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Give your old Mac software eternal life

Posted May 16, 2018 | Mac

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stop working brings some immediacy to the issue: If there’s a 32-bit Mac app you rely on to get work done, and it’s no longer being updated, on forthcoming versions of macOS it will only work with compromises, and ultimately it won’t work at all.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 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.

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, 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 emulation 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.

OS X 10.10 and Adobe Photoshop CS5 virtualized in VMWare Fusion 10.

But you’re free to virtualize Mac OS X 10.7 Mavericks, Mac OS X 10.8 Yosemite, Mac OS X 10.9 El Capitan, Mac OS X 10.10 Sierra, and macOS 10.11 High Sierra. (Presumably Apple will continue allowing future versions of macOS to run in virtualization on Mac hardware.)

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