Practical Mac

It’s at this time of year that Apple fans (and the media) start to get excited. For the last couple of years, the company has chosen September and October to launch its new iPhone, iPad and Mac models.

With a rumored September media event (the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c were released on Sept. 20 last year) and the introduction of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite at the Worldwide Developers Conference in May, fall looks interesting.

But what about right now? We could obsess over leaks of possible iPhone 6 components or Apple-branded wearable devices, but … yawn … that’s all just speculation. We’ll see those products (if they exist) soon enough.

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There is a way to tap into the future, if you’re willing to put forth a little work. In a rare move, Apple is running a public beta program of OS X Yosemite, open to the first 1 million people to volunteer at

Normally, access to pre-release Apple software requires a developer membership, which costs $99 per year each for OS X and iOS.

So why join the beta? Primarily, it’s because you can run OS X Yosemite before the public does. Keep in mind that some signature features that work with iOS 8, such as Handoff and AirDrop, will be beyond your grasp unless you pay for an iOS developer account and can run iOS 8 beta. It also gives you a chance to help solidify the initial release by finding and reporting bugs.

Hang on, I saw you roll your eyes. I know, that kind of altruistic approach seems to be out of favor, but think about how people moan about the first dot-zero release of any operating system. Invariably there are bugs that weren’t caught in the test stages, so Apple wants to expose the OS to a broader test environment.

If you do sign up, remember that it’s unfinished software, so don’t install it on your primary Mac. If you don’t have another machine, consider using an emulator such as Parallels Desktop ( (Reports indicate that VMware Fusion can also run Yosemite as a guest operating system, but it’s not yet as solid.) Also, remember that you must sign a nondisclosure agreement to test it, so you can’t publish screen shots or discuss features that Apple hasn’t already announced.

Snagit: Personally, one reason I want to run Yosemite is to be able to write and speak about it for the books and articles I work on. And a big part of that work is capturing images and recording video of what’s on the screen.

It’s not just writers who need these features. You may work on training materials inside your company or even provide guidance and support for the rest of your family, or maybe you’re one of the thousands of people who upload how-to videos to YouTube.

The built-in screen-capture capabilities of OS X (Mavericks and earlier) get the job done, but better options are available. For years I relied on Ambrosia Software’s Snapz Pro X, but this year I switched to Snagit (, a $49.95 tool that offers many more features.

The just-released version 3.1 embraces video recording in a big way, in addition to its still-image support. You can record the entire screen or just a portion that you drag to identify. I also really like the pixel-level preview that accompanies the mouse pointer as you drag, making it easier to select a precise area.

Snagit isn’t as broad a video tool as Telestream’s $99 ScreenFlow (, but it’s great for capturing snippets that you don’t need to edit much later.

One Snagit license covers running the software under both Mac and Windows, which is good if you support both platforms.

Jeff Carlson writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to More Practical Mac columns at