Logo of the MacNinja squatting in front of a History of OS X poster

How to download old operating system installers directly from Apple

Where to download operating system updates from Apple.

It used to be that the only way to download older operating system updates was to have “purchased” them in the first place so that they would exist in your purchase history. Thankfully, Apple has made a single webpage to download the systems from Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite up until the current release. 


Addendum 2021-06-30
Apple has finally restored the ability to download two more older operating systems: 
Mac OS X 10.7 Lion and Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.



From retail sales to free downloads

Apple used to sell operating system updates. I can’t find the retail price of System 7, which was released on May 13, 1991. But I found a picture of what was included in the box:

An image of 12 floppy disks comprising the Mac's System 7 operating system

Wikipedia claims there were 15 floppy disks, though this image only shows 12. It’s interesting to note that the Before You Install floppy (pictured in the lower lefthand corner) is a 720 Kilobyte standard density floppy and that the Fonts disk (pictured in the lower righthand corner) is a 1.44 MB High Density floppy disk. Apple later changed to using CDs to distribute their updates. 

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard was the last release to primarily focus on retail boxes. Starting with Mac OS X 10.6.9, Apple created the Mac App Store and initially it was the only way to purchase Mac OS X 10.7 Lion for $29.99 (Apple later released USB keys and CDs that could be special ordered). Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion sold for $19.99, and every release after that was released for free through the Mac App store. 

Those early operating system installers were the first ones to “disappear” in that Apple initially stopped allowing 10.7 Lion to be “purchased” from the Mac app store after the release of 10.8 Mountain Lion. In a sort of Catch-22, the only way to download those operating systems at the time they were removed was if you had previously “purchased” them for free and they were in your purchase history. 

Illustrated history of OS X releases microsite

I really love this little website with beautiful illustrations covering the different releases of Apple’s OS X series of operating systems. I even bought their poster.

The History of macOS