An Extensive Guide On Upgrading To OSX Lion & Making Installation Disks [Mac]

James Bruce 22-07-2011

upgrade os x lionWith OSX Lion in the App Store awaiting you, I’m sure some of you have some concerns about the upgrade process, so today I’m going to walk you through some of those concerns, give a few warnings, and show you how you can copy the download-only installer to a USB and DVD drive.



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.

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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 Apple’s Lion Scheduled For Release Today In The Mac App Store [News] If you‘ve been eagerly awaiting Apple‘s new operating system Lion 10.7, then it‘s available starting today for download from the Apple Mac Store, for $30. We have previously covered options for downloading and installing the... Read More – 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.

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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.

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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.

USB Installation

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.

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Then in the Shared Support directory, double click to mount the InstallESD.dmg


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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.

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Next, right click on the new partition and click the last option to Restore.


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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.

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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.

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  1. Jardin
    June 4, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    None of these fixes worked for me. However, the following works just great. I simply place my left index finger on the tracking pad and use my right hand to move the cursor.

    Whenever I do this, the jumping around stops.

    This problem comes up every few months, and eventually goes away on "its own." Not sure what's happening, but my little trick keeps me going.

  2. Justin9
    July 22, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    so what is the illegal way of upgrading to lion from lepord by just paying $30. please not torrentz but is there a way i can make a bootable dvd from other mac having snow lepord and then install it on my mac with lepord....? will it work out......!!!

    • James Bruce
      July 26, 2011 at 12:03 pm

      Not entirely sure what you're asking here, but you need snow leopard to be able to upgrade to lion. If you have it on another mac, I'm assuming you have the install disks or recovery disk somewhere, just use that. The license for lion allows as many installs as you like, so I dont see how anything illegal is needed at all. 

  3. Anonymous
    July 22, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    james, you said that people's macs now have an updated EFI which has the lion internet recovery feature.  this is very untrue.  apple's support documentation says that new macs, such as the mac mini and macbook air, have lion internet recovery.  older macs only have the lion recovery partition to fall back on.

    if you have an older mac, your hard drive dies and you don't want to install snow leopard and then upgrade to lion, you still need to burn a lion DVD or buy the lion flash drive.

    so optical media IS NOT dead yet.  if all mac users got the lion internet recovery feature when upgrading, then we could do away with optical media for OS installs.

    even with the recovery partition and lion internet recovery (which my mac is too old for), i still much prefer to use clonezilla to create images of the partitions and crashplan to backup those images and other files which are located on a RAID enclosure.  that way i can restore the entire system, including the bootcamp and recovery partition and then download any changed data from crashplan.

    although i am open to suggestions for alternatives to clonezilla for my mac. the clonezilla interface leaves much to be desired and the images aren't explorable. the images are also made up of multiple files. i use acronis trueimage boot media for my windows and linux machines. multiple partitions are stored within one image file (.tib) and it is explorable, which is really nice. note: i write the images to an NTFS drive and need to image the entire disk, including the recovery and bootcamp partitions. thanks!

    • James Bruce
      July 26, 2011 at 11:59 am

      Good catch Dan. Indeed, only new mac minis and airs appear to have internet recovery option now. Shame. I wonder if Apple are planning then to upgrade EFI on older macs so they can do it as well?

      I can't see any direct alternatives for clonezilla though I'm afraid, nothing that will let access files and clone other partitions too. I use superduper myself, but then I dont copy bootcamp partitions. 

      Anyone else know of an alternative?

  4. OmniDragon
    July 22, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    "In a few months..."  Umm...August...that's next month.  A week, to three weeks tops.

    • James Bruce
      July 26, 2011 at 11:53 am

      I heard october, but cool, whatever.