Mac Lab Report

If Apple Won't Support Classic on Intel Macs, It Should Liberate OS 9

- 2006.02.14

I got a considerable number of responses on my article about Classic not existing on the Mac OS that comes with the new Macintel computers (Macintel Stumbling Block: Sometimes You Need Classic).

We Need It

I invited readers to tell me why they needed Classic, and they did. Here are some other applications and situations that still require Classic mode, excepted from reader letters:

"I'm not a Mac zealot, but we are an all Mac outfit, with our iMacs and our Xserve G5. But we have one mission-critical app at our small (two attorney) law firm. It's Timeslips, the standard billing program for law firms. Timeslips abandoned the Mac a few years back when they were acquired by Sage, but we've got our years and years of billing information and client information in the program for well over 1000 clients." - Russell Walker

"I still use Claris CAD on a daily basis. Not only is still one of the best 2D drafting programs ever made, but for me, it is mission critical. I have a huge body of commercial work done in CCAD, and I often have to access them for revisions and updates." - Martin S.

"Bottom line is I don't want to leave HyperCard, and at the moment with my 2002 flat-panel iMac and Classic I don't have to. But as you painfully point out, when I get a new machine I will lose that option." - Tom Patterson

"Yes, I really need Classic for a variety of different minor applications. It's difficult to even know where to start.... I also really enjoy retro-gaming and the Macs did have a fantastic record of keeping old games alive long after the equivalent PC game had died a [final] death." - Andy Pritchard

Editor's note: We use Claris HomePage for most of our writing and editing at Low End Mac, Nvu for a little. HomePage is fast and easy; Nvu is slow, cumbersome, and tends to hang. We'll continue using HomePage under Classic until someone comes up with a better WYSIWYG HTML editor, something as sprightly and easy-to-use as this long abandoned program. dk

We Won't Miss It

Some readers won't miss Classic because they don't use it -

"I read your article on Low End Mac with interest. I haven't used Classic in years - though as a math teacher, I still use an ancient, circa 1990 DOS program for my grading/marking, running in the Q emulator (came over from PC)." - Dave Ip

"I'm pretty sure that the real reason for switching to Intel now is the lack of complaints when the last OS 9-bootable Macs vanished from the Apple store in late 2004. Jobs has wanted to kill Classic Mac OS (for good reason, I might add) and dump the Power PC (with somewhat less justification) since he came back to Apple, but the ISVs and market wouldn't let him do it until now." - Peter da Silva

"Personally, I wouldn't even go so far as to say I 'hope Apple reconsiders their position' of eliminating Classic Mac OS support on new Intel-based Macs. If you're still hanging on to Mac OS software that can't run natively in OS X, it doesn't seem to me like you're really the type of user who needs to upgrade immediately to the latest machines Apple offers.... [Good point - JA] Classic mode is a huge system resource hog when running inside of OS X, and it always felt like a 'temporary band-aid' measure to me....

I, long ago, quit using Classic mode for anything on any of my Macs. Sure, there were some great apps that only run in Classic, but if they haven't been updated for OS X by now, I just made a point to get rid of them and move on. Classic mode is the most unstable part of OS X - and I don't need any of those older programs badly enough to deal with the added instability they create by using them." - Tom Wyrick

SheepShaver to the Rescue?

Finally, from Ed Booher:

"You've probably heard this one already, but SheepShaver has an experimental build to allow booting OS 9 on Intel Macs."

Actually, I'd not heard of that before. I don't have an Intel Mac to try it out, but for those of you who already have one, it might be worth checking out. I'm sure you'll see something about it on LEM in the near future.


My opinion is that many Mac users don't yet realize that the Intel-based Macs won't run their Classic apps. For your average Mac user, the distinction between Classic mode and OS X is fuzzy; now they're going to get weird "application program cannot be found" errors when they try to launch Classic apps that used to work.

I think there's a lot more of this going on with casual users than Apple believes, and the level of understanding of the underlying cause is not as widespread as Apple hopes.

There are still significant fractions of the public - probably a majority - who don't understand what an operating system is in the first place. Many of my students have difficulty distinguishing between a brand of computer and the operating system running on it. "Is my Dell a PC or a Mac?" is a question I get asked every year.

Liberate OS 9

Anyway, if OS 9 really is going to be obsolete/unsupported in the near future as Apple migrates to Intel hardware, I think Apple should follow its own historical precedent and release OS 9 as a free download when the whole Mac line is Intel-based. After all, it's been several years since they sold a machine that would even boot in OS 9, it's likely most people copy it blatantly when they need it anyway, and the revenue stream from selling OS 9 install disks must be minimal.

Liberating it - as Apple has already done with System 6.0.x, 7.0.x, and 7.5.x - would be a gesture of good faith and a thank-you to all of us who bought Apple products during the Dark Times just prior to the iMac; and for most of that older hardware still in use, OS 9 will suffice nicely.

Apple doesn't need to support OS 9 any more than they support System 6 or 7 today.

I'm not calling for OS 9 to become open source. As far as Classic is concerned, Apple never played that game. But making it equivalent to the already-existing System 7.5.5, which can be downloaded (clumsily) from the Older Software Downloads page, would continue Apple's tradition of supporting its users who have used Mac hardware the longest - the hobbyists and others who evangelize for the company.

And schools would be able to breathe life into a few more old Macs without guilt. Microsoft already provides a path for schools to legally install Windows 98 on donated computers, and I have to admit they are way ahead of Apple in this.

Apple is having a hard enough time in education - they ought to seriously consider this strategy.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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