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Computers

How to download and install MacOS Catalina public beta right now

Apple will officially release it this fall, but you can check out MacOS 10.15 Catalina today by downloading the public beta.

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The Catalina public beta is now available.

Screenshot Clifford Colby/CNET

Don't wait till fall to check out MacOS Catalina: Apple yesterday released the first public beta of the next major update of the MacOS. The public preview of MacOS 10.15 is an opportunity to try out all the cool new features coming in Catalina before it ships this fall. It also lets you monitor Catalina's progress and identify issues you can report to Apple before Catalina officially ships. By joining Apple's public beta program, you can also try out public previews of iOS 13, iPadOS and TVOS 13.

Here's what you can look forward to in the public beta: In Catalina, Apple will replace the iTunes app with three separate apps: Apple Music, Apple Podcasts and Apple TV. Just as interesting, the update lets Mac users run iPad apps and use an iPad as a second screen -- as a Sidecar -- much in the way you might use a second monitor.

You can download the Catalina public preview for free, but be aware that beta software -- even from Apple -- isn't fully baked: Apps may be unstable, features may not work as you expect, and you may come across bugs and software incompatibilities. The public beta comes with a handy tool for reporting bugs you find to Apple. If running a beta makes you nervous, you may want to skip the preview and wait for the finished OS. If you're still interested, here's what to do.

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With the public beta, you can check all the cool things coming to Catalina today.

Screenshot Clifford Colby/CNET

What to do before you install the public beta

Before you download and install the public beta, make sure you have a good, current backup of the contents of your Mac's drive, in case something goes south during the installation or afterward. You can either use the Mac's built-in Time Machine backup utility or grab a Mac backup app like Carbon Copy Cloner.

After you've backed up the contents of your drive, really, really consider installing the Catalina public beta on an external storage device or a separate partition, not on your primary Mac drive. That way, if something goes wrong with the beta, or if you decide you want to return to Mojave, rolling back will be much easier.

You can you run MacOS Catalina if...

While MacOS Catalina brings a boatload of improvements, its hardware requirements remain the same as for MacOS Mojave, the current version of the OS. So if you can run Mojave, you can run Catalina. Here are the Mac that meet the requirements:

To check which Mac you have, from the Apple menu, choose About This Mac. The Overview tab displays which Mac you have.

Download and install the MacOS Catalina preview

If you can live with the potential quirks and glitches of beta software and have a current backup, you're ready.

1. First, head to Apple's public beta software page.

2. You'll need an AppleID to join the beta program, so either find yours or create one.

3. After you sign in, click the MacOS tab and read the instructions.

4. If you've installed a Mac public beta before, skip to step 8. Otherwise, keep going.

5. If you this is your first time running a MacOS public beta, you'll need to enroll your Mac in the beta program by installing the MacOS Public Beta Access Utility.

6. After you're enrolled, the utility will open Software Update in System Preferences and prompt you to download the public beta.

7. Click Download to grab the beta.

8. If you're already enrolled your Mac, head to Software Update in System Preferences. The Public beta should appear as an upgrade.

9. Click Upgrade Now to download the beta.

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If you're already enrolled in the public beta program, you can just click Upgrade Now.

Screenshot Clifford Colby/CNET

The download is big -- around 6.5GB -- but once it finishes, it puts an Install MacOS Catalina Beta app in your Applications folder.

10. Open this, and follow the onscreen instructions to complete the installation.

When a new public beta is available, you'll get a notification through Software Update.

If you decide you're done testing Catalina, you can restore your system, using the backup of the contents of your drive you made before you installed. You can also unenroll your Mac from the beta program.

Originally Published June 24.

Update, June 25: Adds installation instructions.

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