A reader contacted us the other day with an interesting problem: he wanted to use the latest Java update, but it requires an "Intel-based Mac running Mac OS X 10.7.3 (Lion) or later" and his MacBook was running Snow Leopard.
Here's the twist: his MacBook cannot run Mountain Lion (10.8), and Lion (10.7) is no longer available for sale on the Mac App Store. It's also not available on Apple's website, or Amazon.com, or anywhere else (with very few exceptions which all looked extremely unreliable).
The good news is that Lion is still available from Apple... but you have to call Apple to get it. It will cost you US$20 and will come to you as a redeemable code that you will use in the Mac App Store, which means that you will need a Mac running at least 10.6.8 to use the code.
The only weird part is that the Apple Support salesman said that it may take "up to a couple of days" to get the redemption code. I'm not sure why that is, but my guess is that if you haven't upgraded to Lion yet, waiting another day or two won't be a huge deal.
In the USA, the number for Apple Sales Support is 1-800-692-7753. When I called their automated call routing system I said "Sales" at the first prompt (what department I wanted), "Lion" at the second prompt (what I was calling about) and "Personal" at the third prompt (personal, business or education). That connected me to the right person.
Folks who aren't in the US should check the Contacting Apple for support and service page, and may have different voice prompts.
"But I already paid for Lion!"
If you bought Lion when it was available, you might be disappointed to learn that it no longer appears in your "Purchases" list in the App Store. I was surprised to learn that if I wanted to download Lion again, I would be expected to pay for it again. That seems like something Apple should be able to easily confirm that I have already purchased and allow me to download for free.
I also assume that if I needed to reinstall Lion from a recovery partition which is already set up on a computer running Lion, then I would be able to do that, but I have not tested that theory. Fortunately I saved a copy of the 4 GB "Install Mac OS X Lion.app" before it was removed from the Mac App Store in case I ever need to do a clean installation.
"Can I use someone else's Lion installer?"
If you purchased Lion from the Mac App Store but no longer have a copy of the installer app, you should be able to use someone else's Lion installer, i.e., from a USB thumb drive. I seem to recall that the installer connects to some computer at Apple.com to verify that you are "eligible" to install Lion, but it has been a long time since I installed Lion and have not tried using someone else's installer.
Past is prologue, make a USB installer today
Apple's behavior with Lion is a good indication of how things will likely proceed with Mountain Lion once the next version of Mac OS X is released. The Mountain Lion installer will eventually be removed from the Mac App Store, and users who cannot or prefer not to upgrade will not be able to download it again without contacting Apple, and possibly having to pay for it again.
If you don't already have the installer downloaded, I recommend getting it now and saving it somewhere safe. In fact, it would be a good idea to save a copy of it on your hard drive, and make a USB installer as well. This is extremely easy to do using Lion DiskMaker which (despite the name) works with Snow Leopard, Lion or Mountain Lion.