In the next week, maybe on Monday to celebrate the fourth of July, Apple is going to make the first public beta-release of Ventura available to those brave souls who join its beta programme. So should you risk or resist Apple’s tempting offer?
Can you lose that Mac?
The first question you should ask is whether you have a suitable Mac which you could afford to lose completely for a while, as a result of a problem with the beta. Although that’s unlikely to happen, it’s a risk you’ve got to be prepared for when you install a beta of macOS.
Never, under any circumstances, install a beta of macOS on any Mac you rely on for production. Betas usually involve firmware updates, so even if you install the beta on an external disk, it will change your Mac’s firmware. Undoing that is hard enough for an Intel Mac with a T2 chip or an Apple silicon model, and it’s simply not possible on Intel Macs without a T2 chip. All you can then do is wait for another beta, or maybe the final release in the autumn/fall, which does update the firmware to something more compatible.
Betas also normally come with updated versions of key components such as the APFS file system and Time Machine. Consider carefully what havoc they could produce if there’s a bug which affects other storage used by that Mac, and its backups.
If the worst comes to the worst, you could end up having to restore that Mac to an older version of macOS. Apple explains how to do that, and you should read that account carefully before making any decisions. If you’re thinking of installing betas on an Apple Silicon model, beware that process requires another Mac running Apple Configurator 2 and restoring it in DFU mode.
Internal or external SSD?
One way to reduce the risk posed by beta versions of macOS is to install them on external storage. While that can enforce some degree of separation and protection, it still means that firmware is updated, and still brings significant risk of disaster. Don’t try this with a production Mac, even from an external disk.
If you’re going to install the beta on an external disk, you’ll need to be comfortable with the procedure for Apple silicon Macs. Although it does get quite straightforward with practice, some seem unable to get it to work at all. Intel Macs are far simpler, of course, although one important catch with T2 models is that you have to downgrade their security using Startup Security Utility in Recovery mode, if you haven’t already done so, or they can’t boot from an external disk.
Multiple systems on the same disk
You can also install multiple boot volume groups on the same disk, letting you choose which version of macOS to start up from. This provides even less separation or protection than installing them on separate disks, so should never be attempted on any production Mac.
Apple recommends that you do this into separate boot volume groups within the same APFS container, which has the great advantage that they share the same free space within that container. However, there are times when that can work against you, and I’ve explained why and how to opt for separate containers instead. The choice is yours.
Some consider that the best way of keeping out of trouble when running beta versions of macOS is to install them into a Virtual Machine, for example using VMware or Parallels. This is becoming even simpler on Apple silicon Macs, with their extensive built-in support for running virtualised macOS and Linux for ARM.
I will be looking at virtualisation on Apple silicon Macs in more detail in the next few weeks, but for the moment at least signing into your Apple ID or accessing iCloud in one of the free lightweight virtualisers doesn’t appear possible. If you want to do this on an Intel Mac, it is possible using VMware Fusion if you follow these instructions carefully. I don’t know whether Parallels Desktop or Pro can do this on Intel or Apple silicon.
While some consider that this does provide sufficient separation and protection to be able to run a beta macOS on a production Mac, I’d still be extremely cautious.
Some betas bring substantial changes to iCloud, and in the past that has caused lasting havoc to accounts and on iCloud storage. I’m not aware of any particular issues that have been reported in this respect with Ventura beta, but many testers prefer to use a different iCloud account for Macs when running beta-releases of macOS.
If you do decide to install the Ventura beta, or have already done so, I have a big favour to ask on behalf of tens of millions of users, and quite a few of Apple’s engineers. By all means take a good look at its new System Settings, and give Apple plenty of feedback on what you think of them and their interface changes. But please pay careful attention to the basics, exercising your Mac with peripherals such as external displays and hubs. Where you discover problems, please work with Apple to ensure that it knows what they are. If you can, test out features such as Time Machine (being careful not to put your existing backups at risk), which seldom get much attention from other beta-testers.
In particular, send Feedback reports on any kernel panic which your Mac encounters when running a beta. The normal system report, sent after your Mac has restarted, is helpful, but further details are much better still. Even betas should never suffer kernel panics; if yours does, please help Apple’s engineers fix that problem before Ventura is released.
For those who do beta-test Ventura, I wish us success, and hope you enjoy testing, and helping Apple make Ventura even better for all of us.
Amended 3 July with details of virtualisation, thanks to John Gilbert: see his detailed comment below for further information.