I am using 10.9 and would like to install 10.7 on an external volume. I have the “Install Mac OS X Lion” application, but when I run it, I get the message

This version of Mac OS X is too new to run “Install Mac OS X” from Mac OS X 10.7.

Well, I do not want to downgrade, I just want to have a way to boot into 10.7. Is there any way around this?

  • What OS shipped with your Mac and/or what model of Mac do you have? – bmike Nov 8 '13 at 22:29
  • @bmike, it is the first Retina model, as far as I remember it shipped with 10.7, because 10.8 was released only shortly afterwards. – Carsten S Nov 9 '13 at 0:18
  • Applies to latest macOS (High Sierra) as well, where the error message is: This copy of the "Install OS X" application is too old to be opened on this version of OS X. – Roger Dueck Dec 17 '18 at 20:14

The (or at least a) solution is embarrassingly simple: Do not start the installer from a running system, but make a bootable install medium from the disk image included in the install program package and use that.

Quick instructions (more detailed ones can easily be found on the net, but I have not read any thoroughly enough to be able to endorse them):

  • Take for example USB drive or SD card, partition it in Disk Utility, make one partition and make sure to select GUID partition scheme so that the medium will be bootable.
  • In Disk Utility use "Restore" to copy the Installer to the boot medium: As destination use the newly created partition, for the source use the Finder to show the package contents (right click) of "Install Mac OS X Lion", there locate InstallESD.dmg and drag it to the source field.
  • After copying, reboot holding the option key, select the install medium you just created and happily install Lion to a destination of your choice.

An 8GB medium will be fine for the installer (it's 4.7GB), and a 32GB partition for the installed system (this will leave you with more than 7GB of free space).

  • Your answer contains very little detail, and ideally should contain step by step guidance, so that someone (perhaps with limited knowledge) can follow it through from start to finish & achieve the objective set out in your question above. – Simon Nov 9 '13 at 13:45
  • @Simon, ok, I've added some details. Using Lion on an SD card :) – Carsten S Nov 9 '13 at 14:20
  • 1
    hmm.. i found that on restart and selecting my bootable lion installer, i was shown a circular denied symbol.. – ptim Mar 22 '14 at 0:52
  • Not so "embarrassingly simple". There is some steps involved and you need another external peripheral. – Ludovic Landry Aug 24 '17 at 17:30

Carsten Shultz' answer is still generally correct, but there's also the easier option to use a tool like Diskmaker X http://diskmakerx.com/whats-this/ or since Mavericks use the built-in ability to make a bootable disk with a Terminal command.

For the latter with the Mavericks or Yosemite installer

  1. Start the Mavericks/Yosemite installer that you previously downloaded and stop at the first screen with the big X symbol and continue button.
  2. Open up Terminal and if Mavericks, then issue this command on a single line:sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ Mavericks.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/[DiskName] --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ Mavericks.app --nointeraction

    replacing [DiskName] with the name of the disk you want to reformat into an installation disk. If there are spaces in the name use "quotation" marks around the whole path: "/Volumes/[DiskName]". Alternatively, if Yosemite issue this updated command instead:sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ Yosemite.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/[DiskName] --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ Yosemite.app --nointeraction In both cases you of course need to supply your administrator password as usual.

  3. Wait for the installation to complete, This can take a very long time, like an hour or so, depending on the speed of the disks involved and other factors.

With the OS X USB Installer disk ready follow Carstens's advice and hold down option after reboot and boot up from the installer and unfettered from the installed OS X on your internal disk install the OS X version on the external disk of your choice.

  • How about installing Mountain Lion? the Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia command is not present. – adib Oct 27 '14 at 15:28
  • The easiest solution is Diskmaker X. The current version 4b4 is compatible with the installer for Mountain Lion and later OS X installers. Besides that Carstens' original solution above is one of the better alternatives. – MiB Oct 28 '14 at 16:57
  • I tried the Terminal approach in High Sierra (10.13.6) to get El Capitan (10.11) on a 2009 MacBook Pro, and the installation seemed to start successfully, but then halted on the error: This copy of the Install OS X El Capitan application can't be verified. It may have been corrupted or tampered with during downloading. – Roger Dueck Dec 17 '18 at 23:07
  • @adib Mountain Lion (and below) do not need createinstallmedia. There's a DMG inside the installer .app file—restore it to a USB key in Disk Utility. – Wowfunhappy Dec 18 '18 at 22:21
  • @RogerDueck, likely you have the incomplete partial installer or if not your full copy is tied to another account. You may need to clean it or get a full copy for the current account you're using. – MiB Dec 28 '18 at 10:43

There is a much simpler method, IF you have access got a system that is currently running the prior OS. I installed El Capitan, then ran into an application that was not yet compatible. So I took a Thunderbolt/USB 3 drive, formatted it GUID and installed Yosemite to it from my wife's laptop (which is running Yosemite).

Then simply plugged the external drive into my MB Pro with El Capitan, held down Option while booting, and now I have the selection of booting Yosemite or El Capitan until the application is El Capitan compatible.

This is a process that will "buy you time" if the need for Yosemite is only for an infrequently required application.

  • Thanks. I think the “installed Yosemite” could use some fleshing out. – Carsten S Aug 9 '15 at 13:19

An alternative solution might be to run earlier versions of OS X in a Virtual Machine. Parallels Desktop Lite is free from the Mac App Store, and can create a VM from an OS installer app.

You can run versions of MacOS even if they are too old for the hardware. This is perfect for maintaining legacy software.

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