Lion, the latest version of OS X was released on Wednesday, and already, many of you have made the jump. But if you’re still holding off, and wondering how exactly the upgrade process works, worry not — we’ll answer those burning questions right here and now.
For example, is a clean install necessary, or even possible? And now that OS X is offered as a digital download, can you reinstall from physical media in the event your hard drive dies? Read on.
Unlike previous versions of OS X, Lion is, initially, an in-place install. The benefit here is that all your files and applications remain untouched, just as they were, with only core OS components receiving updates. As you’ve probably heard by now, that means you’ll need to have the latest version of Snow Leopard to download and install the update from the Mac App Store.
Bu that doesn't mean a clean install is impossible. You can also take the App Store installer and place it on a DVD or USB for later use. As Lifehacker points out, you’ll need to make sure you copy the installer before you perform the upgrade, since it is deleted when the installation process is complete (though you can easily re-download the OS). From here, it’s a simple matter of extracting the Lion disk image from the installer, and burning it with Disk Utility to a USB stick or DVD.
This also serves another purpose, however. The normal upgrade process installs a hidden recovery partition, with tools for fixing most OS X woes. But it won't do you much good if your entire hard drive is hosed. With a physical Lion DVD or USB stick, you'll always have a working recovery environment, especially when your hard drive doesn't.
And if this process is too much of a pain — it really isn't — you can still purchase Lion from physical Apple Stores some time this fall. It won’t come cheap however; $70 will net you a USB stick with the OS installer onboard.
Finally, if you’re a Time Machine user, or have other backup software, it’s probably wise to create a restore point before proceeding with any install — just in case. Worst case, you can even re-install Snow Leopard, and have everything back just the way you like it. If you’re afraid that applications, plugins or other OS components may not work the way you’d like after the upgrade, this might be a wise choice until Lion’s kinks are smoothed out.
Have any other questions about the Lion install process? Let us know! And if you have any tips or tricks of your own to add, be sure to include them in the comments below.