OS X Lion: Getting Ready for the Leap

Apple’s release of OS X Lion is only days away, so it’s time to make sure your Mac is up to snuff and that you minimize the potential headaches and surprises when you make the transition from Snow Leopard. Making the jump to Lion shouldn’t be a big problem for most people, and a little planning ahead will help make sure you aren’t in hot water when Apple unleashes the update on the waiting masses.

Gear Up
Before considering whether or not the move to Lion is for you, makes sure your Mac can handle the new OS. Apple says OS X 10.7 requires at least a Core 2 Duo Mac with a minimum of 2GB RAM, at least 10GB free hard drive space, and Mac OS X 10.6.6 or newer for access to the Mac App Store when it comes time to purchase the update.

Lion on the MacBook AirLion runs on all current Mac models, and most older Intel models, too

Most Macs shipped after 2006 have at least a Core 2 Duo processor. Here’s Apple’s baseline for Lion-compatible Macs:

  • MacBook The first Core 2 Duo MacBooks shipped in November 2006
  • MacBook Pro The first Core 2 Duo MacBook Pros shipped in October 2006
  • iMac The first Core 2 Duo 17-inch iMac shipped in September 2006
  • Mac mini The first Core 2 Duo Mac mini was a late comer with an August 2007 launch
  • Mac Pro Every Mac Pro going back to its August 2006 introduction is Lion compatible

Lion likes memory, so The Mac Observer recommends you have 4GB RAM or more in your Mac for best performance. We also found that Lion can occasionally fail to install on hard drives that are dropping down to or below 10GB of free space.

If you aren’t sure what processor powers your Mac, how much RAM you have installed, or how big your hard drive is, the System Profiler app can help you ferret out those details. To launch System Profiler, go to the Apple menu, select About This Mac, then click More Info.

System ProfilerSystem Profiler shows which processor is tucked away in your Mac

The Hardware section should already be selected when System Profiler launches. Just check the right-side window for your processor type and total RAM. Click Serial-ATA in the Contents column to see details about your hard drive and SuperDrive.

Even though Apple introduced Mac App store support with the Mac OS X 10.6.6 update, updating to Mac OS X 10.6.8 ahead of installing Lion is a good idea. Apple has been updating its own apps for Lion compatibility, and ensuring you’re running the latest OS, along with the latest app versions could help avoid some unwelcome surprises — like apps that no longer launch.

Up to Speed Apps
Just as Apple has been hard at work to ensure its apps include Lion support, third-party developers have been working extra hours, too, so they’ll be ready when OS X 10.7 ships. In some cases, however, developers have no plans to update their apps for Lion compatibility, and apps that rely on Rosetta simply won’t run at all.

Rosetta is Apple’s software layer that lets Intel-based Macs run apps that were coded only to run on older PowerPC-based computers. Since Rosetta is going the way of the dinosaur with the release of Lion, those older apps — and in some cases, newer apps — will stop working once Lion is installed on your Mac.

You can check individual apps to see if they require Rosetta to run by selecting the app’s icon, then choosing File > Get Info (or Command-I) in the Finder. If the Get Info window shows Kind: Application (PowerPC), the application won’t run with Lion installed.

PowerPC apps won't run on LionThe app on the left won’t run on Lion because it requires Rosetta

Check with the developers of the apps you use to see if they plan on releasing Lion compatibility updates, if they have updates out, or if their software is already Lion-compatible.

If going through your Applications directory one app at a time to check for compatibility issues isn’t your thing, check out the RoaringApps Web site. They have been compiling a list of Mac OS X applications and detailing whether or not they are Lion compatible, and the list gets updated regularly.

Be sure to check your Login Items, too, since items can sneak in and get forgotten. You can see what items are launching when you log into your user account by choosing Apple Menu > System Preferences > Accounts, then click the Login Items tab.

Check Lion compatibility at the RoaringApps Web siteCheck Lion app compatibility at the RoaringApps Web site

After ensuring Snow Leopard and all of your apps are up to date, backup all of the data you don’t want to risk losing. Even though the odds are in your favor that all of your data and apps will still be there after upgrading, knowing you have backups makes for great peace of mind in case something does go wrong.

Apple’s own Time Machine makes easy work of backing up files, applications, and even your operatin system, assuming you let the utility copy everything from your hard drive. Other utilities, like SuperDuper!, MacKeeper, Data Backup 3, and Carbon Copy Cloner can handle backing up your hard drive ahead of the move to Lion.

Unleashing Lion
When Apple releases Lion some time before the end of July you won’t need to line up at your favorite Apple store to get a copy. Lion will be released only as an electronic download through the Mac App Store, marking the first time Apple has released an operating system without physical media.

To get your copy of Lion, choose Apple Menu > App Store to launch the Mac App Store application, then do a quick search for Lion. Odds are that Apple will make it really easy to find, so you shouldn’t have to look too far. Lion will set you back US$29.99.

Once the Lion upgrade finishes downloading, it will walk you through the upgrade process. Depending on your Mac, the upgrade could take as little as 30 minutes to complete. Slower Macs, of course, will take longer.

A little planning ahead will make your move to Lion easier and less stressful, and backing up ahead of the upgrade can save you from disaster — as unlikely as that may be. Apple also shared some early details about the upgrade process in June.

Once Lion is officially available, TMO will offer our usual look into what the OS has to offer, and share tips on how to get the most of Apple’s latest cat, so be sure to check back to see what’s in store.