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Running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: installation play by play

Snow Leopard is finally here! I just received my copy, and after creating a full Time Machine backup of my system, I went ahead with the install process. My main computer is a 17" Unibody MacBook Pro, 2.66GHz with 4GB RAM and a 7200RPM 320GB hard drive

Written by Topher Kessler

Snow Leopard is finally here! I just received my copy, and after creating a full Time Machine backup of my system, I went ahead with the install process. My main computer is a 17" Unibody MacBook Pro, 2.66GHz with 4GB RAM and a 7200RPM 320GB hard drive that is running OS X 10.5.8. Since I use this machine for most of my work I was a little nervous about how the revamped underpinnings of Snow Leopard would interact with the various programs I rely on; therefore, the first thing I did was ensure my backup was functional and accessible so I could restore to Leopard if necessary. I then opened Disk Utility and ran a drive verification on the boot volume, to be sure the drive was functioning properly before continuing.

NOTE: This is my personal account of installing Snow Leopard. Please be sure to take the precautions and observations I discussed in my previous article on preparing for Snow Leopard if you are going to install, which may save you some potential problems. Additionally, be sure to fully back up your system before installing this upgrade. For more information on preparing your system and backups for installing Snow Leopard, see the following MacFixIt articles:

Permissions repairs before updating?

Since Snow Leopard will replace most of your system files with optimized binaries, and since the installer will run as "root" and therefore overlook any permissions on the drive, you should not need to run a permissions fix before installing Snow Leopard. Despite this, if you are at all concerned about permissions, performing a fix will not hurt anything so go ahead with one beforehand for extra precaution. Generally, I recommend permissions fixes before applying incremental updates, but for Snow Leopard I do recommend that you at least run a permissions fix after installation to ensure files are readable when booting to the new OS. I also recommend that you run a hard drive verification before installing (as I did), and repair any errors that may arise before continuing with the install.

Inserting the Snow Leopard DVD I double-clicked the install icon, expecting to have it reboot to the DVD as all other OS X installations have required. This was not the case with Snow Leopard, which instead launched a grey-themed installer program that allowed for me to select various options such as printer drivers, QuickTime 7, and Rosetta, all while OS X 10.5 was still running in the background. There are no options to select the installation method (archive and install, or otherwise), which was rumored to be the case before Snow Leopard's release. I chose to do an upgrade installation, but in order to do a clean install you click the "Utilities" button and the installer will then boot directly to the DVD and allow you to use Disk Utility to format your hard drive. Quicktime 7 is installed by default and can be deselected, but on the contrary Rosetta is not checked by default, which is surprising because it is only a single 1.9MB application; however, having it this way clearly shows Apple's progressive intent to move away from PowerPC. I decided to install Rosetta because a variety of utilities and other packages I use are still PowerPC only.

After choosing the options I wanted, I clicked "continue" and the installer claimed the whole process would take 45 minutes or so. It copied all the selected installation files from the DVD to my hard drive, which took about 10 minutes, and then rebooted. The standard OS X installer then launched with a slightly different starry-space background than was seen in Leopard, and immediately began the install process. There were no additional configuration options for the installation.

At this point the installer claimed there were 38 minutes remaining--so far the time estimation seemed accurate. As with other OS X installations there was no description of the specific tasks taking place; rather, the system just showed a striped blue progress bar in a window with large "Install Mac OS X" text, and an estimated time remaining underneath. The menu bar had an Airport menu, battery indicator, input menu, and the standard "File", "Edit", "Utilities", and "Window" menus, making it all feel very much like Leopard at this point.

When the installer came to the last minute of estimated time remaining, Apple kept true to what they've done in the past and resorted to the "About a minute" and "Less than a minute" estimations, which took closer to 5 minutes for me. I personally would very much like Apple to recognize the final steps for any installation can take a while, and someday see them use "Time Remaining: Who knows?" in these estimations.

When the installation completed, the progress bar went from revolving stripes to a uniform blue color and then switched to the familiar "Installation Complete" window with a big check mark and a count-down of 30 seconds to an auto-restart, with the option to manually click a "restart" button. At this point I expected a long initial reboot while the system configured the new software, but after the grey Apple logo screen with the spinning wheel (which usually takes about 20-30 seconds on my system for the hardware to initialize) the system booted quite fast. The initial login did take a minute or two, but that was the only delay in the installation and more than likely was something unique to my system.

Upon loading the desktop the Setup Assistant launched and displayed the "Leopard" welcome movie with the twisting "Welcome" phrases in multiple languages, though it was running in a window rather than at full-screen. When this completed, the final "Thank You" screen of the Setup Assistant displayed, and clicking "continue" brought me to my desktop as it had been in 10.5 Leopard. In fact, for a moment I thought somehow I had not installed 10.6 and was still looking at 10.5. Only after using it for a while was I convinced the installation had put Snow Leopard on my system. Everything looks exactly the same, with no observable differences in the majority of the user interface.

Installation was complete! I am running Snow Leopard!

Using Setup Assistant on a clean installation.

For a clean installation of Snow Leopard, the Setup Assistant would step you through migration of personal data and account creation just as it has done in Leopard, and provide an easy way to select the accounts to migrate, using Time Machine or another computer in Target Disk mode to use as a source for the migration. There is very little new functionality to it, but it does have a few visual improvements.

Now I am looking forward to using the system and getting to know this new beast! So far in navigating the Finder and using other applications it feels much snappier than 10.5, and as such it gives this update a similar feel as the 10.1 release of OS X in comparison to 10.0, which highly optimized the initial release of OS X and made the system much more usable. I look forward to outlining the perks I see in 10.6 Snow Leopard, and any quirks as well. This is exciting because despite the relative lack of new features in Snow Leopard as a major OS release, the optimization makes this feel like a solid foundation for years of new features to come.

Overall the installation of Snow Leopard felt a lot more stable and robust than previous installations of OS X, making the transition easy and efficient. I hope others have the same positive upgrade experience with this new OS, but please feel free to contact us at MacFixIt with your installation experiences, including successes and problems. We would love to hear how the new OS handles your setup.

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Topher has been an avid Mac user for the past 10-15 years, and has been a contributing author to MacFixIt for just over a year now. One of his diehard passions has been troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware both for family and friends, as well as in the workplace. He and the newly formed MacFixIt team are hoping to bring enhanced and more personable content to our readers, and keep the MacFixIt community going here at CNET. If you have questions or comments for Topher or the other MacFixIt editors, feel free to contact us at

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