Beta programs are a great way to get a head start on the latest versions of your favourite software and, if you give feedback, you can even have some say on the direction the final version takes. Unfortunately, as betas are unfinished software they are inherently unstable and can cause problems with other apps on your system, or even your system itself.
Being a software geek, I’ve installed my fair share of betas and had my fair share of problems with them so, in anticipation of the Smoke 2013 beta, I thought I’d share a few techniques for ensuring the testing goes as smoothly as possible.
Where to get your Smoke 2013 beta (and where to talk about it)You can sign up for the beta program at the link below. Sign ups are already available, with a provisional release date of June 1st (edit: Autodesk have now changed this to ‘some time in June’ – we’ll let you know the exact date as soon as we do). If you sign up now, Autodesk will notify you when the download is available.
Beta software is generally released so the developers can get feedback on how it runs on a range of setups that just wouldn’t be available in their testing environment, and also so that they can get feedback from the user community on the direction they’re taking. The Smoke 2013 beta is no different, so I encourage you to give feedback, both in the feedback window that appears if the software crashes and on the forums at The Area and Creative Cow if you have any general feedback or comments on the usability and feature set of the new Smoke. These forums are monitored by Autodesk employees and are also a great place to get advice on how to get the best out of Smoke 2013.
As I mentioned before, Smoke 2013 is beta software and is likely to contain bugs. While Autodesk will have done their best to get it as stable as they can, there is no way they could have tested it with every single software/hardware combination that is out there in the wild. In fact, the whole point of a beta is to see how it runs on as many different setups as possible. With this in mind, it is essential that you protect your system and important data should Smoke cause any problems.
A word on backups
Before running any beta software you should make sure you have a current backup. Time Machine is the easiest option, being built into OS X, although other backup software such as Super Duper would work too. Also make sure that you have your original install discs and are able to boot from them (Snow Leopard and below) or a working bootable recovery partition (Lion). The install discs or recovery partition will be needed if you need to restore your entire machine from backup, and nothing is more frustrating than having a backup but no way to restore it.
The same backup rule goes for any data you may be using with the Smoke beta. When you are using a shared SAN or network storage of some kind, you should ensure that any content on it is backed up before you try and connect Smoke to these devices. It’s not that likely Smoke would corrupt content on a networked device, but it’s better safe than sorry – especially with production content. The paranoid/careful among you should copy any content you intend to edit locally or, if you need to test Smoke with network volumes, you should set up an isolated network storage environment for testing the Smoke beta.
Preparing your system
At a minimum, I would recommend setting up a new user account on your Mac and installing/running Smoke from there. This will ensure that your main user account is kept isolated from any small glitches Smoke could cause, and potentially save you from having to redo the settings for all of your apps if the beta causes a problem with your user library, which is the most likely place it could cause problems.
For the ultimate in protection you could set up a completely separate testing environment for Smoke. This would involve installing a clean copy of OS X, either by shrinking your existing partition with disk utility to make some space for a second OS X install or using an external hard drive (FireWire 800 would be best) for the second install. You can then boot into this install safe in the knowledge that if Smoke causes serious problems you can easily reboot into your original OS and carry on.
For more in-depth advice on how to implement any of these measures, or advice on any aspect of Smoke, give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email Smoke@Jigsaw24.com.