Apple on Monday released a utility that builds a Lion recovery disk on a USB flash drive, giving users a way to restore their Macs if the machine's hard drive fails completely.
The Lion Recovery Disk Assistant is a free download , and requires a flash or "thumb" drive of 1GB or more, or an external drive connected to the Mac via a USB cable and port.
The Lion Recovery Disk Assistant creates a bootable recovery USB flash drive for emergency repairs.
"This drive can be used in the event you cannot start your computer with the built-in Recovery HD, or you have replaced the hard drive with a new one that does not have Mac OS X installed," Apple explained in an accompanying support document .
Unlike previous editions of Mac OS X, Lion is available only as a digital download , so its recovery "disk" is actually a separate partition on the drive.
That's sufficient for restoring the active partition that contains Lion, applications and data, but would be worthless if the hard drive itself dies.
Many Windows PCs use the same strategy, relying on a recovery partition rather than bundling a CD or DVD recovery disc. Typically, those machines offer tools that can create a physical recovery disc on the user's own media.
On the newest Macs -- the recently-revamped MacBook Air and Mac Mini -- Lion also offers an online road to recovery. Dubbed "Lion Internet Recovery," it lets users start their Mac directly from Apple's servers even when the system won't properly boot. The online approach, however, isn't available on older systems, like those that have been upgraded from Snow Leopard.
While do-it-yourself techniques for creating a Lion recovery disk -- usually on a flash drive -- have circulated on the Internet, this is the first time Apple's provided its own utility.
To use the recovery disk, Lion owners must reboot the Mac while holding down the Option key while the flash drive is plugged into a USB port or the external USB drive is connected to the computer.
A recovery disk created on a Mac upgraded from Snow Leopard to Lion can be used with any similar system, but one built on a machine that came with Lion pre-installed only works with that Mac.
More information on Lion's recovery options can be found on Apple's support site.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer , on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com .
Read more about mac os in Computerworld's Mac OS Topic Center.