? Sound off in the comments.

Peter Cohen