Installing Mavericks: What You Need to Know

Before Lion (OS X 10.7) debuted in 2011, installing the latest major version of Mac OS X meant buying a disc and slipping it into your Mac's optical drive. But Lion changed all that by making OS X available for direct download, and Mountain Lion (OS X 10.8) and Mavericks (OS X 10.9) have inherited this distribution method. More specifically, the latest version of OS X is available only as a download from Apple's Mac App Store--and this time around, it's free.

[Editor's note: This article is part of our series of articles on installing and upgrading to Mavericks.]

Before Lion (OS X 10.7) debuted in 2011, installing the latest major version of Mac OS X meant buying a disc and slipping it into your Mac's optical drive. But Lion changed all that by making OS X available for direct download, and Mountain Lion (OS X 10.8) and Mavericks (OS X 10.9) have inherited this distribution method. More specifically, the latest version of OS X is available only as a download from Apple's Mac App Store--and this time around, it's free. This makes it easier and more convenient to upgrade your OS than having to buy and use a DVD or thumb drive, but it also raises a number of questions, and it presents upgrade obstacles for some users. As I've done the past few years, I've compiled this guide to getting and installing Apple's latest OS.

[ The 10 Best New Features in OS X Mavericks ]

Before proceeding, be sure to read my article on getting your Mac ready for Mavericks, which covers system requirements and recommendations, as well as a number of tasks you should perform before upgrading in order to help the process go smoothly.

Fair warning: If you install Mavericks right when it's released, keep in mind that you're installing version 1.0 of a major new OS. It could be bug-free, but if the history of OS X is any indication, we'll see the first update, containing a number of bug fixes, within a few weeks. If downtime isn't an option for you, you might consider holding off for the inevitable OS X 10.9.1.

Downloading Mavericks

Assuming your Mac meets the requirements, getting Mavericks is easy--for most people (more on that below). You simply launch the Mac App Store application, click the OS X Mavericks banner on the store's main page (or search for Mavericks, or click this direct link), click the Free Upgrade button at the top of the screen, and then click the Install App button that appears.

After you provide your Apple ID and password, Mavericks will begin downloading. Specifically, the 5.3GB installer application, called Install OS X Mavericks.app, will be saved to your main Applications folder (/Applications) and, if you're upgrading from Mountain Lion or Lion, added to Launchpad. The installer will likely even automatically launch after it finishes downloading. On my cable-model connection the day of Mavericks's release, the download took 28 minutes.

Note that as with Mountain Lion, updates to Mavericks will be provided through the Mac App Store app. In fact, if you choose Software Update from the Apple Menu under Mavericks, the Mac App Store app launches. (In Lion and earlier versions of OS X, that Apple Menu command instead launched the older Software Update utility.)

Downloading the installer onto other Macs: Once you've downloaded Mavericks to one of your Macs, you can download the installer to any of your other 10.9-capable Macs by simply logging in to your Mac App Store account, finding Mavericks in your Purchases list, and clicking the Download button to the right. (Just like applications purchased from the store, a single "purchase" of Mavericks lets you install it on all your personal Macs.)

Copying the Mavericks installer onto other Macs: Alternatively, once you've downloaded the Mavericks installer to one computer, you can copy it--over your local network or by using a flash drive, external hard drive, or other media--to your other Macs. This is obviously a much faster approach than re-downloading the 5.3GB installer to each computer. You won't even be prompted to authorize the installer on each Mac, as you are with other Mac App Store-distributed software--the Mavericks installer does not use digital-rights management (DRM).

Downloading the installer onto a Mac already running Mavericks: If you already have Mavericks--either the official release or the golden master (the final developer release, a.k.a., the GM)--installed on a Mac, you may have problems downloading the final-version installer onto that Mac. The Mac App Store app may think you already have the installer and, thus, not offer to let you download it again. (This was a common issue with Lion, although much less so with Mountain Lion and Mavericks, but I mention it here just in case.) If this happens to you, launch the Mac App Store app and Option+click the Purchases tab in the toolbar; that should show the Download button next to Mavericks in the Purchases list. If that doesn't work, Option+click Mavericks in the list and then Option+click the Installed button on the Mavericks page. One of these two methods should let you download the installer.

Similarly, if you're a developer who previously downloaded the golden master (GM) of the Mountain Lion installer, the Mac App Store app may claim that Mavericks is already installed on your Mac--and thus not let you download the official release--if the Mac App Store app detects the GM installer on any connected volume. (Again, this happened frequently with the Lion installer, but less so with Mountain Lion and Mavericks.) If this happens to you, the solution is either to delete the GM installer (after compressing it or copying it to a removable drive if you want to keep it handy) or, if possible, to disconnect the drive on which the GM resides.

Keeping the installer on hand

Before proceeding with installation, here's an important tip: If you run the installer from its default location in the Applications folder, the installation process deletes the installer, presumably to free up the 5.3GB of drive space it occupies. So if, as explained above, you plan to use the installer on other Macs, if you want to create a bootable installer drive, or if you just want to keep the installer on hand, before installing, you should copy the installer to another drive--or at least move it out of the Applications folder.

Installing Mavericks

Unlike versions of OS X prior to Lion (OS X 10.7), Mavericks offers only a single installation option: where to install the new OS. In fact, you don't need to make any decisions until it's time to set things up and start using your Mac. You don't even need to boot from a different disc or volume--the Mavericks installer runs as a standard application.

Once you've downloaded the Mavericks installer, here are the simple steps involved in installing the new OS:

  1. Double-click the Install OS X Mavericks app; in the window that appears, click Continue, and then click Agree (twice) to agree to the Mavericks software license.
  2. On the next screen, you choose where to install the OS. By default, only your internal startup drive is listed; if you have other drives connected and want to install Mavericks onto one of them, click the Show All Disks button and then choose the desired drive. Note that the installer lets you choose any drive that has OS X 10.6.8 or later installed or any blank drive. (The latter is what you would choose if you wanted to do a "clean" install that contains none of your data, applications, or settings from your current installation of OS X.) Of course, the destination drive must also be formatted as Mac OS Extended (Journaled) and use a GUID Partition Table; the built-in drive on any Mac eligible to run Mavericks should meet these requirements. (See my article on clean-installing Mavericks to help you decide if it's something you want to do. Also, we have instructions for installing Mavericks over Leopard (OS X 10.5), assuming you have the right to do so.)
  3. Click Install, and then provide an admin-level username and password when prompted.
  4. The installer spends some time preparing for installation. Over my many test installations on a number of different Mac models, this process rarely took more than a couple minutes, and on newer Macs took as little as 20 seconds. A message in the installer window explains that your computer will restart automatically; you can continue to work in other applications during this time, but once the preparation phase is finished, you get only a 30-second warning, and then your Mac will indeed restart on its own.
  5. After your Mac restarts, the actual installation occurs. (If you're upgrading from Lion or Mountain Lion, and you have FileVault 2 enabled, you'll need to provide an authorized username and password to bypass the FileVault lock screen at startup. Once you do, installation will continue normally.) During my test installs, the installation took anywhere from 15 to 74 minutes, depending on the Mac.
  6. When installation finishes, your Mac automatically restarts to complete the installation process. On my Macs, this final phase took roughly five to ten minutes. Once it finishes, your Mac proceeds to boot into Mavericks.

That's the entire installation process--as with the Lion and Mountain Lion installers, you don't need to choose between various kinds of installs, pick from a list of language translations or printer drivers, or make other potentially confusing choices that may or may not affect how your Mac functions.

That's not to say that there's nothing else to do, however. Your Mac will next go through the initial-setup process, and there are few tasks you'll want to perform when you boot into Mavericks for the first time.

Initial setup: Accounts, Apple IDs, and iCloud

When the installation procedure finishes, what you see depends on whether you've installed Mavericks on an empty drive; or on a drive containing Mountain Lion, Lion, or Snow Leopard with existing accounts, settings, and data.

Mountain Lion: If you've upgraded from Mountain Lion (or installed Mavericks onto a blank drive and imported your data and settings from a Mountain Lion installation), the first thing you'll see when you log in to your account under Mavericks depends on whether or not you were already using iCloud under Mountain Lion. If you were, you're prompted to enter the password for your Apple ID. If you weren't, you're first prompted to provide an Apple ID or password; if you don't have one, you have the option to create an Apple ID. Once you're signed in, OS X asks if you want to use Find My Mac for this Mac, and then you're prompted to agree to Apple's terms and conditions (for OS X, privacy policy, iCloud, and Game Center). Click Agree (twice), and setup continues. (Whether or not you were set up to use iCloud under Mountain Lion, the first Apple ID screen gives you the option, via a tiny text link, to use different Apple IDs for iCloud and iTunes, if you don't use the same account for both.)

In either case, the final step is to decide if you want to set up Mavericks's new iCloud Keychain feature. Assuming you do, you'll be walked through the setup process. Once that task is complete, you should be able to get right to work with no further interruptions.

Lion: If you've upgraded from Lion (or installed Mavericks onto a blank drive and imported your Lion data and settings), the procedure is essentially the same as with Mountain Lion. Oddly, on one of our Lion-equipped test Macs, we weren't prompted on the first restart to provide our Apple ID; it was only on the second restart that we were prompted. I suspect this was simply a glitch.

Snow Leopard: If you've upgraded from Snow Leopard (or installed Mavericks onto a blank drive and imported your Snow Leopard data and settings), the first thing you'll see when you log in to your account under Mavericks is an Apple ID screen. Enter your Apple ID and password--you can create an Apple ID here if you don't have one. (You have the option, via a tiny text link on this screen, to use different Apple IDs for iCloud and iTunes, if you don't use the same account for both.) Once you're signed in, OS X asks if you want to use Find My Mac for this Mac, and then you're prompted to agree to Apple's terms and conditions (for OS X, privacy policy, iCloud, and Game Center). Click Agree (twice), and you can start using Mavericks.

Empty drive: If you installed Mavericks onto a blank drive, your Mac will automatically restart with that drive as the startup drive. You'll then be walked through the new-system setup procedure. First you choose a system language and keyboard layout. Next, you choose a Wi-Fi network and provide the network password. (If you're connected to an Ethernet network, you skip this step.) You're then asked if you want to transfer accounts and data from another Mac, a Time Machine backup, another startup drive (such as a bootable clone backup), or a Windows PC; or you can simply start from scratch. If you do choose to transfer data, you'll be given the option to choose what to transfer--most likely, you'll want to transfer everything. The setup procedure will then continue much as if you upgraded from Mountain Lion, Lion, or Snow Leopard, respectively.

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