I own two macs, one running Snow Leopard and one running Leopard. My partner also has a mac running leopard. I am planing to upgrade all three to Lion and am looking at the Official Lion USB Thumb Drive as a way to do this.

So my questions are as follows:

Does buying the thumb drive bind a license for Lion to my iTunes account? I then assume I can install Lion on up to 5 of my own macs. Can I use the same thumb drive on my partners Mac? Do they need to purchase Lion from the app store as well afterwards?

1 Answer 1


This is a very good question, because the ability to link your purchase to your iTunes account it tied in within the actual purchase from the Mac App Store. I have read, but cannot confirm, that when you purchase a new Mac that has the drive included, they will "credit" this against your iTunes account (or provide a facility to allow you to do this).

New Macs with the stick included are in an odd situation, because they come with the drive, but also come with the Recovery partition included as Firmware (not as a disk partition) that will allow you to re-install online. The online install option required authentication to prove validity, so this would be useless if they did not make the connection somehow. I think actually it's related to your system serial number, they know it was sold with Lion, so they will let you download even without a purchase history or Apple ID connection.

It should be noted that the Ts&Cs for the stick suggest that once you have installed via the retail thumb drive, you cannot then subsequently reinstall or recover using the recovery partition, in fact I believe that it does not create one. Some suggest this is because there is no mechanism to link the thumb drive purchase to your Apple ID.

I think the best solution is to avoid the retail stick, purchase Lion through the MAS, and then burn your own install DVD/USB/HDD installer from the package that you download. This get's it linked to your iTunes account and provides the license to do multiple installs, and provides you with both the means to do a full local restore without internet connectivity, as well as online recovery.

Whether this is technically against the license to install on your partners machine is hard so say, depends, I suppose you could own the machine, but just not use it as the primary user - there is no problem with his/her machine being subsequently used by a different iTunes ID. The spirit if the MAS license is all your home PCs, which I take to mean all the ones in your home, not just the ones which legally belong to you. Unlike purchases from the MAS the OS does not require you to have proof of purchase to install etc.

EDIT: Put it this way in summary, the multiple install license is a feature of the Mac App Store, and not specific to Lion. Purchasing Lion outside of the MAS might not afford you the same rights, certainly it removes the right to do online restores.

  • Seems I can't upvote just yet. But this is a very helpful answer and I will accept it should no one else have further advice. I think I will purchase Lion on my Snow Leopard Mac. Create a usb boot device and use that to 'clean' install on my own devices. My partner does not have access to a Snow leopard Machine (aside from mine). Do you think they could use my usb drive to install Lion on their machine and purchase their own copy after? Or is that usb key somehow linked to my account. Aug 18, 2011 at 11:29
  • Once you make your own install drive/key, it is completely standalone with no links or connections whatsoever to any account. Once installed when your partner enters the MAS, it will show as "installed" already, and you may not be able to purchase it, this is an area I haven't seen tested. I created a new user that was not connected to an Apple ID, and logged in, then accessed the App Store without signing in, and it still showed as "Installed" without an option to purchase.
    – stuffe
    Aug 18, 2011 at 12:05
  • Actually, if you are concerned about both having a separate purchase, you can simply purchase on your SL install, create your installer disk, then remove the downloaded package. Then create a new user on your machine, ask your partner to log in, sign into the MAS with their credentials, and it will not be installed, so they can purchase at that point. You can then pause the download and ignore it.
    – stuffe
    Aug 18, 2011 at 12:13
  • Thanks stuffe, Gone ahead and bought lion on my snow leopard machine. Does seem cheaper and easier to make my own USB key installer. Will attempt the secondary account thing soon. Would you suggest I accept your answer in the absence of a definitive response? I'm not sure what the etiquette on that is. Aug 18, 2011 at 17:10
  • That's entirely up to you, if you are satisfied that you don't need to leave it open, I'll gladly take the points :)
    – stuffe
    Aug 18, 2011 at 17:26

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