Stop the Noiz

Lion and the End of Bootable OS X Installers

Frank Fox - 2012.05.23 (updated) - Tip Jar

What happens when you can no longer purchase a full copy of Mac OS X?

Although Apple sold OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard as an upgrade from 10.5 Leopard, it was a full copy. If your hard drive failed, you could boot from the disc and do a full reinstall. At the time, this seemed like a great bargain. Buy and upgrade for just $30 (instead of the $129 of previous versions) - and get the full copy included.

Lion Is Upgrade Only

OS X LionThen OS X 10.7 Lion came out, and it really was an upgrade only. You have to have Snow Leopard 10.6.8 installed before you can upgrade to Lion. No full bootable, installable copies of Lion are sold by Apple. In fact, Snow Leopard is still available from Apple, because you need it to upgrade to Lion.1

As a download, this sort of makes sense. An upgrade is a smaller file size and would be faster and easier to download than a full retail copy. The problem is that even the store-bought USB thumb drive version of Lion requires Snow Leopard to be installed first.2

What is Apple teaching the public through these changes?

Apple is a company that has a long-range strategy. It is possible Apple made this change to save money. Apple has a strong support infrastructure for downloading software. Converting to an online upgrade is a natural change. It would also make sense that something would have to be installed first so you could access that upgrade.

The only question is Why did Apple stop offering a full DVD version? All previous versions of OS X came on CD or DVD, so Apple obviously made a decision to end that option. This makes it seem like Apple is planning to offer only upgrades.

Apple is likely using the online upgrade process as a tool for increased control. Apple has inserted itself in the install process. It no longer sells a disk and leaves us to upgrade or install as we like. This has the potential double-edge benefit of letting Apple provide better support while at the same time monitoring more closely the activity of every upgrade we perform.

Apple will know who has what version of its operating system installed. Even if they anonymize the data, Apple will know precisely how many copies are in use and on what version of hardware. This is a great tool for a company that wants to sell more hardware.

The End of Snow Leopard

What is so special about Snow Leopard? This is the version of OS X that supports Sandy Bridge processors. This was Intel's newest line of products. The upcoming Ivy Bridge will not be supported by Snow Leopard. When Apple releases computers with Ivy Bridge, they will not be able to boot Snow Leopard and have to run Lion.

Technically, this means there is no need for an upgrade, but there is also no way to install your own licensed copy of OS X Lion. This will have an impact on the Hackintosh movement. You will have to create your own full install copy, which doesn't exist as an Apple product.1

The next step could be for Apple to stop selling copies of Mac OS X. Today you cannot purchase a retail copy of iOS, and we don't think about this being strange. Apple has already built into the price of the iDevice the cost of future upgrades. This could be another way that Mac OSÊX and iOS become alike.

Apple is within its rights as the copyright holder to restrict the first sale of its operating system. Without first sale, everything the Hackintosh crowd does becomes harder to defend legally.

Psystar lost when it tried to sell a Mac clone. Why would Apple need to change a protection strategy that has already been proven in court? If the existing strategy worked against a threat like a business challenger, why is Apple expanding its ability to block even personal attempts to clone a Mac?

It's All About Control

The answer for Apple is always about control. By controlling the experience, Apple controls how people relate to its products. This lets Apple set a higher price in an otherwise commodity market. Apple is not likely to give up any control (sorry, Woz, it is not just about quality). Just because you want it or it will save you money doesn't mean anything to Apple. Apple is foremost a business that knows how to make money.

The Hackintosh effort has become very polished, and the tools are continuing to improve. Despite my personal challenges, I would still rate the process as easy-to-moderately hard depending on your previous experience building a computer.

From Apple's point of view, only owners of brand new Apple computers will need Lion on an Ivy Bridge computer. These people will not need to buy an upgrade. Therefore, there is no need to support a Lion upgrade for Ivy Bridge computers.

We will see soon what direction Apple is headed when OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion is released this summer. My guess is that we will have new restrictions, no full retail copies, and a push to use the App Store for purchase. LEM

  1. Although Apple does not offer any method for creating a bootable Lion install drive, several solutions have been published since Lion's release, including these:
  2. Apple makes no mention of the fact that you can do a clean Lion install from the OS X 10.7 thumb drive to a drive with no version of OS X installed ("To upgrade your Mac to OS X Lion, you must be running OS X Snow Leopard. If you have OS X v10.5 Leopard, purchase OS X v10.6 Snow Leopard now and install it on your Mac. Then buy OS X Lion as a digital download from the Mac App Store."), although we have since learned that you can.

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