The Reason Why The World Isn’t Ready For Lion Internet Recoveries [Opinion]



Apple is pushing out more updates to computers released in 2011 to enable Lion Internet recovery. Initially this recovery feature was only available on the MacBook Air and Mac Mini when they made their debut in July.  Recently, however, Apple made it available on certain model MacBook notebooks and this week it was released for early 2011 iMacs like the one I purchased in June.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m surprised that Apple enabled Lion Internet Recovery on my iMac. I thought they’d hold out and only offer it on a refreshed model as an incentive to upgrade.

Unfortunately, I’m also a bit dismayed. I have not had the best experiences when experimenting with Lion Internet Recovery. One attempt to use it on my MacBook Air during the week when iOS 5, iCloud and the iPhone 4S launched resulted in a recovery, just for Mac OS X Lion, that was going to take well over nine hours to complete! Ouch.

Over nine hours is a lot of time needed to recover any computer, let alone a computer that doesn’t ship with installation media for Mac OS X Lion. Talk about a time waster which can have a significant impact on you if you are someone who builds, configures or recovers computers for a living. What about a scenario where I had to go on a trip?

The lengthy time frame might mean that recovering and restoring a computer to full working order could take up to two days in this scenario. I’d waste a lot of valuable time in one case and in another I might have to leave on a trip without my computer. I’m sure that this isn’t the worst case.

However, how much worse can it get? A lot, actually, because you never know how your internet connection is going to act or how Apple’s servers will respond.

Using traditional tools, like the installation media that ships with most Macs these days, I’d usually have a Mac up and running in a half day, but definitely less than a day. In a pinch most Macs can be set up with a refreshed copy of Mac OS X in less than three hours. However, I don’t think that will ever be the case with Lion Internet Recovery. That is, unless you a have significant broadband connection, and who has that? Or can sustain that if they do?

I was so infuriated about the time it took to recover the MacBook Air that I wrote an email to Apple CEO Tim Cook. He responded through his Executive Relations team. I hope he listened to my feedback and that we see alternatives to the potentially glacially slow Lion Internet Recovery.

Although I generally like it when Apple pushes us towards something new even when we are kicking and screaming. I honestly think that this time Apple has really screwed up by making Lion Internet Recovery the only way to recover a MacBook Air or Mac Mini in certain circumstances (i.e. like replacing the existing drive with a completely new one, when you need to  a complete system refresh, etc.).

Personally I’m completely against Lion Internet Recovery until Apple can guarantee that restoring or installing Mac OS X Lion will take as much or less time as using traditional recovery media (i.e. USB thumb drive or DVD).  I don’t think they can make that guarantee and thus the world and I aren’t ready for this yet.

If you have problems or concerns about Lion Internet Recovery write Mr. Cook yourself or leave Apple some feedback.

  • larrymadill

    Why be completely against something? It’s a feature and for some of us its a useful feature. I agree to a point that there ought to be another way to restore Lion (flash drive or whatever) but to say, I’m completely against something smacks of hyperbole. But then again, David, most of your opinion pieces do. See your: WAH! AT&T is evil and wrong for making me wait 22 days for an iPhone 4S piece.

    And you can get a “significant broadband connection” through your cable company for about $50 to $70 a month. 

  • Gaston

    Apple doesn’t care. Never have never will.

  • Guest

    You’re whiny bitch, full of hot air, aren’t you? Nobody is forcing you to use Internet Recovery. Jesus. If your network connection is too slow, use traditional media. It’s trivial to make a Lion recovery drive with USB storage.

  • Chris

    I agree with you. Everybody is talking about Cloud Services and how nobody need physical media, but there are far too many people out there without fast internet access. before pushing new technologies, make sure the infrastructure supports them, too.

  • BeeBee

    Agreed….right after I upgraded my 2011 MBP to lion I had a major failure that necessitated a complete re-install.  Thankfully I had created a Lion Recovery DVD so it didn’t take as long, but with my slow internet connection it would have taken all day – assuming that something didn’t happen to my connection during the download process as frequently occurs.  I would think they could just make the recovery partition a bit larger so that ALL the files needed would already be on the mac.  When installing maintenance updates, the update could be set to patch the install files so you always have an up-to-date recovery.

  • ctwise

    You can always create a restore USB key. But Apple _should_ support that instead of charging you $60 for their version.

    The fact you’re missing is that this is to support the 95% of the Mac users that used to lose their install media within hours of opening the box and setting up their new Mac. Those people would truck into the closest Apple store (if they had one) or call up tech support and request a new install CD.

    Six hours to restore over the internet suddenly seems much more reasonable then waiting a few days for a CD in the mail or packing up the computer, carting it into the mall, waiting in line, waiting for the restore and taking it all back home again.

  • Max Ellis

    Doesn’t Lion make a recovery partition on your boot hard drive anyway? You should only need Lion Internet Recovery on a new drive.

  • Sander

    I did an internet recovery with my macbook air when it was released for 3 weeks. It just works! Went to bed, and woke up the next morning with a working macbook.
    When I saw my logfiles, saw it was ready downloading after less then 3 hours.
    Inlive in The Netherlands, have a cheap internetconnection (8 mbit down). Don’t see the worries.
    When I have to travel for a view days, and my mac get broken the night before, it will get ready after couple hours of sleep.
    And when I worked with PC, I didn’t bring my Windows-installation disc with me all the time. Public Internet is mostly always available, even in hotels. Nice feature of Apple!

  • axet

    They have to give option as dirrect download for OSX Lion and way to create recovery usb by self.

    But, I still like an idea of internet recovery as last option.

  • prof_peabody

    David you are basing your entire article on one experience with a tool that you admitted yourself was used during a period when Apple’s servers were being hit by half the world.  

    Put that way, how stupid is this article?  

  • Matt

    “One attempt to use it on my MacBook Air during the week when iOS 5, iCloud and the iPhone 4S launched resulted in a recovery, just for Mac OS X Lion, that was going to take well over nine hours to complete! Ouch.” I wonder if that effected your download speed?  Apple servers nearly crashed, testing internet recovery from Apple servers my not be the best idea

  • Ed_Kel

    “How worse can it?” A lot worse actually, when people start writing dumb articles like this one.. Bitching about internet recovery taking nine hours to complete during Apple’s largest software release?

    I’ll bet you wrote in article in the nineties saying the world wasn’t ready for the internet…

  • yopdesign

    Are u taking ur iMac on a trip?

  • Ben

    I used the internet recovery just last week to do a clean install on a MBP. I chose this because regardless of what I did, I was unable to create a bootable USB key. The internet recovery worked flawlessly and took just under three hours. 

    Am I the only one that feels like the content on COM is going downhill lately? Why don’t you go write for PC Magazine. Quit your bitching and start sharing some content that is actually helpful to your readers.

  • Timothy Gregoire

    the recovery partition is only the files required to boot the computer into recovery. it does not contain an installer file for the OS. you have to download it again unless you have burned it or made an installer flash drive

  • Ed_Kel

    You aren’t the only one; it is..

  • Ed_Kel

    It’s funny you bring this up.. Essentially you have everything on your computer to recover, except the OS itself. This means that on average, you should allow an hour or two for downloading (depending on internet speed) and an hour for installation, totaling roughly three hours.. This guy must be smoking something to imply a nine hour internet recovery is norm..

  • DavidWMartin

    I stand by my opinion. The point is the reliability of Lion Internet Recovery isn’t guaranteed. It does not have the same stability or level of expectation time wise I can get from a USB or DVD based installer. Period. It is very unpredictable based on a lot of factors (server healthy, bandwidth, speed, etc.) that none of us have any control over.

  • DavidWMartin

    No Ed it isn’t normal, but the possibility for that to happen does exist. I witnessed it. I lived and experienced it. Apple cannot guarantee the connection speed or anything related to that between me and them. This should be an option for restoring computers and not a requirement.

    Additionally this might cause problems for people that keep their Macs more than three years. What will stop Apple from providing the OS they need to keep their Macs running five years or longer? You might be giving up a lot more than you can imagine. This post just hits the tip of the iceberg now that I think more about it.

  • Gforce75

    Same here.  I did the same thing and took about 5 hours when selling my older macbook air.  The internet recovery is awesome.

  • Lee Hinderstein

    Just burn a disk or make a thumb drive and stop complaining!  Internet recovery is just one of the ways in which a new Macintosh can be recovered.  People should really know what they are talking about before they write on something like they are an authority that others will be influenced by!  it is not responsible journalism!

  • atimoshenko

    So on one side you run the risk of having a crappy Internet connection, and on the other side you run the risk of not having your OS install disk with you. On Snow Leopard (and even on Leopard before it), I was saddled with a crappy Internet connection, far, far, far less frequently than the times I did not have my OS install disk (which I basically never had with me). 5-10 years down the line this decision is going to be viewed as self-evident as Apple’s abandonment of the Floppy drive.

  • fortninety

    I don’t understand the vitriol being aimed at the author. I myself had to deal with a similar situation recently… forcing your customers to deal with lengthy download times because you can’t guarantee the dependability of your servers is ridiculous.

    Which, as any MobileMe user can attest, has been piss poor since almost day one.

    As for the option of creating a USB drive or SD card, I have no proof of this, but I installed Lion onto my MacBook in such a manner recently, and the OS just acted… strange. Basically, any unofficial implementation of an operating system might cause issues down the road, which is something that everyone should keep in mind (and which one Apple Genius basically acknowledged when I took my system for a look at).

  • Ed_Kel

    Problems always will exist my friend. But writing off internet recovery because of a problem like this is like writing off the internet because servers fail and/or your connection speeds are slow. Where do you draw the line?

    Apple made a good call with this, despite the rare, unusually long recovery time reported by some impatient users. I applaud them for making this move as sometimes internet backups are more reliable than humans. Case and point; I actually bought my first Apple computer (iMac) 2 years ago after I lost the media to my HP DV7 laptop and had no way of recovering.

    If you’re talking about iCloud and its contents, then I agree with your comment of Apple not able to guarantee “anything between me and them”, but we’re talking about downloading a copy of existing software. It’s ludicrous to think that Apple “cannot guarantee” your recovery, I mean, what are the odds of THAT actually happening? Yes, they cannot guarantee speeds, but hold your horses my friend; relax; put in a movie and rest assured that Apple will take care of you…

    Don’t get me wrong, I see where you’re coming from, but a compelling argument could be made on both sides. Future advice; don’t be so quick to write off new technology or new ways of delivering said technology. Nine hours of wait time to recover a computer with an expected lifespan of 10 years or more is a lot better than losing your media and having to shell out another $1,000+ for a computer you weren’t ready to buy. Apple’s servers are far more reliable than most of our software media file systems.

  • Ed_Kel

    Did you know they make carrying cases for iMacs? Not sure if anyone bought one, but it is definitely possible to travel with your iMac..?

    *Awkward silence*……. Yeah, you read it right… : )

  • Rob Bartel

    Aren’t you missing the painful point that most people have no idea where their “original install disks” are? At least most of the friends I’ve tried to help over the years don’t. You can make recovery media if you want, anyway. Apple has provided a great improvement, that eliminates the requirement for optical drives, and keeping track of bits of shiny plastic.

    In short, I think you’re unlikely to be heard by Apple.

  • DavidWMartin

    Hi Ed. Thanks for the comment. I wanted people to think about this. It has good and bad sides to it. However since it isn’t reliable it could cause problems for people. That is  the real kicker here. Give us options in case one doesn’t work that is all I want or care about. – David

  • Portucalense

    I live in Portugal. My home internet is considered good for .pt patterns. It goes to 990 Kb. per second, at best, and I never saw 1 Mega per second. I am a Mac user and costumer in the last 18 years. Now, with Lion, I am getting ready to change OS. For now I am with Snow Leopard and observing, while getting ready to jump.
    I see many people here criticizing the author. That kind of people are the ones who I expect to tell me to go to an Apple Store to solve any problem I can have. Where is the closest Apple Store? Madrid, Paris, London? Let me laugh for a while!

  • Larry Faulkner

    Wait one second.  What about the Lion Recovery Disk Assistant; isn’t that the ultimate option.

  • Jimbo

    It’s not just a bad Apple, it’s a rotten apple.  The worst operating system apple has ever come up with.  It took me two days to install in over Snow Leopard, and I’m still trying to figure out how to make it work.  There are lots of upgrades you have to pay for, but getting them to down load is almost impossible.  And the much hyped Cloud is just the same old Mobile Me that can screw up every Apple product and IBM computer you have.  I suppose if all you have is an iPad or Macbook it probably seems great.  But all it proves is that you don’t really know much about computers and their operating systems.

  • CharliK

    you are griping about a slow connection during a launch of something that many folks will never have need to use. The technogeeks were hacking together USB sticks before Apple released the official assistant and the bulk of the rest of the folks don’t know enough about computers to even consider trying it themselves and will go to an Apple Store or ASP shop who will have the software already downloaded and use that. 

    and of the small amount that are trying this at home, they will probably be so happy to be able to get back their computer they won’t even consider that it should be quicker

  • CharliK

    “But Apple _should_ support that instead of charging you $60 for their version.”

    uh, that would be why they posted the assistant and instructions to make just such a drive

  • Portucalense

    If I decide to buy a new Mac Mini (my main computer model since 2006) I get a very small metal box with no install/recovery CD/DVD and no optical drive to use it, because “nobody needs it any more”.
    Now If I try to make my own install usb drive, I can go to the internet to read an “how to”. There are millions of “how to’s” in the internet advising me to make it in hundreds of different ways.
    By the way, I don’t even have an App Sore account, since I have all the software I need and I don’t feel the necessity to buy for my desktop a program that was idealized for a portable telephone.
    Better to say good-by, and try something different. That’s my opinion.


    i thought the same thing. this 100% spot on.

    the world is just not ready.

    there should be recovery thumb drives delivered to every Lion owner

  • Ryan Simmons

    “The future does not belong to those who are content with today” – Steve Jobs. 

  • Dom198

    totally Agree great idea on paper but when it comes time to use the recovery a disk is far quicker  

  • Dom198

    its not that we are not ready its that the technology is too slow for us / slower than older technologies 

  • DavidWMartin

    Ok Lee tell me how I can make an installer disk to install Lion from scratch on my Mid-2011 MacBook Air? Using no internet connection of any kind what so ever. Please list the instructions here. Currently the ONLY way to install Lion from scratch on this computer is Lion Internet Recovery. 

  • oakdesk23

    I’m surprised at some of the negativity towards the author. He brings up a very valid complaint. Out of an abundance of caution, when I travel I bring a second hard drive which has a working install of OS X as well as a partition that is a copy of the install disk, plus about 90% of the software I use daily. 

    Not only is the download process too long, but it can be costly. Not everyone in the world has unlimited internet, or even high speed. In hotels in New Zealand I’m usually limited to 50MB per 24 hours, and it’s pretty slow. 

    Windows PCs have been shipping without disks for years, but at least on the first boot you’re given the option of burning some. Mac OS X instead boots up the first time and gives you a tutorial on why your mouse works in reverse. 

  • McCharley Okafor


    I kinda agree with you in some point of view. All the world isn’t exactly ready for this kind of advancement. While i would say the the internet recovery should have been an option and not an only method, Apple understands that to world must make progress/change even if it has to be dragged  into it. We are not going to get to the future we dream about crossing our legs and folding our hands. I guess the idea here is really to reverse to normal process and get the ISPs to improve on what the define as service delivery to allow for support of many other technologies.

    We should think of what would be possible if all the world had such internet speed. (But would only come in the future). Its really a hard thing deciding which should by the option now. Push the world into demanding better internet speeds or go back to the same old recovery disc/usb key option.

    Obviously Apple has decided which should be..

  • rymdgreven

    DavidWMartin is absolutely correct here. I went out and bought a OSX Flashstick with Lion on it, but the MBA does not accept it. It is totally unusable! This totally blows.