A word about OS X Lion upgrades: backup!

A word about OS X Lion upgrades: backup!

Summary: 98 times out of a hundred the OS X Lion upgrade will go swimmingly. But if it doesn't good backups are the only thing standing between you and a world of hurt - as when Lion locked me out of my own account!


98 times out of a hundred the OS X Lion upgrade will go swimmingly. But if it doesn't good backups are the only thing standing between you and a world of hurt - as I found out the hard way.

It's taken over 12 hours to achieve an OS X Lion upgrade due to various problems that most folks - with a single disk system - would never see. But I have a Pogoplug with a USB drive, an Iomega 4 drive NAS, a FireWire system disk clone, a FireWire Time Machine disk, a sweet DHK RAID 1 eSATA/USB dual drive array, a USB3.0 FireWire & eSATA drive dock and a 4 drive Promise Thunderbolt array.

In the dark my office looks like a small village of green, blue and yellow blinky lights. And to Lion it looks like a mess.

Woe is me I downloaded OS X Lion from the App store like everyone else - but then I did something different. I copied the downloaded file - Install Mac OS X Lion - to several different disks just in case I needed to reinstall it. And I also burned a bootable dvd.

Lots of copies protects your data.

I started the install and then went out to dinner. When I got back Lion was installed and sitting at the login screen. Just 2 problems: my account wasn't on the screen; and the password for the account that was didn't work.

I was locked out out my own machine.

After booting from my Snow Leopard system disk clone, I installed Lion again, using one of the extra copies of the installer I'd made, on a different partition, and ended up about the same place.

I then wiped the partition, did a clean Lion install and did a careful account setup. Rebooting into Lion and checking for software updates I then brought up Migration Assistant to move my accounts, documents and apps from the system clone to my new partition.

After that completed I rebooted and voila I still didn't have my old account to log into. Then logged into the temp account I'd set up and discovered that the old Accounts preference pane had morphed into Users & Groups. My old account was now in groups and I could not log into it or give it admin privileges.

The System Preferences help page was not helpful. Playing with the options - not recommended unless you have good backups! - I found that by right-clicking on my old account I got a couple of choices including "Add User or Group".

I chose to add a new user to my new account and used the name of my old account and the old user folder name. Lion then asked me if I wanted to use the old folder for this "new" account. I said yes and after a couple of minutes beach ball time, the new account was set up.

I rebooted, logged into my new old account and - finally - had access to all my data. Whew!


  • Backup! I ran a Time Machine and and a system disk clone before I began the upgrade. The Time Machine backup had a problem that I later fixed, so it was a great comfort to have the clone as well.
  • Multiple "Install Mac OS X Lion" copies. The DVD copy does the job, but installs are way faster from disk. And since each install destroys the install program, multiple copies means you can quickly reinstall without waiting for a download. I used 3 of the 4 copies I made.
  • Don't go out to dinner. The install can jump the rails if you aren't babysitting it.
  • Expect the unexpected. This is a major release and thousands of things have been tweaked. I knew how to solve the accounts problem under 10.6, but 10.7 does it differently in an undocumented way. Having multiple copies of my data - and a backup MacBook Air - let me consider each problem without the threat of total data loss scrambling my brains.


The Storage Bits take I had serious problems with a Snow Leopard upgrade too. This time the problems were more easily solved, but I'm beginning to believe that larger systems like mine have more problems.

Now that I've upgraded I like the new OS, but there are niggling details with some apps that I'll be looking to get resolved. But I didn't have to reinstall Final Cut Pro this time!

Courteous comments welcome, of course. Remember folks, The Universe hates your data. So backup, early and often!

Topics: Data Management, Apple, Operating Systems, Software

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Errrr.....

    And some people laughed at Windows upgrade woes? :-)
    Gis Bun
    • RE: A word about OS X Lion upgrades: backup!

      @Gis Bun

      I thought Macs were supposed to "just work"?

      Guess not.

      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • They do, but not when they face an unique army of complicated hardware

        @Cylon Centurion
      • aaaaaand...

        @Cylon Centurion

        Someone posts a tired "I thought they just work!" comment almost immediately. Why am I not surprised?
  • RE: A word about OS X Lion upgrades: backup!

    Sucks when things go wrong! I accidentally kicked the power on my mini server mid upgrade and had a nice panic screen on boot. Luckily everything was backed up via time machine and I was able to restore and get back up and running in no time.

    Backups should be a no brainer. They are so simple to create/maintain under OSX (vs Windows. They are comparable to backing up say, a Linux machine), all you need is some sort of external drive (of which there are many, and they aren't that expensive depending on your needs).

    Time Machine, Super Duper and Carbon Copy cloner are all great backup apps. Combining Time Machine and SD/CCC is even better since you can have both a Point-In-Time backup and a bootable clone (which is also great for testing upgrades).
    • RE: A word about OS X Lion upgrades: backup!

      What, specifically, do you find difficult about doing backups in Windows?
      • RE: A word about OS X Lion upgrades: backup!

        @noagenda - I believe the poster was referring to creating a bootable clone backup on an external storage device of a Windows machine, which isn't too easy, unlike on the Mac side where it's pretty much standard operating procedure.
      • The very fact that you have to 'do' backups, while on Mac OS X it is easier

        @noagenda: ... to set up, maintain and recover (TimeMachine).
  • I had no problem downloading Lion

    I think the problems some people had were the result of "download karma". I too copied Lion to a server and then tried the update on a clone hard drive I had made. For some reason, despite the installer not complaining, I was still at 10.6.8. After that I put Lion on a USB stick and made a clean install. I find this to be more reassuring and I can migrate to the clean install if I wish. I'm still not used to the reverse scrolling but if I can't there's an app for that.
    Mac Hosehead
  • RE: A word about OS X Lion upgrades: backup!

    So Robin, for those of us with "big" systems on Leopard or Snow Leopard, what's your advise beyond backing up at least 3 ways ? Might we expect cleaner results by disconnecting all attached volumes except the boot volume, before we run the Lion installer ? I've made it a habit to do that, not only for upgrades but also for troubleshooting tasks. It makes it easier to isolate a system problem from, say, a bug caused by an attached volume with a directory fault. It would be useful for a tech column to publish tips for cleaning house before you back up & upgrade.
  • RE: A word about OS X Lion upgrades: backup!

    I would think that it would be 'standard knowledge' to create a backup of one's hard drive before an update, nevermind a major upgrade in OS. I run OnyX (repair permissions, clean caches), verify the boot HD, then make a SuperDuper clone before ANY OS X updates on my 17" MBP.
  • Lion Installer does not have to be erased--here is how

    Normally, the Lion installer is erased upon completion of install. However, that is only true if one leaves it in the "applications" folder (where it is put when you download it from the Apple Store). If you put it elsewhere on your drive it can be run and will not be erased after completion of the install. I believe you will find this is true. Also, if you a "clean" install I believe it will not be erased.
  • RE: A word about OS X Lion upgrades: backup!

    Pretty cool post.. It was quite interesting and nicely put.. thanks for sharing this with us! it???s my first visit.. <a href="http://windows8installation.com/">Windows 8 Installation</a>