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Mac OS 9/Classic Support Q&A - Updated April 27, 2012

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Are there any third-party programs to run Mac OS 9/Classic applications on Intel Macs?

When Apple made the decision to no longer support Mac OS 9/Classic applications, was hopeful that an easy to install and use commercial application would become available and allow use of legacy applications and documents on the Intel-based Macs.

However, as the market for Mac OS 9/Classic compatibility solutions is not growing, and as it has been many years since the switch to Intel processors, it is doubtful that a commercial solution will become available.

Open Source "SheepShaver" Emulator Option

Nevertheless, where the commercial market failed, the open-source community has made an valiant effort to respond with the oddly titled "SheepShaver". SheepShaver began life as a Mac OS "run-time environment" that made it possible to run Mac OS applications within the BeOS. The name itself is a play on "ShapeShifter", a 68k Mac emulator for the AmigaOS.

The hardworking open-source programmers behind the SheepShaver project explain:

It enables you to run PowerPC Classic Mac OS software on your computer, even if you are using a different operating system [like Mac OS X for Intel]. However, you still need a copy of Mac OS and a Power Macintosh ROM image to use this program. . . SheepShaver provides the first PowerPC G4 emulator, though without MMU, to enable the execution of Mac OS Classic. Performance with the current CPU emulator using basic just-in-time (JIT) translation techniques is roughly 1/8-th of native speeds.

SheepShaver Installation Instructions

Compared to average Mac OS X applications, which generally are installed with "drag and drop" simplicity, installing SheepShaver is complicated, as it officially requires one to extract a software ROM.

However, Emaculation provides detailed instructions -- complete with screenshots -- that explains the process and includes extracting Mac OS ROM Update 1.0 with TomeViewer as well as installing and configuring the latest build of SheepShaver with Mac OS 9.0.4 (the last supported version of the OS).

Redundant Robot also provides a useful tutorial complete with direct links to ROM files so one will not have to extract them manually.

As first spotted by MacWindows, one helpful SheepShaver user went a step further and bundled recent SheepShaver binaries compatible with Mac OS X 10.4, 10.5 and 10.6 along with a "ROM file and a preconfigured Mac OS 9.0.1 installation" to make it possible to install SheepShaver with "drag and drop" ease. This convenient bundle (no longer online) is dubbed "Chubby Bunny," and is not connected with the SheepShaver development team.

Although it certainly appears that the user behind Chubby Bunny is well meaning, it nevertheless always is prudent to be careful when downloading any "unofficial" files. Be sure to backup your computer before "fiddling" with any official or unofficial SheepShaver software (or before adding any new software to your Mac, for that matter).

SheepShaver Performance & Use

From hands on experience as well as other websites and comments, it is safe to conclude that after overcoming any installation hurdles, SheepShaver allows one to run Mac OS 9 slowly -- even within the latest version of Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion" -- but some also have had trouble with compatibility and stability as well. This is not to denigrate the hard work of the open source community in the slightest as this type of program is extremely complex and the fact it works as well as it does is quite remarkable.

Should you have non-critical needs for running Mac OS 9/Classic applications on an Intel-based Mac, such as really old games or potentially even archived document access, SheepShaver might meet your needs. However, most of those who remain dependent on Mac OS 9/Classic software would be best served by continuing to use an existing PowerPC-based Mac or upgrading to a newer one.

Site sponsor Operator Headgap Systems specializes in heavily upgraded Macs capable of running both Mac OS X and Mac OS 9 applications. PowerMax also sells a variety of used systems capable of running both operating systems.

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