How to install the macOS Big Sur public beta

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Following the release of the iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 public betas, Apple is now following through with public access to the macOS Big Sur beta. This next big update for macOS is the jump to 11.0, and with it comes several big changes. The most noticeable difference, though not necessarily the most notable, is the revised design. Everything looks a little cleaner, with a look that’s really starting to resemble iOS.

In this article, we’re going to walk you through what’s new and how to get the beta onto your computer, should you want it. Once you install the beta, it will likely receive several updates between now and the final release, which we expect to happen later in 2020.

What to know about macOS Big Sur before installing the beta

First, the usual warning: you should think twice, or even three times, before installing this software on your machine. If you rely on your computer to meet deadlines or other important work, using a beta might not be the best idea. Apple’s betas are usually fairly polished, but there’s always a chance of app incompatibilities, degraded performance, and data loss.

There’s a way to avoid some of this possible drama. If you’re using a machine with macOS High Sierra or later, you can use built-in tools to partition your hard drive so the beta can live in isolation. This way, you can test out the new features, then boot into your stable macOS partition with the rest of your data when you’re done. We’ll walk through that below as well.

Second, ensure that you have around 20GB of free space available on your hard drive before trying to install. The first public beta is 12.3GB.

How to install the macOS Big Sur beta on your main partition

  • Head to Apple’s beta software portal
  • If you haven’t previously installed a public beta, you’ll need to sign up for access on that page with your Apple ID. Otherwise, proceed to click “Enroll Your Devices” at the top-right corner of the webpage
  • Click “macOS,” the middle option at the center of the next page
  • Scroll down until you find a button that says “Download the macOS Public Beta Access Utility.” If you haven’t yet enrolled your Mac in the Beta Program, then click on it to download a .DMG file, which will enroll your computer. Otherwise, you can skip this step.
  • Upon booting the installer, you’ll be prompted if it doesn’t detect a Time Machine backup. It’s good advice to make a backup if you’re installing on a machine you rely heavily on.
  • Lastly, head to “Software Update” from the System Preferences app (if it doesn’t open automatically) to install the beta. It might not be available to you immediately. You’ll receive a notification once it is.
  • The 12.3GB file will take a while to download. Once it’s done, and before you hit install, feel free to follow the steps in the next section if you want to load it onto a separate partition instead of on the main part of your drive.

Image: Apple

How to install the beta on a separate partition

  • Open Disk Utility (a built-in app you can open by typing its name into the Spotlight search bar), and your hard drive’s partitions will be listed under “Internal” along the left side of the window. You might only see one.
  • If you’re using a machine with macOS High Sierra or newer, clicking your main partition should reveal that it’s a “APFS Volume.” If so, you can then simply click the plus button above the word “Volume” at the top-left corner of the Disk Utility window to make a new volume.
  • You can name the volume anything you want, then hit “Add.” Since storage formatted to APFS is shared across volumes, there’s no need to worry about how much space to set aside in the new volume when you create it.
  • (Note: If your machine’s drive is formatted to Mac OS Extended instead of APFS, you can select the “Partition” button near the top of the Disk Utility window instead. You’ll need to name the partition, then decide how much storage you’d like to have on that slice of hard drive. Given that previous public betas have been over 10GB in size, I’d suggest at least 30GB to be safe.)
  • Now that you have another volume (or partition), you can choose to install the beta to that instead of your main drive
  • To switch between volumes or partitions, you’ll need to restart the machine and hold down the Option key during startup.
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