It’s been a long time, but having your Mac telling you that some of your apps are going to stop working brings a certain immediacy to the problem: if there is a 32-bit Mac app you rely on to work on and it isn’t. more update, on future versions of macOS this will only work with compromises, and ultimately it will not work at all.
Don’t fear the death of your old software, my friends. Your current longtime favorites, 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.
Legal coverage against obsolescence
When you think about emulation (if you think about it), it’s probably in the context of downloading software that allows you to play old games or even revisit old computer platforms, all thanks to software that is probably still copyrighted but has often been abandoned altogether.
But emulation (and its cousin, virtualization) can also be legally used to do all kinds of useful things. The Linux server that I run my entire business on is, in fact, one of many virtualized servers running on much larger hardware. It’s virtual reality for computers: there’s an entire dummy computer that’s actually a program on a different computer.
If you are a Mac user, you may be familiar with virtualization from applications such as VMWare Fusion and Parallels Desktop, both of which allow you to run Windows applications while running macOS. Since macOS and Windows use Intel processors, this is not emulation (where the software claims to be the computer’s own processor), but it’s still virtualization because Windows and its applications think they’re inside a Windows PC when they’re really inside an application running on a Mac.
Running Windows apps can be really handy if you rely on them. But what about those old Mac apps that will soon be obsolete? And what about apps that you abandoned when upgrading to Mountain Lion or Mavericks or Yosemite or El Capitan?
It’s not widely known, but VMWare Fusion and Parallels Desktop can also run virtual versions of macOS. There are some limitations. First of all, you can only emulate macOS on hardware running macOS. Second, some specific versions of macOS 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 go back that far, you’ll have to dig a disk. Mac OS X Server or buy an old one on the Internet.
But you are 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 to allow future versions of macOS to run in virtualization on Mac hardware.)
So if you have old software that you are worried about will not work in a future version of macOS, fear not: you should be able to install macOS in VMWare Fusion or Parallels Desktop and continue to use that app. You can even configure virtualization software to open in a full screen space on your Mac, so you can swipe across a trackpad from High Sierra to Mavericks and back. It won’t necessarily be the fastest or smoothest ride, unless you have a Mac with a powerful processor and lots of RAM, but it will likely do the job.
What about old software?
I have serious doubts that anyone is performing major productivity tasks on the classic Mac OS, but there are several options to emulate these older versions. MinixMac is a basic emulator for very old macs, and I was able to run a lot of my Mac OS 9 software in the SheepShaver emulator.
(A more likely use case than writing your next novel in WriteNow on the 6.0.8 system is that you might want to get data locked in a proprietary application in a format that you can handle with modern software. I have a bunch of stuff trapped in old database files that I was able to access last week for the first time in 15 years.)
There is a big hole, however, if you are someone like me who wants to chronicle the history of Mac OS from the beginning until now: the early days of OS X. Macs then were running on PowerPC processors, and it is a real challenge to emulate PowerPC Macs under OS X. I know people who have done this with the QEMU emulator, but it is difficult to work reliably and this n is probably not the case strictly legal.
Old software, old hardware
However, there is another option: eBay. If you’ve never bought old Mac hardware from eBay, be prepared for something. Last week I bought a Power Mac G4 and an Apple Cinema Display for $ 150, and all of a sudden I have a machine with Mac OS X 10.1-10.5 installed on it. (Alas, this system is not old enough to run Mac OS X 10.0 or the public beta.) I’m sure this area of ââMac emulation will one day make more sense, but right now it just happens to be in a strange valley between the really old and modern and legitimate virtualization available from Leopard Server onwards.
Beyond eBay, of course, consider keeping your old Macs after purchasing new Macs. Older Macs that seem slow on the current version of macOS will appear much faster when their hard drives are erased and replaced with an older version of the operating system. My 2009 iMac, which seemed horribly slow to run El Capitan, absolutely flies when it runs Snow Leopard. If you’re relying on old software, keeping an old Mac isn’t a bad investment.
Thinking about the future
The ability to run old software that you still need to use is important, but there is also a bigger issue here. In our quest for the newest and the best, it’s easy to dismiss old technology as outdated and irrelevant. What he is, in a way. But after a few years, what was old and out of fashion becomes historic, even classic. Internet communities that build emulators of old software and hardware are essential for enabling people today and tomorrow to understand what computers and video game consoles looked like in the early days.
And unfortunately, we cannot rely on the companies that made these products to be good stewards of their work. Sometimes a company donates the source code to a computer museum, but often legal reasons make it impossible to make software available to the public. In a perfect world, Apple should have allowed the public full access to the source code of the Apple II platform, but it hasn’t and probably can’t. (Even Apple’s donation of Lisa’s source code to the Computer History Museum is not complete; it does not have rights to the included dictionary.)
This way, I think we actually have to thank Apple for changing the license of macOS in 2011 so that some versions can be freely virtualized. This probably means that long after the Mac is gone and the devices we use no longer use Intel-compatible processors, all Mac software from this decade will survive in its own virtual reality.