10.6.8 and earlier users wanting to upgrade need to read this tip in its entirety.
Systems discussed on this tip include: 10.5 Leopard, 10.6 Snow Leopard, 10.7 Lion, 10.8 Mountain Lion, 10.9 Mavericks, 10.10 Yosemite, 10.11 El Capitan, 10.12 Sierra, and 10.13 High Sierra. Their code names will be referred to when the info apply to all versions of those systems
As of last writing of this tip, the only available upgrades to 10.6.6 are 10.6.7, 10.6.8, 10.7, and you can take 10.7 up to 10.7.5 Combo, Supplemental update, and 10.7.5 Security Update 2014-004 followed by 10.7.5 Bash update. The only available upgrades to 10.6.8 are 10.7, 10.8, and 10.11,
10.7.5 users can go up to Mac OS 10.12 Sierra. (available again link added on 10/1/2018)
or via 10.11 then upgrade to 10.13.
10.8 users and higher can go to Mac OS 10.13 High Sierra (is still available as of 9/30/2018)
10.11 users and higher can go to Mac OS 10.14 Mojave
While you may need 10.7.5 to upgrade to Sierra, and 10.8 to High Sierra, a few Macs which shipped new with 10.6.1 or later, may be updated to 10.7, then 10.7.5 to get to Sierra, or 10.8 to High Sierra. This tip below discusses how to upgrade from 10.4.4 through 10.6.8 to 10.7 or later.
10.8 can be taken up to 10.8.5. 10.9, and 10.10 are not available anymore from the App Store unless you previously purchased it or your Mac shipped with it, however their free updates are still available.
10.9 can be taken to 10.9.5, 10.10 to 10.10.5, and 10.11 to 10.11.6.
10.6.8 can be taken to 10.11, but not without following the guidelines below to assure compatibility.
If you find you are compatible only with those operating systems, you may be able to discuss with App Store or AppleCare to get those available for you. First though continue reading this tip as you may not be able to get past 10.6.8 without jumping through many hoops. Note if you update to 10.11, iPhoto and certain printer and scanner drivers may no longer be available.
Rosetta, the application you never knew you had, is gone starting with Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion, Mountain Lion, Mavericks, Yosemite, El Capitan, and Sierra all lack it).
It is not in any shape or form related to the language translation teaching tool by the same name.
It is the background program that lets Intel Macs run applications written for Mac OS X at a time
when PowerPC Macs were the only thing around (before 2006). It is no longer there to enable their ability to run when you upgrade to the newer systems.
It also means that programs with older installer programs may need updating as well, so verify the system requirements do not lack
Mac OS X 10.7 or later, or drag their installer program into the Applications folder to verify they aren't for PowerPC only.
You'll see later how to determine that with the System Profiler program.
Go to Apple menu -> About This Mac to determine exactly what you have. Alternatively:
See https://discussions.apple.com/docs/DOC-6413 to identify your Mac.
See https://discussions.apple.com/docs/DOC-2295 if migrating data from a PowerPC Mac to an Intel Mac.
G3 without USB is maxed at 10.2.8, except for the Powerbook G3 250 original Powerbook G3 (also known as Kanga), which could only
be updated to Mac OS 9.1 (not to be confused with Mac OS X 10.9.1, which is 13 years newer).
G3 without Firewire, but with USB are maxed at 10.3.9, except the Powerbook G3 Lombard (Bronze Keyboard) which may have CPU specific issues that limit
its upgradeability at all.
G3 or G4 of 800 Mhz or less with Firewire are maxed at 10.4.11.
PowerPC Macs G4 867 Mhz (on single processor) and above (1 Ghz or higher included), and G5s can upgrade only to Mac OS X 10.5.8, and only support for syncing with iOS 5.x devices and earlier.
Intel CoreSolo and Intel CoreDuo can upgrade only to Mac OS X 10.6.8 if they have at least 1 GB of RAM (768 MB is less). This does offer for anyone in the position compatibility with PowerPC applications that don't require drivers, and the latest Adobe Flash support as of May 14, 2014, and support for syncing with iOS 7 devices. For more on iOS support and Mac OS X syncing, see this tip:
Intel Core2Duo and XEON and later (Core i3, i5, i7 are all later models) may be able to go 10.4.4 to 10.6 to 10.6.8 to 10.9 to 10.9.2, or even up to 10.10 and 10.11 (skipping 10.5 to 10.5.8 altogether, and 10.7 to 10.8.5 altogether), as will later be explained. 10.6.8 may also be upgraded directly to 10.10. However, due to Rosetta's lack of existence in 10.7 and later, this type of upgrade, and any such upgrade that does not skip the aforementioned operating systems needs to be planned carefully. This tip explains what is needed to approach such upgrade pattern once it reaches 10.7 or later.
It does mean your data if it was in Appleworks, or an older version of Quicken may
need to go through several conversion steps before you can upgrade to a newer Mac OS X.
It does mean that some newer Macs than July 19, 2011 will be faced with difficulty when approaching older applications. That date is later for some Mac models that did not receive a hardware revision until a later date than July 20, 2011, and that will also be explained later.
Some things you get with 10.7 and higher, specifically 10.7.3 and higher, are better compatibility with Java for websites from http://www.java.com/
If your machine is limited to 10.7, stick with 10.7.3 unless you require other compatibility that is only on 10.7.4 or 10.7.5. Those with 10.6.8 or earlier running Java should read this tip:
Adobe Flash compatibility with older Macs is discussed here, though if you can run at least 10.6.8, you can run the latest Flash:
Now this doesn't mean you can't upgrade to 10.7 or later, if you have those older applications, but the workarounds aren't easy,
as this tip on virtualizing 10.6 server on 10.7 or later demonstrates. Applications that aren't on this link as 10.7 or later compatible, may only work with the workaround. Alternatively a second hard drive with 10.6.8 or earlier, or second partition with 10.6.8 or earlier if supported by the Mac will enable you to continue to use Rosetta. Mac models whose hardware changed (by Apple delivering a new set of hardware to stores) as of July 20, 2011 or later though have to deal with the first work around as their only choice.
The System Profiler application lets you quickly determine if you have PowerPC applications (click on image to enlarge):
Note the triangle to the left of Software has to be pointed down for the Applications to become visible.
Note the right hand side of the the Applications listing when selected says if you have PowerPC, Classic, Intel, or Universal.
PowerPC & Classic indicate PowerPC only. Classic indicates it only runs on a PowerPC with Mac OS 9 running in the Classic environment
Another way to tell applications are PowerPC only when you have already booted into 10.7 or later, requiring Rosetta, or a different operating system, is their icon in the Dock will have a Do not Enter sign like below:
This icon overlay only works for those applications that specifically have been tested to not work in the operating system being booted into, and clearly need a component of a different operating system. I've seen this happen as much to 10.10 applications that don't work in 10.9 while booted into 10.9, as 10.8 applications and 10.6 applications that don't work in 10.10 while booted into 10.10. The lack of this overlay though does not mean an application is necessarily compatible.
Before you upgrade to 10.6, be aware of this tip.
Before you upgrade to 10.7 or later, also be aware of the info on this tip.
If everything is good, you can do the following upgrade path:
10.8 can be updated to 10.8.5 combo (free) as well.
An empty hard drive to 10.6 retail, then the above the 10.6.6 or 10.6.8 paths, or 10.7 USB Flash (no longer available) to 10.8 or 10.11 are also possibilities.
Note: The only 10.4 systems that can upgrade to 10.8 through 10.11 are on this tip Are there 10.4 systems that can upgrade to 10.11
The only 10.5 systems that can upgrade to 10.8 through 10.11 are on this tip:
The links provided should be followed to avoid any pitfalls you may get.
Lastly, Apple lists compatible printers for 10.6 and later:
Any not listed, will have to come from the vendor directly.
Apple provides updates to the printers on that link through these links by vendor:
P.S. Users with PowerMac G3, G4, G5 reading this tip should also read the migration guide before migrating data from those machines to an Intel Mac.
* An erase of the hard drive during partitioning is usually only required when you have insufficient space. With sufficient space, partitioning can be done without erasing as described here:
under "Create new partitions on a disk." You should backup regardless.
and can be updated to 10.8 Mountain Lion through 10.11 El Capitan
and can be updated to 10.12 Sierra.
10.8 can be upgraded to High Sierra on certain Mac Models.
10.8.5 has this security update: 2015-006 Mountain Lion Security Update
10.9.5 has this security update: 2015-008 Security update
The only Macs that shipped with 10.6.8 or earlier than can run 10.14 Mojave are certain Mac Pros with specific graphics cards.
Lastly, for those with Microsoft Office versions that are too old, there are these alternatives: