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The Leopard Report: No, You Don’t Want to Run a Beta Operating System

I read a story Tuesday that some employees of The Apple Store were fired because they apparently downloaded the preview version of Mac OS 10.5 Leopard that was distributed to developers at the recent WWDC. Despite the fact that the story originated on ThinkSecret, a Mac rumor site, I’ll take it at face value because it does pass the logic test.

The stupidity test is another matter.

It appears that this foolish crew were talking about their dirty deeds when fellow employees overheard, and the news quickly spread to Apple. You can imagine what happened next, although the offending employees evidently owned up to their transgression. Yes, they signed an employment contract with Apple, which should have given them a clue that there were on shaky ground; that is, if they read the document and perhaps used a bit of common sense.

So who gets ahold of these prerelease operating systems in the first place? Well, Apple handed out copies to the developers who attended the WWDC, and no doubt others will get their copies too. However, these same developers sign a very strict confidentiality agreement when they join Apple’s program. Clearly some of them don’t believe in contracts and the right of a company to protect its trade secrets, and evidently released those Leopard previews into the world.

I expect that if Apple finds out who was responsible for the original release, they will crack down appropriately. At the very least, these people will be forever barred from the developer program, and Apple could sue, and they’d be justified doing so.

Forgetting the legal propriety of such things, however, if you somehow get ahold of this Leopard DVD, you are playing with fire. It’s not just the fact that you might be using pirated software that may have been tampered with in some unknown fashion, which is bad enough, but the end result is not going to be very pleasant even if you install it without facing any unsavory consequences from Apple.

Sure, Microsoft doesn’t seem to have any problems with releasing Windows Vista betas to millions of people, with little restriction except the time clock imposed on the software, so it’ll stop running after a certain period of time. But that’s Microsoft, and even then, the very earliest builds of Vista were not made available publicly. To that, I say thank heavens!

The reason developers get prerelease software from Apple is basically threefold, although you can subdivide those reasons further if you want to complicate things. One is to test the system against their products, to make sure everything runs all right. Another is to try out new software development kits from Apple that are available to enhance a developer’s products. And the third, of course, is feedback, so Apple knows if there are any bugs or features that just don’t work very well.

Remember we are talking about a computer operating system here, the very core of the Mac OS experience. As you know, even the release versions have problems, and they are supposed to be finished products. Just imagine what might happen when the product is unfinished, features not present or incomplete, filled with bugs, lacking performance optimization. Just imagine the crashes, the potential for damaging your data, creating hard drive corruption.

In short, you’re playing with fire. Maybe that doesn’t seem such a serious matter to you, especially if you have a backup handy and don’t care if your files are toast. But, as I said, it’s also illegal.

When Leopard is ready for public consumption, Apple will present it with a huge splash. Then you can wait on line to be one of the first to take home a copy. I know I’ll probably be there, in the crowd, with you. Till then, just enjoy the rumors and speculation, but please don’t act on what you read, even if you’re tempted.