Most of us face the prospect of upgrading our operating systems with a mixture of excitement and dread. True, a new OS brings cool new ways to work. But that doesn’t change the fact that when you install a major version of OS X you’re essentially gutting your Mac and replacing its virtual insides.
Luckily, Apple’s improved the upgrade experience with each new cat, making the process much less daunting. But despite the Installer’s useful guidance, there are things it doesn’t tell you, and places where its help falls short. With that in mind, here’s my guide to making the upgrade process as trouble-free as possible.
What you need
Before you get started, the two most important things you need are a compatible Mac and a complete backup of all your data. Leopard requires a Mac with an Intel or PowerPC G4 or G5 processor (for G4 systems, processor speed must be at least 867MHz); a DVD drive; built-in FireWire; at least 512MB RAM; and at least 7GB of free hard-disk space. (I recommend at least 1GB RAM and 10 to 15GB of free disk space.)
To protect yourself from mishaps, I recommend you clone your hard drive instead of just backing up data piecemeal. You can create a clone—a complete, identical copy of your Mac’s hard drive—using a utility such as Shirt Pocket’s $28 SuperDuper, Bombich Software’s Carbon Copy Cloner, or even OS X’s own Disk Utility. If anything should go wrong with the upgrade, you can start up from the clone, restore it back to your main hard drive, and be back where you started with nothing lost but time. (For instructions, see Easy Mac Backups.)
Before you begin
Before starting the installation process, here are a few steps you should take:
The installation process
The actual installation procedure is straightforward. Just follow along as the Installer walks you through the steps. However, don’t miss a couple opportunities to customize the process.
Select a Destination After selecting onto which drive you want to install Leopard, click on Options. This is where you choose your installation method—Upgrade, Archive and Install, or Erase and Install.
Pick What Not to Install Click on Customize. Here you can opt to not install several items in order to save hard drive space. Select any item in the Package Name list to view information about that item at the bottom of the window. When you’re finished, click on Done. Here are some likely things you might skip:
Click on Install on the Install Summary screen and the installation will begin. The process can take a while, especially the step when the Installer checks the Installation DVD. (If you’ve previously installed Leopard using this same disc, so you know it’s error-free, you can click on Skip to bypass this step.) When the installation process is finished and your Mac restarts in Leopard, you’ll see either the full-length, full-screen Setup Assistant (if you did an Erase And Install) or a shorter registration version.
After you’re done
If you performed an Archive And Install with the option to preserve user accounts and network settings, you should be up and running mostly where you left off the last time you used your Mac pre-Leopard. If you chose not to preserve users and network settings, or if you used the Erase and Install option, the Setup Assistant will give you the opportunity to transfer over files from another Mac, another drive on the current Mac, or a backup volume. You can choose to transfer user accounts, network and other settings, applications, and other non-system data. Although this process is slow, it works well.
In either case, you’ll want to check your favorite programs to see if they’re working properly. You may need to re-enter registration or serial numbers for some. Other programs may require re-installation (especially those that install files in the /Library or /System/Library folders). Also keep an eye out for misbehaving programs that don’t work well with Leopard; you may not be able to use these until the developer releases a compatible version.
No Files Left Behind
If you used the Archive and Install method, I recommend that you navigate to the
/Previous Systems/Previous System 1
folder and browse through the subfolders inside to make sure all your files were moved properly. (If you’ve performed multiple Archive and Install installations, you may have
Previous System 1
Previous System 2
, and so on; you want to browse the newest one.) For example, if you used the Archive and Install option to preserve user accounts, the files inside the Shared user folder (
/Previous Systems/Previous System 1/Users/Shared
) don’t get moved. You’ll likely want to copy them to the new
folder. (If you use the Setup Assistant to transfer files, the Shared folder’s contents do get transferred.)
Also check inside the Library folder in
Previous System 1, paying special attention to the contents of Contextual Menu Items and QuickTime. If there are files in the Library folder that are required by programs you use, or third-party system add-ons that you want to continue using, you may want to transfer them manually to the same location in the current
folder. However, first make sure that the software is compatible with Leopard. (It may be easier to simply re-install this software in order to ensure you have all the necessary support files.)
Back to work
With any luck, this entire process should take only a few hours, which isn’t bad for something you need to do only once every couple years. And with these tips and suggestions, you should be back up and running, enjoying Leopard’s new features, with minimal growing pains.
Decoding Your installation options
It’s easy to miss the Mac OS X installer screen’s Options item. Clicking on this small button reveals several significant choices for how OS X gets installed on your Mac. Here’s what each method does.
Upgrade Mac OS X This option keeps your older version of Mac OS X, but installs new versions of any files that have changed between the older version and Leopard. Although in theory this should be safe for everyone, third-party system add-ons, as well as damaged system files that aren’t replaced, can cause problems. I recommend it only for brand-new Macs being upgraded from Tiger to Leopard out-of-the-box. For most users, I recommend Archive and Install (or Erase and Install, restoring your data from a full backup using Setup Assistant).
Archive and Install This method installs a complete, new version of Leopard, using none of your older OS installation files. However, it keeps all of your older system files on your hard drive—in a folder called Previous System 1 (or 2 or 3, depending on how many Archive and Install installations you’ve done)—just in case you need any of those files. This method avoids many problems because the contents of your old System folder, including some third-party system add-ons, are archived in the Previous System folder. I recommend choosing the option to Preserve Users And Network Settings, because this retains your existing user accounts and all user data in Leopard. (Note that the Archive and Install option requires much more hard-drive space than an Upgrade install. It may also require a bit of manual file transferring, as described on the previous page.)
Erase and Install This method actually erases your entire hard drive—or, if your drive is partitioned, the partition you’ve chosen as the install location—and installs Leopard. (It should go without saying that you must have a backup of your data to use this option, since erasing the drive deletes all your data.) This is useful if your current OS X installation has been having problems, as it guarantees that any disc or file corruption is eliminated. (Choose the option to Format Disk As Mac OS Extended [Journaled].) However, unless you really want to start from scratch, after the installation you’ll need to either recreate your user accounts in Leopard and restore your data from a backup, or use OS X’s Setup Assistant to transfer those accounts and data over from another computer or from a full backup. (This latter procedure nearly replicates an Archive and Install with the Preserve Users and Network Settings option—but with the added bonus of a new, clean hard drive.)
Install Mac OS X You’ll see this option— instead of Upgrade Mac OS X—only if you choose a volume that doesn’t already have an upgradeable version of Mac OS X installed. In that case, Install Mac OS X and Erase and Install will be your only choices. (If you received your copy of Leopard through the Mac OS X Up-To-Date program—for people who purchased a Mac that shipped with Tiger after Leopard was released—your disc will install only onto a drive that already has Tiger installed. You’ll get the same installation options except for this one—you won’t be able to install Leopard on a non-Tiger drive.)
[ Senior Editor Dan Frakes has installed Leopard more times than he cares to admit. ]
This article was updated at 5:30 p.m. on October 27 to clarify information about the Erase and Install method and to include more inforation on system requirements.