OS X Lion: Recover iLife Suite After Reinstall

The newest Apple MacBook Air and Mac mini have no optical drive, and there is no physical media included in the box. That raises the question of how to recover and install the iLife suite if you have to reformat or replace the internal Flash drive or hard disk. Here’s how to do it.

Previously, all Macs included an optical drive and a DVD that would allow you to boot from it and reinstall the OS X. The latest version of iLife was included on that DVD.


Nowadays Apple is moving away from clunky, rotating plastic discs. In addition, Lion’s hidden recovery partition allows you to boot, examine the main partition, do modest repairs, reformat if necessary, and reinstall OS X Lion. (Hold down the Option key at boot.)

Alternatively, your problem may be so severe on one of these new Macs (an unlikely event) that you need to boot from Apple’s servers and have it check your hardware. (Hold down CMD-R at boot.)

Either way, a Lion reinstall begs the question: with no DVD in the box and no copy of iLife on the recovery partition, how does iLife (iMovie, Garage Band, iPhoto*) get reinstalled?

The details are buried in Apple’s Knowledge Base Article # HT4718. Here’s a recap.

  1. After you’ve reinstalled Lion, restart the Mac
  2. Double-click the App Store in the Dock or select Apple Menu -> App Store.
  3. Authenticate with your Apple ID and password.
  4. Select the “Purchases” tab.
  5. You should see the iLife suite appear in the “Accept” section. You can download it free of charge.

Although Apple doesn’t mention it, we at TMO suspect that you need to register your new Mac under your Apple ID when you first boot up. That way, the Mac App Store knows that it should present you with the option to download iLife in step #5 above.

Finally, if your Internet connection is very, very slow, you may need to take your Mac back to an Apple retail store or find a fast Wi-Fi hot spot to accomplish this free download.


* iLife ‘11 no longer includes iDVD and iWeb. With no optical drive, iDVD is less useful unless you’ve bought one of the external USB MacBook Air SuperDrives. But that’s a separate article.

iLife images: Apple, Inc.