Apple has officially launched a public beta of macOS 10.15 Catalina, the release which officially puts the company's ageing iTunes software out to pasture while adding new features including a dual-display function for compatible iPad tablets.

Announced during the company's regular World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), macOS 10.15 Catalina is the latest release of Apple's BSD-based proprietary operating system. Under the hood, the software boasts a range of performance and security improvements - but the biggest user-facing change by far is the retirement of iTunes, Apple's long-running media distribution and playback platform later co-opted to drive its software distribution efforts. Launched in 2001, iTunes has long been a stable of Apple's multimedia efforts, but in macOS Catalina it has been replaced: Instead of a single iTunes application for all media functionality, the operating system includes three distinct applications for music, podcasting, and TV. The change, though, isn't total: Older macOS releases will retain iTunes, as will those who have chosen to install the software on Microsoft's rival Windows operating system instead.

For those well entrenched in the Apple ecosystem, macOS Catalina brings Sidecar: The ability to use a compatible iPad as a secondary display, via either a wired or wireless connection and complete with simulated on-screen Touch Bar for applications which require it. The Sidecar functionality also includes support for the Apple Pencil, turning an iPad - in theory, at least - into an alternative to high-priced display-cum-tablet accessories from Wacom and the like.

Other new features of macOS Catalina include the initial efforts of Project Catalyst to allow iOS developers to bring their software to macOS more easily, improved accessibility including full OS control via voice commands, enhanced anti-theft functionality, and a 'Screen Time' feature designed to limit how long family members spend on the device.

As always, the public beta of macOS Catalina is being provided through the Apple Seed beta-testing programme. Those interested in trying it out will need to sign up to the programme, at which point they will be provided with a downloadable installer for the beta. Only relatively recent hardware is compatible, however, including MacBooks from 2015 or newer, Mac Minis and iMacs from 2012 and newer, MacBook Airs and Pros from 2012 or newer, Mac Pros from 2013 and newer, and all iMac Pros.

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