Give your old Mac soft­ware eter­nal life

There are plenty of ways to get more out of out­dated soft­ware. Jason Snell shows how

Macworld - - Contents -

It’s been a long time com­ing, but hav­ing your Mac tell you that some of your apps will stop work­ing brings some im­me­di­acy to the is­sue: If there’s a 32-bit Mac app you rely on to get work done, and it’s no longer be­ing up­dated, on forth­com­ing ver­sions of macos it will only work with com­pro­mises, and ul­ti­mately it won’t work at all. Don’t fear the death of your old soft­ware, my friends. Your cur­rent

long-in-the-tooth favourites, and old friends you said good­bye to years ago, can live on and still be use­ful, thanks to the mirac­u­lous dig­i­tal af­ter­life known as vir­tu­al­iza­tion.

A le­gal hedge against ob­so­les­cence

When you think about em­u­la­tion (if you think about it at all), it’s prob­a­bly in the con­text of down­load­ing soft­ware that lets you play old games or even re­visit an­cient com­put­ing plat­forms, all thanks to soft­ware that’s prob­a­bly still un­der copy­right but has of­ten been ut­terly aban­doned.

But em­u­la­tion (and its cousin, vir­tu­al­iza­tion) can also be used le­gally to do all sorts of use­ful things. The Linux server I run my en­tire busi­ness on is, in fact, one of many vir­tu­al­ized servers run­ning on a much larger piece of hard­ware. It’s vir­tual re­al­ity for com­put­ers: there’s an en­tire pre­tend com­puter that’s ac­tu­ally a pro­gram on a dif­fer­ent com­puter.

If you’re a Mac user, you may know vir­tu­al­iza­tion from apps like Vmware Fu­sion ( and Parallels Desk­top (­qrj), both of which let you run Win­dows apps while you’re also run­ning macos. Since both macos and Win­dows use In­tel pro­ces­sors, this isn’t em­u­la­tion (where the soft­ware is pre­tend­ing to be com­puter’s pro­ces­sor it­self), but it’s still vir­tu­al­iza­tion, since Win­dows and its apps think they’re in­side a Win­dows PC when they’re re­ally in­side an app run­ning on a Mac.

Run­ning Win­dows apps can be re­ally con­ve­nient if you rely on them. But what about those old

Mac apps that are go­ing to be ob­so­lete soon?

And what about those apps you aban­doned when you up­graded to Moun­tain Lion or Mav­er­icks or Yosemite or El Cap­i­tan?

It’s not widely known, but Vmware Fu­sion and Parallels Desk­top can run vir­tual ver­sions of macos, too. There are a few lim­i­ta­tions. First off, you can only em­u­late macos on hard­ware run­ning macos. Sec­ond, there are some spe­cific ver­sions of macos that are al­lowed for vir­tu­al­iza­tion: Mac OS X 10.5 Leop­ard and Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leop­ard can only have their server ver­sions vir­tu­al­ized, so if you need to dip back that far you’ll need to dig up a Mac OS X Server disc or buy an old one on the In­ter­net.

But you’re free to vir­tu­al­ize Mac OS X 10.7

Lion, Mac OS X 10.8 Moun­tain Lion, Mac OS X

10.9 Mav­er­icks, Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite, Mac

OS X 10.11 El Cap­i­tan, macos 10.12 Sierra, and macos 10.13 High Sierra. (Pre­sum­ably Ap­ple will con­tinue al­low­ing fu­ture ver­sions of macos to run in vir­tu­al­iza­tion on Mac hard­ware.)

So if you have old soft­ware that you’re afraid isn’t go­ing to work in a fu­ture macos ver­sion, fear not: you should be able to in­stall macos in Vmware Fu­sion or Parallels Desk­top and keep us­ing that app. You can even set the vir­tu­al­iza­tion soft­ware to open in a full-screen space on your Mac, so you can swipe on a track­pad from High Sierra to Mav­er­icks and back. It’s not nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to be the fastest or smoothest ride – un­less you’ve got a Mac with a pow­er­ful pro­ces­sor and a lot of RAM – but it’ll prob­a­bly get the job done.

What about older soft­ware?

I have some se­ri­ous doubts that any­one is per­form­ing ma­jor pro­duc­tiv­ity tasks on the clas­sic Mac OS, but there are sev­eral op­tions for em­u­lat­ing those old ver­sions. Minix­mac is a ba­sic em­u­la­tor of very old macs, and I was able to get lots of my Mac OS 9 soft­ware up and run­ning in the Sheepshaver em­u­la­tor.

(A more likely use case than writ­ing your next novel in Writenow on Sys­tem 6.0.8 is that you may want to get data that’s locked in a pro­pri­etary app out into a for­mat you can man­age with mod­ern soft­ware. I have a bunch of stuff trapped in old

data­base files that I was able to ac­cess re­cently for the first time in 15 years.)

There is a big hole, though, if you’re some­one who, like me, wants to chronicle the his­tory of

Mac OS from the be­gin­ning up to now: the early days of OS X. Macs in those days ran on Pow­erpc pro­ces­sors, and it’s a real chal­lenge to em­u­late Pow­erpc Macs run­ning OS X. I know some peo­ple who have done it us­ing the QEMU em­u­la­tor (, but it’s hard to get work­ing re­li­ably and it’s prob­a­bly not strictly le­gal.

Old soft­ware, old hard­ware

How­ever, there’s an­other op­tion: ebay. If you’ve never shopped for old Mac hard­ware on ebay, get ready for some­thing. Last week I bought a Power Mac G4 and Ap­ple Cin­ema Dis­play for £150, and all of a sud­den I’ve got a ma­chine with Mac OS X 10.1 through 10.5 in­stalled on it. (Alas, this sys­tem isn’t quite old enough to run Mac OS X 10.0 or the Pub­lic Beta re­lease.) I’m sure that this area of Mac em­u­la­tion will one day make more sense, but right now it’s in an un­canny val­ley be­tween the truly an­cient and the mod­ern and le­git­i­mate vir­tu­al­iza­tion avail­able from Leop­ard Server for­ward.

Be­yond ebay, of course, con­sider just keep­ing your old Macs around af­ter you buy new Macs. Old Macs that seem slow on the cur­rent ver­sion of macos will seem much faster when their hard drives are wiped and re­placed with an older ver­sion of the op­er­at­ing sys­tem. My 2009 imac,

which seemed hor­ren­dously slow run­ning El Cap­i­tan, ab­so­lutely flies when it’s run­ning Snow Leop­ard. If you rely on old soft­ware, keep­ing an old

Mac around isn’t a bad in­vest­ment.

Think of the fu­ture

The abil­ity to run old soft­ware you still need to use is im­por­tant, but there’s a larger is­sue here, too. In our quest for the lat­est and great­est, it’s easy to dis­card old tech­nol­ogy as out­moded and ir­rel­e­vant. Which it is, in a way. But af­ter a few years, what was old and out­moded be­comes his­toric, maybe even clas­sic. In­ter­net com­mu­ni­ties that build em­u­la­tors of old soft­ware and hard­ware are vi­tal to al­low­ing the peo­ple of to­day and to­mor­row to un­der­stand what com­put­ers and games con­soles were like in the early days.

And un­for­tu­nately, we can’t count on the com­pa­nies that made these prod­ucts to be good stew­ards of their work. Oc­ca­sion­ally a com­pany will do­nate source code to a com­puter mu­seum,

but of­ten times le­gal rea­sons make it im­pos­si­ble for soft­ware to be made pub­licly avail­able. In a per­fect world, Ap­ple should’ve al­lowed the pub­lic com­plete ac­cess to the source code for the Ap­ple II plat­form, but it hasn’t, and prob­a­bly can’t. (Even Ap­ple’s do­na­tion of the Lisa source code to the Com­puter His­tory Mu­seum isn’t com­plete; it doesn’t have the rights to the in­cluded dic­tio­nary.)

In this way, I think we have to thank Ap­ple for chang­ing the li­cence for macos in 2011 so that it cer­tain ver­sions can be freely vir­tu­al­ized. That prob­a­bly means that, long af­ter the Mac has van­ished and the de­vices we use no longer use In­tel-com­pat­i­ble pro­ces­sors, all the Mac soft­ware from this decade will sur­vive in its own vir­tual re­al­ity.

OS X 10.10 and Adobe Pho­to­shop CS5 vir­tu­al­ized in Vmware Fu­sion 10

Power Mac G4 and Cin­ema dis­play

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