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The trick to remotely installing OS X Mountain Lion on a remote Mac

June 3, 2013

Have you ever needed to remotely log into a Mac that was physically located at another location, and install OS X Mountain Lion on it?

It’s easy enough to use remote access software like LogMeIn to remotely log into the Mac, download OS X from the App Store on that machine, and begin the installation process.

However, a problem happens after the OS X installation process is successfully complete, which is when OS X presents the user with a series of “Setup Assistant” screens. These setup screens temporarily take over the entire Mac… and temporarily disable most remote access software. In fact, these setup screens temporarily disable most of the background services on that Mac, so if you were depending on that machine being up & running for something important, you would find yourself out of luck.

To workaround this problem, you would typically need someone physically on-site in front of the computer to click through all of the Setup Assistant screens for you. At that point, you would finally be able to login remotely again and finish whatever you need to do in terms of configuring that Mac.

But there is a trick to doing all of this by yourself remotely. And by “all of this”, I mean “remotely clicking through those Setup Assistant screens so you can gain normal remote control of that Mac again”. It turns out that OS X’s built-in Screen Sharing service is STILL RUNNING in the background while those Setup Assistant screens are taking over the Mac, so you can leverage that behavior to do the remote install all by yourself.

This trick depends on 2 prerequisites:

A. You need to have remote access to ANOTHER MAC on the same local area network as the machine that you are remotely installing OS X Mountain Lion on.

B. You need to prepare in advance, BEFORE starting the OS X installation process.

Thus, here are the steps to go through:

1. On the Mac where you’re installing OS X Mountain Lion, go into the “Sharing” System Preference and enable screen sharing.

2. Test that you’ve got screen sharing working properly by remotely logging into another Mac on the same LAN.  Bring up a new Finder window. In the left margin, underneath “Shared”, choose the name of the machine where you’re installing OS X Mountain Lion. (Note: If you don’t see the machine listed, then you’ll need to go into your Finder Preferences, click on the Sidebar icon, and check “Bonjour computers”.) In the upper right corner of the Finder window, choose “Share Screen”. Type in the authorized username & password for the first machine, and voila! You are now controlling that other machine’s screen!

3. Now that you know that you’ve got screen sharing working properly, you can go ahead and remotely install OS X Mountain Lion on the first machine. Note that you won’t be able to visually monitor the entire installation process remotely, because the OS X installer needs to restart that machine and it does most of its installation while ZERO SERVICES are running. So after the OS X Installer restarts the first machine, you should BE PATIENT and wait about 45 minutes before attempting to log into that machine via screen sharing.

4. After about 45 minutes have passed, remotely log into the 2nd machine on the LAN via LogMeIn, and use OS X’s screen sharing to remotely control the first machine. You will find those lovely Setup Assistant screens which have taken over that first Mac, and you can very easily click through those screens until you are taken to your familiar Mac desktop again.

5. That’s it! Once you can see the Mac desktop on the first machine, you can go back to using LogMeIn (or whatever remote access software you’re using) to remotely control that Mac.

I hope you find this trick helpful!

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