Reverting a system backwards from Mavericks is no picnic

Reverting a system backwards from Mavericks is no picnic

Summary: After installing OS X Mavericks to their systems, some users want to go back to whatever system version they had before, usually Mountain Lion or Lion. However, a retrograde is not an easy process.


Following an installation of OS X Mavericks to their system, a number of readers have contacted me about retrograding, returning to an older version of the OS. They seem to believe that this is a process similar to the upgrade: simply clicking a few buttons in Time Machine and it will be done. Nothing can be further from the truth.

I have never tested this retrograde process and can't personally recommend it. However, there is a How to revert OS X back from Mavericks page on Apple Support Communities, which is authored by ds store (his very pseudonym is a clever joke — DS_Store is OS X's Desktop Services Store, a hidden file that stores information about folders). Store advises that this process can also be used for a fresh install of Mavericks in case of some serious hardware problem. It really is a last, last, last solution.

Some new OS X Mavericks owners want to return to OS X Mountain Lion or Lion.

As you can read in Store's article, this process is complex and starts with a manual backup of all user files to an external drive. Now, I suggest that this external drive connection be made with USB 2 rather than with a Thunderbolt drive, since there are recent reports of erratic performance with some Thunderbolt drives under Mavericks.

Store offers warnings almost at each stage:

2: Manually drag and drop copy each user folder of Music, Pictures, Movies, Music, Documents etc., into new User named folder on the external drive. Make sure to export bookmarks, grab email addresses and and product license keys etc., data that's not in your users files.

Do not copy the User Library or the entire User folder as in 10.7+ it contains a hidden Library that changes with OS X upgrades and can't be used in the earlier OS X version. Only files will be restored to the previous operating system. OS X, programs and user accounts will be restored brand new. Too complicated to explain, but that's the only way to revert to a earlier OS X version.

3: If you have BootCamp, you need to boot into Windows and back that data up also. Use Winclone 3 in OS X to also clone the BootCamp partition for later restoring.

4: Make sure to have at least TWO copies of your users data on two separate pieces of hardware at all times. Mistakes occur and your going to pray you have another backup of your precious files. Label all drives so your sure what is what during this confusing time. Unmount and disconnect all non-essential hardware, including the backup drives.

The process continues. And Store adds some "odds and ends" warnings:

IF YOU HAVE A THIRD PARTY SSD: You will need to re-enable TRIM by using third party software on

If you've installed NTFS format readng software, reinstall it obviously and any other essential software from original sources so it's pristine.

Remember 10.8 users and above have to right or option/alt key click on a lot of software downloaded from the Internet to get past OS X "Gatekeeper".

As I've mentioned in the past — most-recently in a post about Apple's recall of some flash drives in several MacBook Pro models — professional users must consider backup but just as important is system cloning.

However, I suggest that business and academic users should also be concerned with what is called "Recovery Time Objective," meaning the time that will be needed to get going with one's entire workflow and data following a disaster. Cloud backup, or standard backups can take a long while for recover. Instead, booting from a cloned system on an USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt external drive can a workflow restarted quickly.

As I've mentioned before, I backup regularly with Time Machine but also clone my system several times a day to a RAID Level 5 Thunderbolt array. In case of some failure while I'm on the road, I clone my SSD to an internal drive in my MacBook Pro.

For the purposes of a system upgrade, a simple backup or Time Machine backup, isn't going to get you back quickly and easily to where you were, and where you want to be. Or perhaps at all. It's as if your machine quit working.

For this task, I use Shirt Pocket's SuperDuper! for cloning my system. It works incrementally after the initial run and can be easily scheduled. It costs $27.95. There are of course, other cloning programs.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Operating Systems

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  • Translation for Windows/Linux Users:

    Backup, reinstall with older version disk, reinstall your stuff.
    Agustin Ceballos
    • Exactly, there's something to be said still being sold a physical disc!

      I thought Apple hardware just supposed "to work".

      What a clever marketing trick!
      • Oh, please

        Downgrading Windows is just as much of a hassle. You just skipped all the backup your data steps.
        • He had the steps right

          Backup, insert physical media, wipe drive, install older OS, re-install programs/applications, transfer files.
        • Hassle

          Downgrading windows is just as much of a hassle, but because Windows/Linux are not OSs that "just work", many users have developed "technical knowledge" that make this process far easy.

          All those jokes about windows malware, virus and complex panels... all those jokes about linux users having to be code gurus... well, that jokes only show that while, yes, OSX is easier and less problematic, they need an article this big to just reinstall.
          Agustin Ceballos
      • Huhuhuhu!

        You told them! Clevar.
        Doug Bott
  • data recovery

    My friend recommend me an iPhone data recovery software,you can have a try
  • Downgrade Mavericks to Mountain Lion....

    For those fortunate enough like myself to have created a Mountain Lion USB InstallESD.dmg then this process is straightforward. Backup your files then Boot from the Mountain Lion USB stick to reinstall.

    For those that haven't created a Mountain Lion Install USB then things are a little more complicated although there is the option of Internet Recovery where providing Mountain Lion was originally installed on your Mac it is possible to roll back.

    For OS X Internet Recovery see:

    In most cases Mavericks is a solid upgrade but I Dual Boot with Mountain Lion on my iMac.
  • For Beginners, Time Machine?

    If you're a beginner, backing up your mac using Time Machine (yes, I know that probably means you're not a beginner because one would not bet that beginners would be doing backups regularly), then can't you just do a restore using time machine?
  • I though Apple products "just worked"

    I guess I was misinformed. You know it's one thing when a Windows update doesn't work right on a small percentage of the nearly infinite combinations of hardware it supports. But Apple completely controls the hardware platform its OSes are targeted towards and there are only a handful of variations on it. Do the problems people are having with Mavericks and iOS 7 updates point to more serious internal problems at Apple? I mean, it's not like they're pushing the envelope with anything radical this time or anything.
    Sir Name
    • You got one thing right: you're misinformed.

    • Even Clevarar than the guy above

      Doug Bott
  • Simple Method....

    Carbon Copy or something similar before upgrading. Takes about 30-45 minutes to back up a 750GB hard drive to a USB 3.0 drive or about 1-2 hours to USB 2.0. If you want to retrograde, reverse the process (be sure to backup any documents you have since added though). 30 minutes to a couple of hours later, you are back in business. Takes about 4 clicks to backup and 4 clicks to restore.

    Can't get much simpler than that.
    • Yeah. During which you can go outside, set out a blanket, and have lunch.

      Don't understand what the big deal is.
    • Exactly...

      But I'd quibble with your timings.
  • makes no difference to me...

    ... I'm stuck on mountain lion with my... Alternatively obtained... Copy of parallels for now.
  • Why oh Why would you ever want to do this?

    Once you get past Snow Leopard... and lose all the earlier app compatibility, it's onward and upward. Mavericks is actually really good. I've noticed only a couple bugs, but I'm sure they will be driven out soon. Mostly its faster and better. When I want to use 10.6 I boot from an external drive.

    The big bug, for the record, is powerpoint slide shows... showing slides on the other screen cuts them off / in half. So you have to make the display screen the base screen. otherwise... pretty darn good.
    George Kriza
    • gloat much?

      So glad you didn't have a problem, but seriously why such a pompous post? Obviously, other people were not so lucky. As my brand new MacBook Air is now no better than a paperweight due to the incredible number of problems I am having, it's a little annoying. Safari crashes every time I open it. It keeps requesting keychain access and refusing my valid password. I now have thousands of emails downloaded from gmail even though I archived them. Yes. It's working great. You are apparently having a powerpoint problem, yet you say it's "pretty darn good". Seriously?
  • It worked for me, sort of

    When I tried to install Mavericks, I got an error message that said there was something wrong with the hard drive in my iMac, and I had to reformat the hard drive and start over. Fortunately, I use Time Machine and Time Capsule to back things up. So after several false starts with senior techs at Apple, I was able to restore my latest version of my backup and all was well. But I never got Mavericks installed in the first place, so maybe that's why my straight restore-from-Time-Capsule process worked.

    I will not be attempting to install Mavericks now until at least one updated version comes out. In the meantime, I need to get my iMac to the Apple store and find out why I'm having hard drive problems on a computer I've had for only 9 months.
    Catena Creations