Let’s get this out the way first. Any PowerPC apps will no longer function in Lion – at all. Support for 10 year+ legacy apps has been removed. A prime example of this is the Quicken accounting software. If you upgrade without exporting your data first, you will no longer be able to get it back (or rather, you’ll need to boot from the backup which I’ll talk about next).
To find out which software you have that will no longer run, open up About This Mac, More Info, and click on Applications in the sidebar. Look for any entries in the sidebar that are shown as Kind: Power PC. These won’t work. It’s likely we all have some, but if you don’t have any of the apps listed there then you probably shouldn’t worry too much.
Note: Adobe applications in particular currently have quite a few documented incompatibilities and errors. Hopefully Adobe will get around to fixing them soon (or rather, why on earth haven’t they done it yet?), but you may want to lay off Lion for a few weeks if you’re a heavy graphical designer.
OK, it’s now to safe to download Lion from the App Store – and no, before you ask – there is no other current legal way to obtain Lion without using the App Store. In a few months they will be selling pre-loaded USB drives, but at semi-extortionate prices.
Diving into a new OSX without a full bootable backup is kind of suicidal. Luckily, SuperDuper is free for basic backups and can do this for you in a jiffy. Connect an external disk that’s at least the size of your internal drive, and format it using disk utility. Click on the drive, select Volume Scheme -> 1 partition, name it and make sure Mac OS Extended (journaled) is set, then click Options and select GUID as the partition map.
Next, open up Super Duper and tell it to copy from your Mac HD to your backup drive. For a few hundred gigabytes, a full backup is going to take quite some time, so now would be an opportune moment to go and give blood. Twice. For 800GB of data, my full backup took about 7 hours.
Creating Some Other Installers
No doubt you’ll be wanting to install Lion on any other Mac machines you have too (Intel Core2Duo and up, that is), which is fine because the license allows you to install on as many personal machines as you wish. However, if you want to avoid the lengthy 3.5GB download again, you can create a USB installation disk yourself, or an installation DVD.
You’ll need an 8GB+ USB drive to do this. Having downloaded the Lion installer, find the app within your Applications folder (Install Mac OSX Lion). Right click and select Show Package Contents.
Then in the Shared Support directory, double click to mount the InstallESD.dmg
In the meantime, grab your USB stick and let’s format it. Remember, this will erase everything on it. Open up disk utility, find the drive in the list and head to the Partition tab. Select 1 partition, formatted as Mac OS Extended (Journaled), and before you click apply hit the Options button and make sure the boot table is set to the GUID again. It should be done in about 30 seconds.
Next, right click on the new partition and click the last option to Restore.
In the dialog that appears, drag and drop the Mac OS X Install ESD image from your sidebar list to the source field, and do the same with your new USB partition for the destination. Click Restore to authenticate and begin. When done, you’ll have a bootable restore.
This one’s easier, but you’ll need to follow the steps above right up until the “format a USB drive” bit. At that point, insert a blank DVD, right click on the InstallESD.dmg and select Burn. For a safer burn, lower the speed to 4x.
Not Needed for Recovery
It’s important to note you don’t actually need physical media like a USB stick or DVD if you just want to recover the computer or to reinstall in the event of a hard drive failure. Once installed, Lion will create a special recovery partition that you can boot from in the same style as booting from a DVD to get access to disk utilities and recovery tools. In fact, even Safari is available so you can search for solutions online – gone are the days of having to use your iPhone to figure out what’s wrong!
But what if your entire drive is new or replaced, and that recovery partition no longer exists? Well, here’s some magic for you – your Mac now contains a kind of root level / BIOS (actually EFI) recovery tool that’s able to restore your computer from a Time Machine backup, or reinstall OSX Lion from the Internet. If your recovery partition isn’t detected, it will automatically boot into internet restore mode, where you can choose the Wifi or Internet connection, authenticate with your Apple ID and perform an entire re-install over the Internet. If it hasn’t quite hit you yet how fundamentally amazing this feature is, you should probably read this paragraph again. Physical media is officially dead.
Anyway, it’s about time you installed Lion now I think. In the coming weeks you’ll see loads more on the new OS from myself and other MUO writers, but let us know if you’ve had any problems in the comments or head on over to ask specific questions in our vibrant tech support community.