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How-To: Upgrade to Leopard

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Leopard BoxThere are some things you can do prior to installing that I sometimes recommend. Many of these things are not guaranteed to work (and some people actually say will do more harm than good). I, for one, don’t see an issue with the basics that some recommend: Start by repairing permissions: either run Disk Utility from your hard disk while in OS X, or do so from the Tiger DVD. Make sure you are currently at Tiger 10.4.10 (as of this writing, 10.4.10 is the latest public version, with .11 on the way).


Like with any other OS upgrade, you’ll want to back up all of your data (duh). The trick I used for my system upgrades/moves previously, and with the Leopard beta, was to run an exact copy to a Firewire disk using SuperDuper. SuperDuper is nice because you can at least make an exact copy of your disk that works well in the demo mode. To get advanced features, you have to buy a license. SuperDuper will also take careful looks at system files, Spotlight info, etc., and is good about copying the correct data while leaving system-specific files behind.

I’m typing this on my new MacBook Pro, where I’ve used the Migration tool to safely move from my “backup” Firewire drive. Leopard continues the Migration Assistant, and even improves on it, so unless we hear reports that it no longer works, you can most likely safely migrate from a Firewire backup made with SuperDuper. This works well even when moving between PPC and Intel Macs. I mainly recommend this strategy, even though Leopard asks you to back up prior installing. The reason being, Leopard’s backup uses Time Machine, which right now, I’m not sure would work with pre-Leopard copies of OS X. If for some reason, you need to bail out, and are stuck on Tiger, this is the safest bet.

At this point, with your backup safely in your hand, and everything updated, you can go ahead and stick in the Leopard DVD, and follow the instructions to reboot and start the process. Here’s where you can vary:

1. Some folks say it’s okay to simply do an “upgrade” install over a previous version. Usually, Apple does a fairly good job at keeping their installs clean and stable (unlike a certain other OS maker – ahem). With Leopard, however, we’re seeing some major changes to core files, and the introduction of dozens of new frameworks, so this may be a case in which it’s wise to not do a straight upgrade.

2. The next option – if you didn’t use SuperDuper to make a good backup earlier – is to do the old-fashioned “Archive and Install”. I’ve used this in the past, and it’s actually very useful in recent versions of OS X, where you can use the Migration Assistant on your rebooted fresh install to copy the files you want back over from your old archived copy of OS X. Fair warning, though: you’re going to need enough free space (read: a huge hard drive) to handle a copy of all of the data currently on your drive.

3. If you already have a backup (courtesy of SuperDuper), you can do a clean install of OS X. This is also known as “Erase and Install”, and does as it says – it wipes your drive clean before loading a standard new install of the OS. It, like the archive and install option, will provide the Migration Assistant, so you can get all of your data back from the Firewire disk.

Sure, you can use a second hard drive in your Mac Pro, but everybody knows you’ve already filled that up with your illegal downloads of the last few seasons of “Lost” and “Star Trek: Voyager”, right? It’s okay, I won’t tell anyone.

The Easy Part: The actual install

After you select the type of install you want, you’ll be asked a few other easy-to-answer questions, and you’ll be guided through the rest of the process before it just copies the files. After that, you’ll restart the computer, and you may or may not need to run through the Migration Assistant before you can be on your merry way, enjoying your new copy of Leopard with all of your old stuff still intact.

Make an updated backup

Once you’re confident with your Leopard install, you can erase that Firewire drive, and activate Time Machine. Unfortunately, as I was writing this, MacRumors discovered that Apple may have pulled the feature allowing Time Machine backups to Airport hard disks. I guess we’re back to plugging in the drive the old-fashioned way.

45 Responses to “How-To: Upgrade to Leopard”

  1. peter, you shouldn’t have any issues. If you have APE running or think you have it running (through LogiTech mouse drivers, for example) Google around for ways to get rid of it.

    If you can, make a backup. In fact, you may as well consider an external drive for Time Machine anyway, and the larger the drive, the more space you can partition off for storage. This will also help alleviate your current storage issues. Leopard itself takes around 7GB, and you’ll need more space if you choose to Archive and Install.

  2. I currently am running 10.3.9 on a non-intel iMac g5. Are there going to be major issues when i do the upgrade install? Also, i don’t have that much space left on the hard drive, will that be an issue as well?


  3. I did an Upgrade already. The only problem i have is with “Software Update”. It says that there are new items available, but these items do not show up in the list. But, i can live with it coz i can manually download it from THe upgrade took me like a little over 35 minutes.

  4. In regards to tech tip #1, you state Apple have typically done a good job ensuring the upgrade method works well. But with Leopard, you no longer recommend this method because there have been too many significant changes. Have there not been significant changes with prior OS releases? What evidence do you have that Apple hasn’t ensured a reliable and robust upgrade method this time around? Pardon my skepticism of your recommendation, but it seems most problems with the upgrade method thus far have been related to dodgy third-party products. Assuming a system is problem-free and doesn’t have a bunch of hacks installed, the upgrade method is often the most straightforward and simplest way to upgrade the OS.

  5. I downloaded superduper…which is now creating a file called backup.sparseimage on one of my external drives. I have never ‘restored a backup’ in the past, I have always just erased, and reinstalled all my software. However, it’s mid-semester and there’s no way I have the time to reinstall all the software I use daily, CS3, FCP, Word, etc… When i restore this backup upon installation of Leopard will I be able to retain usage of my applications?

  6. Matt M:

    To keep iLife ’08 use the “Upgrade” option when installing Leopard (when you get to the screen asking you to select the drive to install on, click the “Options” button and make sure “Upgrade” is selected). This will overwrite the OS files but won’t touch your applications or other data. I don’t know that there’s a way to install just iLife from your System Restore discs, but if anyone knows how to do that I’d be interested to hear it.

    Upgrading should be just fine, especially if your MacBook Pro is virgin.

  7. What is the best process to upgrade when i have a new macbook pro with tiger on it and have the Up-to-date Leopard program? Will i loose iLife 08? I havent even turned my new one on yet so what is the process?
    Thank you for you help

  8. Also, I’m going to recommend getting another FireWire drive in addition to your SuperDuper drive, solely for the purposes of Leopard. The above noted blog post points out that you can boot from a SuperDuper drive, but *not* a Time Machine drive. If you’re in a panic, and need to boot from *something*, then it’s handy to have that bootable drive.

  9. A coworker just asked me: “Is it possible to upgrade from Panther (10.3) to Leopard (10.5), skipping Tiger?”

    My answer: “I would think so, but it may be wise to just visit the Apple Store on Michigan Avenue tomorrow in person, and find out for sure from them”. SuperDuper, I believe, still works with Panther, so that upgrade shouldn’t be too difficult to do, either.

  10. What about the stuff in /usr/local/ and all those unix ports installed via fink or macports? How are they handled by the migration assistant?
    Here I read that

    if you’re considering upgrading to Leopard, the typical “Archive and Install” or “Erase and Install” options will not preserve your UNIX files in /usr/local or other paths.

    and how to avoid this using PackageMaker and installer packages. But is this really necessary?

  11. @vanni:

    If you do a bootable backup with SuperDuper and migrate from that the correct way, then you shouldn’t need to reinstall apps. iLife, Office, iWork, Adobe CS3, and the standard Apple apps are all working for me. The only thing it didn’t get was the Developer tools folder, but I was going to reinstall that anyway. If you follow the instructions above, you shouldn’t need to worry about your apps if they’re already on the machine in the right location.

  12. With past upgrades I have done “archive and install” with nary a problem. If you do a clean install, be aware that you need to re-install all your Application software. So make sure you have all your license keys ready.

  13. I’m pretty sure you don’t need Migration Assistant with the “Archive and Install” option. From my understanding (from installing Tiger with this option – twice), it simply overwrites the OS files, not the contents of your Home or Application Support folders. It creates a folder called “Previous Systems,” the contents of which escape me, but your documents, pictures, movies, iTunes Library, and your apps all remain intact and in the same location.

    I don’t know yet if I’ll go this route or wait to install until I get a new HDD and create a fully bootable backup of Tiger.

    Ted (#6): You can probably install from your current iLife ’08 disc. I’m not sure, but I would guess that at least Apple’s applications are Leopard-ready and should install and run fine. If there are any potential usage issues, we’ll probably see updates soon.

  14. How is this going to work if you have a separate copy of iLife ’08? Are you going to have to get a new ‘Leopard ready’ copy of iLife ’08 or will you be able to install from your existing disc?

    (this is mainly in regard to doing a clean install)

  15. Jason didn’t emphasize this, but the Migration Assistant is pretty damned miraculous. Given that, the ‘do a bootable-backup, then use MA on a clean install’ is a really fool-proof way to go.

  16. @#1: I think it must be a bootable HD. USB 2.0 drives can only boot under an Intel Mac, previous PPC Macs just can boot from Firewire. This said, it’s a good question.

  17. question…

    how many of you actually UPGRADE vs. performing a CLEAN INSTALL?

    I’ve been a Mac user since August-2007, but when I was a Windows user I would NEVER do an upgrade.

    So what will all of you do?