upgrading to Lion – the golden rules!

Nearly three months since the initial public release of OS X Lion 10.7 and a couple of updates later (we’re currently at Release 10.7.2) a lot of upgraders are reporting problems to Apple Support Communities. These problems could be avoided or their severity reduced if people upgraded in the right way.

There’s a wrong way? Oh yes…the Apple way is to encourage you to click on the App Store, click on Lion, pay your money, sit back and watch as everything falls into place without barely a finger lifted from the user. That’s great — when it works, but as noted, a lot of people are finding that all sorts of things are going wrong from software incompatibility to hardware incompatibility and sometimes (like in my own case) just plain user incompatibility (yes, some of us — and it could be you too! — are just not that thrilled with the reduced configurability and usability of Lion compared to Snow Leopard, even when it works as intended). There’s also some reported problems even with Apple’s own products: Time Machine, Time Capsule and Spotlight are all being reported as having problems for some users.

But much of this need not give you a headache, put your computer out of action or require a call to Apple Support if you follow the golden rules to doing any major OS upgrade.

Golden Rule No. 1: Check the compatibility of your key software tools.

Why do I need to do this?
Lion does not support a lot of older technologies such as Rosetta and PowerPC apps. If you make heavy use of these programs in your daily use, you’re going to need to upgrade those too or continue to run Snow Leopard on an external disk.

Golden Rule No. 2: Buy an external disk and clone your current system to it.

Why do I need to do this?
Without a doubt, this is the most important thing you should do before upgrading. What cloning means is that if anything goes wrong with the install, if it doesn’t work, or it isn’t to your taste, you can simply boot back into your old system within minutes (no longer than it takes to restart the computer, in fact). Your clone is your insurance, a fail-safe against the unexpected. Don’t even think about hitting that App store upgrade till you have your clone in the bag.

Or what? Simply put, if you don’t make a clone of your system, you’re going to have to live with any problems until you can work out a way to either solve them (and some issues haven’t even been resolved yet) or revert back to your previous OS the hard way, with the potential of data loss.

Although cloning your system will cost you the price of an external USB or Firewire hard disk, it’s an investment you should not overlook. Even if your upgrade goes well, keep the clone for a month or so till you’re sure everything works fine. Once you’re happy, you can use that disk to clone your Lion OS regularly as an incremental backup (like Time Machine only more configurable and less erratic!).

Golden Rule No.3: Make sure you have a bootable DVD or USB recovery disk.

Why do I need to do this?
Unlike every other proprietary OS upgrade ever, Lion is downloaded from the internet and does not come with an install disk. Does it matter? Well, yes. Sometimes Lion doesn’t install properly for a number of different reasons and sometimes your system just goes belly-up. Now you may have heard that Lion comes with its own recovery partition, but that assumes that the recovery partition installs properly, and it relies on having an internet connection. Re-downloading the installer takes a lot longer than simply copying it the first time and making a bootable Lion recovery disk in case of emergency.

Golden Rule No.4: Do a clean install to your internal disk.

Why do I need to do this?
A clean install basically means two things: you wipe the history of the disk you’re going to use for your new OS, and you don’t import any settings from your previous OS. This should ensure that the OS installs exactly as it was designed, without being infected with any hidden or unknown problems from your previous OS install.

Golden Rule No. 5: Use the clone to add manually the stuff you use everyday, and as-and-when you need it for other stuff.

Why do I need to do this?
Using the auto-upgrade, Time Machine or Disk Migration features have been known to introduce problems such as corrupted files and permissions that Snow Leopard ignored for some reason or other but which Lion won’t tolerate, and/or files and settings which are just plain incompatible with Lion. Trying to find out what is causing your system problems is a gruelling process if you just import everything en masse. On the other hand, if you import things manually over time, it’ll be both a lot easier to figure out which change caused the problem but also — using your clone — to roll your system back if needs be.

Let us know your upgrade stories in the Comments below. Was it just one-click to happiness or a whole world of pain?😉

About philastokes

Freelance Writer, Developer and Technical Communicator. Explaining the unexplainable with images, video and text. Scripting anything imaginable in Applescript, Bash, C, Objective C, Cocoa, Python and Xcode.

Posted on October 17, 2011, in OS X Lion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’m really impressed with your posts, and found you double-checking for some uninstaller guides for MacKeeper. This particular post really resonates with me—I’ve had exactly this workflow for years having worked in production environments where you just can’t afford downtime.

    Lion in particular has probably been one of my most expensive upgrades (software-wise) to date, and took a good three to four days of strategy, cloning and rebuilding. Having a clone is essential, particularly to a fast drive with at least a firewire 800 interface. Even though I’d slated time for the upgrade, I had to boot an work on a couple of job revisions in between.

    Taking this thorough approach will give you a rock-solid OS that will never crash. The only crashes I’ve ever experienced have been on systems that I know have been upgraded through major 10.x releases.

    Excellent advice, and an excellent post. Thanks for putting it into words.

  2. I wish I had done a clean install, really. Some application like Preview are so instable. What I don’t understand is why Apple took away the option to add a new system version without having to install everything from scratch like a Windows user. It’s just too annoying having to install everything again.

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