How to upgrade to OS X Lion

Mac OS X 10.7 is coming in July; here's what we know so far about the upgrade path

On Monday, Apple said it would ship Mac OS X 0.7, aka "Lion," next month, and sell it exclusively through its own Mac App Store for US$29.99.

Good news, right?

That depends. Although Apple revealed some information about upgrading to Lion -- an operating system that one analyst said was more impressive than what the company's spelled out for iOS 5, the fall mobile OS update -- there are plenty of questions remaining.

To quote former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, there are "things we know that we know, and there are known unknowns [and] there are things we do not know we don't know."


As mud. But we'll ask and answer the questions about upgrading to Lion with what we know now, and leave the things we do not know we don't know until later.

When can I get Lion? In July, says Apple.

The company's not narrowed the release date more than the month, however.

The last time Apple shipped an operating system -- that was Snow Leopard in 2009 -- it released the OS on the last Friday of August. If Friday is a magic day of some sort, there are five next month -- July 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29 -- leaving multiple opportunities.

Apple likely will spell out the release date shortly before it pulls the trigger and puts Lion in the Mac App Store. But don't expect a lot of warning.

In 2009, it announced Snow Leopard's on-sale date and began taking pre-orders just four days before the upgrade hit retail and the Apple online store. Obviously, with Lion available only as a download, there won't be any pre-orders.

How much will it cost? US$29.99, or 99 cents more than Snow Leopard.

That makes Apple's operating system a quarter the price of Windows 7's most popular upgrade, the $120 Windows 7 Home Premium.

Some analysts had predicted that Apple would repeat its 2009 move, when it reduced the price of Snow Leopard to $29. At the time, Apple credited the drop from the usual $129 price of an operating system to the fact that Snow Leopard was a minor refresh, more a series of tweaks than a new edition.

Because Apple said nothing of the sort yesterday during its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote when it announced Lion's price, you can assume that the $29.99 price is a new model, perhaps prompted by the online delivery process, which eliminates the DVD, packaging and retail markup.

Instead, Philip Schiller, Apple's head of marketing, said during the WWDC keynote Monday, "We love it so much that we want to make it available to more people."

How is Apple distributing Lion? Only through the Mac App Store, the online app mart that it launched in January for Snow Leopard users. While Apple may sell Lion in some fashion outside of the Mac App Store, don't count on it.

"In the past, what every version of Mac OS X shared was that it came on an optical disc," said Schiller. "No more. Now, Lion will only be available in the Mac App Store."

So I download it? How long will that take? Yes, you download Lion. Schiller said that the upgrade weighs in at about 4GB.

You have to do the math yourself using the speed of your Internet connection. Here, with a DSL connection that averages about 1.3Mbps (megabits per second), Lion would take over seven hours to download under optimal -- and unlikely impossible -- conditions.

(Forget the math: Use this quick file transfer time calculator to figure out how long it will take you to grab Lion next month.)

If you're still using a dial-up connection -- our hearts go out to you -- you might was well forget it. The calculator says it will take you 170.5 hours, or more than seven days to download Lion.

How do I know I can upgrade and run Lion? Apple's provided only a terse systems requirement list on its site, but the short version is:

  • Dual- or quad-core Intel processor, including Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 or Xeon.
  • The latest version of Snow Leopard, which currently is 10.6.7. (By the time Lion appears, the latest version of Snow Leopard will probably be 10.6.8).

You can find your Mac's processor by choosing "About this Mac" from the Apple menu in the far left of the menu bar. The same pop-up also shows the version of Mac OS X you're running.

If you bought your Mac in the fall of 2006 or later, you probably have one of the above processors; that was when Apple switched from the Intel Core Duo to the Core 2 Duo. The September 2006 iMac, for example, was the first of that line to sport a Core 2 Duo; the same processor appeared in the MacBook Pro line in October 2006.

Apple started using the Core i3/i5/i7 processors in late 2009, when an iMac refresh first sported the i5 and i7 in high-end models.

How many machines do I get to put Lion on for my $30? All your personally-authorized Macs, as per the usual Mac App Store guidelines, says Apple.

If you have five Macs assigned to your iTunes account -- and thus to the Mac App Store -- you will be able to download and install Lion on all five machines.

In other words, say "good-bye" to the Family Pack, the pricier multi-license bundle Apple used to sell. With Snow Leopard, you paid $49 for the Pack, or just under $10 each to outfit five Macs. Leopard's Family Pack ran $199, or $39.80 per system. Lion drops that per-Mac price to $6.

To upgrade three Windows PCs to Windows 7 via Microsoft's $150 Family Pack would end up costing $50 per machine.

Bargain time!

I have scores of Macs in my business... how to I upgrade to Lion? We don't know. And Apple's not saying.

Although we asked Apple to clarify several aspects of the Lion upgrade process -- including whether it will make available an alternative upgrade path to businesses, organizations and schools that could have hundreds of Macs, the company didn't immediately respond.

Some users anticipated major problems if all that was available was the Mac App Store.

"ABSOLUTE BLEEDIN' NIGHTMARE!" said someone identified as Peter Vandoorn today on an Apple support forum. "Come on Apple -- you HAVE to release the Lion installer on DVD!"

Others couldn't believe the company would leave them in the lurch without means of making physical media that could conceivably be used to install Lion.

"Just because Apple has not announced a particular set of licensing terms for its release date, does not mean it won't have any," countered "a brody" on the same thread.

I have to have Snow Leopard on my Mac(s) before I can upgrade to Lion? Yes, that's what Apple says. "Get up to date with the latest version of OS X Snow Leopard to purchase OS X Lion from the Mac App Store," Apple advises on its site.

That requirement stems from Lion's Mac App Store distribution; Snow Leopard is the only Mac OS X edition that supports the e-mart. (Apple updated Snow Leopard Jan. 6 2011 to add the Mac App Store.)

I'm still running Leopard.... What do I do to get Lion? We don't know, yet. This was another question we asked Apple. Again, no reply.

If your Mac supports Lion -- meaning it has a Core 2 Duo or later processor -- you could conceivably do a two-step upgrade, to Snow Leopard now (for $29), then to Lion (for $30) next month.

Or Apple could duplicate what it did with Snow Leopard, when it offered a higher-priced "Mac Box Set" for $129. That collection let users of Mac OS X 10.5, aka Tiger, update to Snow Leopard without the intermediate step to Leopard, and provided the newest versions of the iLife suite as well.

But no one knows whether that will be available.

"As of now Apple has not established a clear path to upgrade from Leopard to Lion," pointed out "vea1083" on a different support thread yesterday. "I would suggest to wait for an announcement as the launch date gets closer."

What happened to the "Mac" in "Mac OS X" with Lion? Poof. Looks like Apple's decided to call Lion "OS X Lion" rather than use the years-long label of "Mac OS X" for its desktop operating system.

All the messaging on Apple's site uses the slimmed-down tag, but in the press release the company issued after the WWDC keynote, it used the full label.


Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Read more about mac os in Computerworld's Mac OS Topic Center.

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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