How to Upgrade Install OS X Yosemite on Your Mac

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How to Upgrade Install OS X Yosemite on Your Mac

OS X Yosemite Desktop
OS X Yosemite's desktop featuring Half Dome. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

OS X Yosemite follows the tradition of providing an easy upgrade install as the default installation method. As a result, the process really comes down to just following a few onscreen steps and making a choice or two along the way.

Really, it's hard to go wrong with this simple installation method. But before you launch the OS X Yosemite installer and start clicking through the onscreen instructions, take a moment to make sure that it's the right install option for you, that your Mac is properly prepped, and that you have all the information you will need at your fingertips for the new version of OS X.

If You Can Surf Mavericks, Then You're Ready for a Hike Into Yosemite

Apple was a bit slow in providing minimum requirements for OS X Yosemite. But it's easy enough to divine what the requirements will be since Yosemite doesn't require any new or specialized hardware that could limit it to only certain Mac models. In fact, it appears that Apple intends Yosemite to work with as many Mac models as OS X Mavericks does. To put it simply, if your Mac can run OS X Mavericks, it should have no difficulty with OS X Yosemite.

You can find a detailed list of which Macs will be supported in the guide:

OS X Yosemite Minimum Requirements

Once you're sure that your Mac meets the minimum requirements, you're almost ready to proceed, but there are still a few more steps to go through to ensure that your expectations will be met by Yosemite.

Back Up, Back Up, Back Up

You're going to be making major changes to your Mac: installing new system files, deleting old ones, applying for new permissions, and resetting preferences. There's a lot that gets done behind the curtain of the friendly install wizard; should something occur during the installation, such as a drive starting to fail or a power outage, your Mac may fail to restart or be compromised in some way. I don't mean to make it sound like this is a risky undertaking; it isn't, but that doesn't mean that all risks have been eliminated. Why take chances when all you need to do is backup your data before proceeding.

Types of OS X Yosemite Installation Options

Yosemite supports the usual installation options; upgrade install, which we will take you through in this guide, and clean install. The clean install option has some variants, such as installing on your current startup drive or on a non-startup drive.

  • Upgrade Install: The upgrade install will completely remove the existing version of OS X from the startup drive. It will update all needed system files, and update all applications that Apple includes with the OS, such as Mail and Safari. An upgrade install won't make changes to your user data; as a result, your user accounts and any data associated with them will remain. However, when you first run an app, such as Mail, it's likely that your mail data will be updated to work with the new version of Mail included with Yosemite. This same user data upgrade may occur with multiple apps. For this reason, you should not expect to be able to go back to the previous version of the OS if you decide you don't like OS X Yosemite, at least not without using the backup you made before you installed it.
  • Clean Install: The clean install process gets its name from what it will do to your designated target drive, usually your startup drive. It will completely delete all data on the target drive and replace it with OS X Yosemite and the default apps that come with it. Selecting the clean install option will leave your Mac in a similar condition to the day you got it; no user data, no user accounts, and a setup wizard to walk through to create your first administrator account.

As you can see, a clean install really is for starting from scratch. So, before you decide to use the clean install option, be sure to backup all of your data. You can find step-by-step instructions in the article:

Perform a Clean Install of OS X Yosemite 

Let's Get Started

The first step in installing Yosemite is to check your Mac's startup drive for any problems, including repairing permissions. You can do this by using the instructions in our guide:

Using Disk Utility to Repair Hard Drives and Disk Permissions

When you're done, come back here and we'll start the upgrade install process by going to Page 2 of this guide.

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How to Download OS X Yosemite and Start the Upgrade Install

OS X Yosemite Installer
OS X Yosemite can be installed on the drive of your choice. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

OS X Yosemite is available from the Mac App Store and is a free upgrade from OS X Snow Leopard (10.6.x) or later. If you're running a version of OS X older than 10.6.x, you'll need to first purchase Snow Leopard and then install it on your Mac.

Download OS X Yosemite

  1. Launch the Mac App Store by clicking its icon in the Dock.
  2. You'll find OS X Yosemite in the right-hand All Categories sidebar, under the Apple Apps category. Or, if you signed up for the OS X Yosemite public beta and received a beta access code from Apple, you'll find the download by clicking the Purchases tab at the top of the Mac App Store window.
  3. Select the OS X Yosemite app and click the Download button.

The download is in excess of 5 GB, so it will take a bit of time. Once the download process is complete, you're ready to start the installation process.

Can't Find OS X Yosemite?

If Apple has released a newer version of OS X, you won't be able to find Yosemite in the Mac App store, at least not in the usual way. If you're reinstalling Yosemite, then you can find the operating system in the Purchased tab of the Mac App store. Check out the guide:  How to Re-Download Apps From the Mac App Store.

Upgrade Install OS X Yosemite

  1. The download process will deposit Yosemite in your /Applications folder, with the file name Install OS X Yosemite. The installer usually starts up automatically after the download is complete; if it didn't start up, simply double-click the Install OS X Yosemite file.
  2. When the Install OS X app opens, click the Continue button to proceed.
  3. The Yosemite license agreement will display; click the Agree button to proceed.
  4. A small sheet will appear, asking you to confirm that you have actually read the license agreement. Click the Agree button.
  5. You'll be presented with your Mac's startup drive as the install destination for OS X Yosemite. If this is correct, click the Install button. You can also select the Show all Disks button to allow you to select a different drive to install on. If you don't wish to overwrite your startup drive with the new OS, or any of the available drives, select Quit Install OS X from the Install OS X menu. You can then return to Page 1 of this guide and review the installation options. Otherwise, continue on to the next step.
  6. You'll be asked for your administrator password. Enter the information and click OK.
  7. The installer will begin by writing needed files to the startup drive; this process can take a few minutes. When it's complete, your Mac will restart.
  8. After the restart, your Mac will display a gray screen with a progress bar for a short period of time. Eventually, the display will change to show an install window, with a progress bar and a time estimate. Don't believe the time estimate; I've seen installs finish both more quickly and more slowly than the estimate. About the only thing you can be sure of is that as long as the progress bar is present, the install hasn't finished yet.
  9. Once the progress bar completes, your Mac will restart again, and you'll be taken to the login screen.

OS X Yosemite has been installed and you're ready to start the setup process, where you configure the OS to meet your personal preferences. If you're ready to begin the setup process, go on to Page 3 of this guide.

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OS X Yosemite Setup Process

AppleID sign in option for OS X Yosemite
Signing in with your Apple ID allows for a quicker setup. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

At this point, you've completed the upgrade install process outlined on Pages 1 and 2 of this guide. Your Mac has rebooted and is displaying the login screen, even if under the previous version of the OS you had configured your Mac to take you straight to the desktop. Don't worry; you can reset the login option after you finish the setup process.

Setup OS X Yosemite

  1. Enter your account password, and then press the Enter or Return key.
  2. OS X Yosemite will display the desktop along with a window asking you to log in with your Apple ID. You can skip this process if you wish by clicking the Set Up Later link, but I recommend signing in with your Apple ID because it will make the setup process move along faster. Enter your Apple ID and click Continue.
  3. A drop-down sheet will appear, requesting permission to allow this Mac to be used with the Find My Mac service. You can click the About Find My Mac button to view information about the service, the Not Now button to disable the service (you can turn it back on later if you change your mind), or the Allow button to use the Find My Mac service. Make your selection.
  4. The Terms and Conditions window will open, asking you to agree to the license terms for OS X, Apple's Privacy Policy, iCloud, and the Game Center. You can review each license by clicking the More link next to each item. If you accept the terms of all the licenses, click the Agree button.
  5. A drop-down sheet will appear, asking if you really, really agree to the terms. Click the Agree button.
  6. The next step asks if you wish to set up iCloud Keychain. Setting up the keychain can be a bit involved; if you haven't done it before I suggest you defer this choice by selecting Set Up Later. This will allow you to complete the OS X Yosemite setup process now and set up iCloud keychain a bit later. Select Set Up Later, and then click the Continue button.
  7. The OS X Yosemite setup window will display a list of software that is incompatible with the new version of OS X. Any application listed is automatically moved to the Incompatible Software Folder, located at the root of your startup drive (/startup drive name/Incompatible Software). Click the Continue button.
  8. The OS X installer will complete the setup process. This usually only takes a few minutes, after which the desktop will appear, ready for you to use.

Now that OS X Yosemite is installed, take a look around. Check out Safari, which is much faster than previous versions. You may find that a few of your preference settings were reset during the upgrade install. If you bring up System Preferences, you can go through the preference panes and set your Mac up as you wish.