OS X Lion Boot Disk Discovery Saves The World, But Activation Persists [How To]



One of my biggest concerns about Apple distributing Mac OS X 10.7 Lion via the Mac App store has been resolved. One intrepid Lion beta tester has discovered a hidden secret inside of Lion’s installation application.

Egg Freckles discovered that the Lion installer contains InstallESD.dmg a file that can be used to create bootable Lion installation media. This is great for all the experts in the audience who can really use a solution like this. Novices on the other hand might need some extra help.

Here are the steps:

  1. Purchase and download Lion from the Mac App Store on any Lion compatible Mac running Snow Leopard.
  2. Right click on “Mac OS X Lion” installer and choose the option to “Show Package Contents.”
  3. Inside the Contents folder that appears you will find a SharedSupport folder and inside the SharedSupport folder you will find the “InstallESD.dmg.” This is the Lion boot disc image we have all been waiting for.
  4. Copy “InstallESD.dmg” to another folder like the Desktop.
  5. Launch Disk Utility and click the burn button.
  6. Select the copied “InstallESD.dmg” as the image to burn, insert a standard sized 4.7 GB DVD, and wait for your new Lion Boot Disc to come out toasty hot.

Egg Freckles states:

With this disc you can boot any Lion compatible Mac, and install 10.7 just like you installed previous version of Mac OS X. You can even use Disk Utility’s Restore function to image your Lion boot disc image onto an external drive suitable for performing a clean install on a optical-drive-less MacBook Air, or Mac mini server.

I hope Apple will come up with a better more elegant solution for all users. For example, perhaps Apple will include a feature in the release version of Lion that creates a bootable CD/DVD or USB stick for emergencies.

This discovery is definitely one of the best ones about Lion that I’ve heard about yet. It saves the world of computer repair and data recovery for future Lion based systems. It also means we’ll have access to traditional troubleshooting tools that many of us are not ready to give up yet.

Updated 06/10/2011 at 6:30 AM PDT: Cult of Mac reader Martien comments that Mac OS X Lion still requires an internet connection to authenticate against Apple servers even when installed from a user-created CD/DVD or USB stick.

  • Elliot George

    Yea, I was wondering about that too. I’m sure there’ll be a software wizard to help novices that will do almost every step for you, bar inserting a writable DVD. Can’t wait for Lion. 

  • Sylvantemplar

    I certainly had my concerns about electronic distribution of an OS, and this is a step in the right direction toward allaying those fears!

  • iMartien

    Just a small note: You can only use this burned disk on a Mac that you have previously installed with Lion from the Mac App Store.

    When booting the disk, It will phone home to Apple to check if your Mac serial number is allowed to install Lion.

  • Andrew

    I was worried too – but then thought “when did I last need to boot from the install disk?”. Answer was when I upgraded to snow leopard!

  • danielw

    I always use the release of a new version of OSX to clean up my mac, so i was really hoping that it was also possible to make a bootable version of the Lion install… so thx for this little guide

  • Hampus

    Didn’t I see this on here a few days back?
    Or was in TUAW? Pretty sure it were on here…

  • Ciccio Willy

    I think you are not correct.

    I think it just match if the SN of the Mac is among those linked to an Apple ID (your..) that has already bought Lion.

    since i install Lion (clean from DVD) after i bought it on my mac on the App store.. I am sure i will not have problems

  • Dishio

    this is very microsoft-like.

  • Ciccio Willy

    Apple Make money from Hardware..
    I don’t think they really care about losing some money on software retail

  • WVMikeP

    I’d be interested in making a bootable thumb drive to install from rather than DVD.

  • sebzar

    A bit too geek to make a bootable DVD/USB but at least I’m glad it is possible. One headache less before upgrading.

  • Robert X

    I will be burning it to USB myself.

  • prof_peabody

    I wouldn’t count on that disc “… booting any Mac.” OS-X install discs haven’t been universal for quite a while now.  One often has to get the exact boot disc for the particular model and year of machine to have them work.  

    Also, I have to say that this series on the “problems” you are having with Lion installs comes off as childish and petulant.  It’s a *beta* for cripes sake, and you are using it without any instructions or description from Apple as to what they are going to eventually do, or offer to the end user.  

    So the big freak out in your article yesterday was both out of line and stupid IMO.  Coming here today and saying it’s now “solved” is similarly so.  

  • Ryan Warner

    Retail OS X discs are universal. The only ones that aren’t are the grey ones that come bundled as recovery discs with new machines. Occasionally, if Apple releases new hardware, you will be required to use the grey discs for anything as they will have a custom build of the OS with the drivers for the new hardware. But that only lasts until a new retail disc is released that incorporates a new point update that includes support for all hardware again. A bit of a nuisance but not as bad as it sounds.

    I agree that David’s posts are a pretty negative frequently, his Lion posts included. Not sure I’ve ever read a post of his that doesn’t complain about something, or is even glowingly positive overall even if he has some qualms.

  • Greyhair

    Not anymore.  It has been awhile that you can’t start many models that requires snow leopard with a retail OS disk. I am an Apple service provider.

  • Blondehair

    Retail discs are most certainly universal…
    For every iteration of Mac hardware that can run the major version of the software AND were released prior to the retail version of the disc being pressed.
    I suppose you think Apple should put drivers for future hardware on their retail discs? I don’t think even Apple has quite perfected the time travel function of their OS yet.
    I’m also an AASP, get your facts straight.

  • Honyant

    Can you boot from SD cards and would that be worth doing?

  • Ryan Warner

    Thanks to Blondehair for having my back. I spent 2 years as a Genius equivalent at an Apple Specialist. To be specific, for example the latest retail disc of Snow Leopard has (please correct me if I’m wrong, I’ve been out of it for a bit) 10.6.3. It installs universally on Apple hardware released before then (that meets the system reqs of course). It wouldn’t install on any hardware released after 10.6.3 with significant changes enough to need new drivers. Those would instead come with the grey discs with a special build of whatever the version at release was (such as 10.6.5). However, if you’ve got a separate boot drive (like a utility drive that I’m sure you’ve used if you’re an AASP) and it’s running a later version of Snow Leopard (such as 10.6.7) it would then incorporate the requisite drivers and could run on any current hardware. The next time Apple updates their retail discs (if they do at all; but they may, they did it with Leopard) it would include the latest version which you could then use to install on anything. It’d be universal again.

  • David Helms

    So is there going to be a retail disc or version in the APP store I can make an install disc with? What about those that have crappy internet thru AT&T, Sprint, Verizon on a broadband stick and cap’d at 5GB’s of data?

  • Ian_TWL

    I have a sneaking suspicion that you’ve never had the rare OSX system crash that required booting from the CD to repair damage to the partition table.  Since 2007, I’ve had two wipe-and-restore level system crashes, though each only cost me an evening of reinstalling and restoring from Time Machine over Firewire 800… insisting on FW8 for backups made the process a *lot* less miserable, by the way.

  • Ian_TWL

    I’m kiiiiinda disappointed about that.  There’s the possibility I’ll have to download the OS twice or thrice, and that means maxing out my home connection for 50,000 seconds – about 139 hours, or 6 days.  Mostly this means I have a shit connection, but it also means that Sprint might give me the courtesy call that they’re shutting off my connection for piracy or network-management reasons or whatever the current euphemism for “You’re costing us money” is.  I’m probably going to upgrade to Lion anyway, but I intend to let the boys at the genius bar spend their time doing it via sneakernet, instead of testing to see what my hidden bandwidth cap really is.

  • Cowicide

    Whoa!  What a second… Mac OS X will now REQIRE AUTHENTICATION like piece of shit Windows does?  Is that correct?  Is there something like that horrific Genuine Advantage crap you have deal with running all the time in Windows?

    Is there a serial number needed too? Someone please expand on this article and explain what the hell the writer is talking about.

  • Archer Sully

    AppleID verification, or serial # verification? Has anyone actually traced what goes back and forth between Apple and the machine?

  • Anon Developer

    yes, i was watching the Snow Leopard keynote only yesterday and they were mocking the need for activation. What goes around comes around. 

  • Cowicide

    Oh man, this is a sick joke, right?  Seriously, if Apple starts to treat me like a pirate when I purchase their Operating System and is going to force me to run some authentication crap, then I’m just going to go ahead and pirate the damn thing instead of buying it.  I’ll get a cracked copy that’ll be easier to use when I need to install/reinstall instead of being punished for buying the damn thing.

    WTF, Apple?  Man… Ubuntu is looking better and better every day.

  • Cowicide

    This is a disaster.  Between the authentication crap and making us jump through other hoops just to buy their damn product… this is very disheartening and makes me think Apple is getting too big and really is turning into another Microsoft.

    I hope the folks at Apple come to their senses before the launch date and get rid of the damn authentication crap and give people the choice in purchasing a bootable DVD or USB stick.

    This is a sad day for Mac users when Apple turns into Microsoft.  Ubuntu is calling my name louder and louder.  F$#%^ this.

  • amybradley111

    With all that experience as a programmer, author, and consultant I can see how he didn’t have time to learn how to use a spell checker or grammar correction software.  Seriously, I am growing increasinglytired of the overall level of grammatical errors in stories today.     http://bit.ly/mkFtgf

  • Mitchell Busby

    Us hackintoshers realised that aages ago :P

  • Kevin

    I suggest you go get your Ubuntu and let the rest of us enjoy our Mac’s  All this speculation is just that.   As for Apple and Serial numbers, if I am not mistaken this is them making sure their OS is being installed on their Mac’s  Not a hackintosh. and Personally, I think there is nothing wrong with it.   I don’t see anything suggesting you have to enter a serial number like a key the way of Microsoft.  

    As well I think we all need to chill out and wait and see what Apple actually releases not some speculation.   Many times we have learned what all the crap is being cried about was nothing and what Apple actually released was different. 

    We all want our Mac’s to run smoothly and work because we cry because we spent so much money for them.  Personally, if I am going to spend my money on a great computer I know its going to work out of the box. I am buying what Apple sells.   If I wanted a piece of crap that I have to worry if the torrent is infected with viruses that I stole my OS from then I get what I paid for.

    Too often bitch they want a stable system but yet expect a company to open that system wide open and as soon as something fails they are blaming the company for those problems.  It would be different if idiots that write viruses, trojans, malware didn’t exist.  

    But for me I pay the premium to know when I turn on my computer it will work out of the box, without having to download a ton of security software, just so I can access the internet.    So in my OPINION if Apple is authenticating with its servers that I am installing OS X Lion on an actual Mac then I say I am all for it.

    If you want to bitch moan and complain that you want to be able to install this on a piece of crap or the fact you didn’t pay for the upgrade which is only $29. then take your cheap self on!  Go download Ubuntu and use it and SHUT UP!

  • boastboy

    ooo nice tip! Saved this page to evernote! Thanks David!

  • Ibrewster

    No, no serial number. And nothing like windows. All this does is verify that you, the purchaser of the software, are the one installing it, by checking your Apple ID against the signature in the software, one time only. It does not lock it to a specific machine, it does not continue to check, and it does not require a serial number. In fact, Apple’s license explicitly states that you are allowed to install this on “all machines that you control”, just like any other app purchased from the App Store. Nothing like Microsoft, which requires a license code and makes it very hard to transfer, or run your machine without it. Besides, if you install this the way it was intended, you don’t even have to do the verification step at all- just purchase, download, and install. It’s that easy. Sheesh, relax already.

  • Dans6666

    Not true, he is a troll…Martien is an Microsoft Certified IT Professional from Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Blogger at iMartien.com, former Editor-in-Chief at MSminded.nl and self proclaimed tech pundit.http://about.me/imartien

  • iMartien

    Don’t know what my profession and previous blog has to do with being a troll…

    I’m also a long time Mac user (and own about every product that Apple makes), and my previous comment is what I’ve experienced on my own mac while trying to clean install Lion DP4 with a created Boot DVD.

    But thanks for the free publicity of my profile ;)

  • Dans6666

    My experience is the opposite – can clean install from the installer or bootdisk on any Mac without problems – without internet connection.
    How do you see that it check the serial?

  • iMartien

    It says so during installation… Also see this entry http://www.cultofmac.com/this-… There’s a screenshot of it.

    Maybe you can install it because you are a registered apple developer? (I’m not and did not get Lion DP4 through the Mac App Store)

  • Chuck

    My guess is, the only reason it looks for the Mac’s serial number is to try to keep it from being installed on Hackintoshes.

  • SomeoneWhoSpendsAlotAt Apple

    This + Mac app store is causing me to start thinking about alternatives to the Mac world.

    (Yes, I know hardcore fanboys, I won’t let the door hit me on the ass.   Enjoy having no control over your computer.)

  • vance mitchell yap

    I’m just wondering, if you activate the program using your itunes account, if you install this on a different system with your account then when purchasing apps can you use a different itunes account? or your stuck with the purchasers account? because with apple mobile devices, when i tried to use a different account, it wipes out all the programs on it…

  • Josh

    I use two different accounts on both my iPhone 4 and my iPad…I’ve never had apps deleted from my devices on sync or by downloading to the device over the air (wifi).  

  • Lee Hinderstein

    My experience is that if you boot from the ESD image with no internet, Lion will install beautifully, just as all other previous Mac OS’s did

  • Lee Hinderstein

    Make that a burned ESD image.

  • Lee Hinderstein

    It has been my experience so far, that you are not tied to the App Store, and you don’t need to be tied to apple, to continue to enjoy your Macintosh, you just have to learn how to use them.  I believe this is because the Customer calls into Apple are so ridiculous, (because people just assume, like a fork, it should just work!  Most of you had to learn to drive a car before got behind the wheel.)  If you don’t know how to use a computer, then you probably shouldn’t have one!

  • Ohmadaze


  • Jfpolo

    That only talk about the restore partition, when you make a clean installation from a usb stick or digital media it don’t ask for nothing.

  • Wirehedd

    I just ordered an 8GB micro-USB drive (about a centimeter and a half long including interface) and I will be using it exclusively for my Lion image.

    I have no doubt there will be others doing the same and simply borrowing the idea from the MBA lines.

  • General Chaud Caliente

    I recently switched to Apple from Windows Vista, and have migrated my whole family to four Macbook Pros and one 27″ iMac. But if Apple insists on preventing me from installing MacOSX from a CD, then I will consider moving to Linux, or simply switching back to the Windows world.

    My daughter recently had outgrown her 250GB gard disk and needed an upgrade on her Macbook Pro. We ordered her a new 500GB hard drive, and when it arrived, removed her old one, and installed a new MacOSX SnowLeopard on her machine from scratch, using an Apple Store bought DVD. Without that ability, the Apple hardware is useless to me.

    I love my Apple equipment, but If Apple insists on making me install the old OS then logging onto the App store in order to install Tiger, or any other cat-based OS, then I am outta here.

  • MKZA

    This method of pushing an OS update is really silly. Not everyone has high speed lines into their houses. Apple has built a big market here in South Africa and many of us pay dearly for bandwidth. The OS update to Lion will cost me $29 but the amount of bandwidth I will use to update 3 Macs (12Gb) will cost me about $490 … that’s my entire 10GB monthly allocation plus an additional 2GB … this is going to be the most expensive OS upgrade in history for some people. Apple really needs to rethink this approach.

  • Ivonne Spinoza

    Any ideas as to how those disk repairs you some times have to do with Disk Utility rebooting from the original install DVD will work? I have no interest in having to take my mac to a genius bar over something like Disk Utility telling me my disk needs to be repaired :/

    Will that bootable copy of the OS suggested above help with things like this?

  • Wayne Steed

    @MKZA, agreed. I no longer stay in SA but I feel your pain, I used to be on iBurst with a 5Gb cap, I used to hate having to update Windows/Mac/PS3. Always did my downloads from the office to USB stick :-)

  • Ru Kidding

    I downloaded a copy of the GM  from usenet (purely for research, I intend to purchase Lion). However, when I ‘registered’ the installation  (from a clean install) when asked for my email address, lo and behold it was already filled in with the email address of the developer who leaked it to the world. I wondered about that, I knew it wouldn’t be that easy to obfuscate one’s self from the digital download. It allowed me to continue, but I’ll wager that person received a lot of interesting emails.

  • Keith MacMillan

    Why don’t you download 1 copy (4Gb) and then burn it to a dvd to install the other 2 systems?

  • Chan Kin Hou

    Did you install Lion using the downloaded package or from a bootable disk created from InstallESD.dmg?

    I would think that the downloaded package contains the buyer’s info, whereas the InstallESD.dmg would be a clean generic installer. Can anyone confirm this?

  • Cazé Chui

    Dude, just wait till they release Lion on USB Thumb Drive.

  • MKZA

     I’m very chilled, just disappointed. Here’s my comment I made on the Apple Forums earlier today.

    “In South Africa we have no official Apple Retail Stores. We have only
    one supplier in the SA market, a group called CORE who are an Apple
    Premium reseller. I emailed them and asked them a couple of questions
    about the availability of Lion and according to them, no I cannot pop
    into one of their stores and download it there. When I asked them about
    the thumb drives they once again said, Apple is only releasing those to
    “Apple Retail Stores”. They said they are investigating alternatives but
    knowing past experiences with negotiations across the waters this could
    take months.”

  • MKZA

     I’m very chilled, just disappointed. Here’s my comment I made on the Apple Forums earlier today.

    “In South Africa we have no official Apple Retail Stores. We have only
    one supplier in the SA market, a group called CORE who are an Apple
    Premium reseller. I emailed them and asked them a couple of questions
    about the availability of Lion and according to them, no I cannot pop
    into one of their stores and download it there. When I asked them about
    the thumb drives they once again said, Apple is only releasing those to
    “Apple Retail Stores”. They said they are investigating alternatives but
    knowing past experiences with negotiations across the waters this could
    take months.”

  • MKZA

    That’s essentially what I will have to do. I’ll wait a bit anyway for all the masses to download and for Apple’s servers to speed up a bit.

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