The Stupidity of Apple’s Lion Installer

11/23/2011

This hasn’t been my week. I got this video freeze problem with my new Mac mini, and decided that reinstalling Lion would be the best way to determine whether it’s an OS problem or a hardware problem. I have the option to return the computer for an exchange in the first two weeks, so I figured I’d try this. But little did I know just how much of a pain it was.

Since you don’t get a DVD with new Macs, the only way you can reinstall Lion is via the Mac App Store, or the Recovery Partition. Of course, I thought I was smart, when Lion first came out, by putting it on a USB stick, so I could use this for any reinstallation I may need. Alas, when I tried to launch the installer, I was told that it would not work on my Mac mini; presumably the firmware requires something later than 10.7.0.

So, booting from a clone of my startup volume, I launched the App Store and went to download the “update,” which is shown in my Purchases list. That took about two hours, but, when it was completed, the installer was nowhere to be found. When I went back to the App Store application, Lion was listed as “Installed,” so I couldn’t re-download it. Same thing on my MacBook Air, of course, so I was stuck.

So I booted the Mac mini by pressing the Command and R keys, to launch the Recovery Partition. Apparently, mine was borked, so I had to wait a half hour for the computer to download whatever it needed to get to the next step. Then, I launched the installation, and it is now downloading all of Lion; for another, it seems, more than 3 hours. And, when I’ve finished that, I still won’t have an installer, and will have to get one somewhere else, so if I have problems, I don’t have to go through this whole process again.

Frankly, I hadn’t realized how stupid this process is. I can understand the interest of selling Lion through the Mac App Store, but not even providing a boot disc with a new Mac means that any time you have a problem, you have hours of download time. And, since the installer self-destructs after installation, you’ll have to do the same thing if you need another copy of it. (Though the next time there’s a Lion update, I’ll first download a full installer before downloading the update via Software Update.)

I have a fairly fast Internet connection – I get around 650 KBps downloads. But imagine someone with a slower connection, for whom the download will take 6 hours, 8 hours, or even more. Assuming you need to reinstall Lion on a work computer, you’ve lost a day’s work.

Apple conveniently sells a USB stick with an installer, but even if I had one of those, it wouldn’t boot my Mac mini, unless it has the latest version of Lion. And if there’s a future firmware update, it’s possible the $49 USB stick won’t boot either.

I’m appalled by the short-sightedness of this process. Sure, they save on DVDs, but the hassle it causes to users is astounding. I hadn’t realized just how complicated this process was, and, again, having copied the installer to a USB stick, I thought I was safe. How wrong I was.

Update: a developer friend pointed out that you can re-download the installer from the Mac App Store. You need to go to your Purchased list, hold down the Option key, and click on the name of the item. That will take you to its page, where you will see an Install button. You can then click that to download the installer again. I’m doing so now, and will save this one in case of future problems. Thanks Thomas for pointing this out.