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According to Hoyle...

Running Classic on Leopard, Part III

[ Part I | Part II | Part III ]

February 2008

by Jonathan Hoyle



For the past two months, we have been investigating solutions for the Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard user who wishes to continue running Classic applications. In Part I, we examined three open source applications: SheepShaver, Basilisk & Mini vMac, detailing performance and installation procedures. Then in Part II, we explored optimization settings for these, as well as discuss the viability of additional emulators, such as Mac-on-Mac, PearPC, Executor and SoftMac. I have received the most email on these articles, so this month, we conclude by summarizing our findings and handling some Q & A.


1. Can you give me a summary of the emulators you reviewed?

SheepShaver is the only PowerPC emulator which can run Classic, making it the most important one to consider. Basilisk behaves very much like SheepShaver with the exception that it is a 68K emulator. Both run on PowerPC-based Macs, Intel-based Macs and Windows. Each of the remaining emulators we reviewed have serious defects, making them unworthy of further consideration: The current versions of SoftMac and PearPC do not work properly on the Mac, Executor and Mini vMac emulate very ancient Macintosh computers, and Mac-on-Mac and PearPC do not run Classic at all. For these reasons, we will focus exclusively on SheepShaver and Basilisk from this point onward. However, it is worth noting that all these solutions are free to try, so you are not out any money if you wish to try these for yourself.


2. So, what's the bottom line then?

In the end, if you need serious interaction with a Classic application, your best bet is to stay with Mac OS X 10.4.11 running on a fast G5. None of the solutions offer anywhere near the simple, clean experience offered by Apple's Classic Environment. Even getting past the initial effort of installation, accessing common files and drives is a major pain, and bugs riddle these emulators. Moreover, you are stuck using archaic versions of the Classic operating system, as nothing I tried worked with versions 9.1 or later. If your needs are modest, however, and you need only access a few self-contained apps, then one of these solutions may be marginally acceptable.


3. That's disappointing. I'd be willing to pay $200 or so for a Classic emulator that worked well. Any chance of this happening?

Probably not. Unfortunately, the plethora of free partial solutions has undermined the business case for a commercial project. As time goes forward, the number of potential customers will only decline, further making the proposition unattractive. The bottom line is this: if Apple does not think it is worth continuing to supporting its own Classic Environment, how much less of a value is it to a vendor who must reinvent it from scratch?


4. Okay, let's say for sake of argument I am interested in trying one out. Which is better: SheepShaver or Basilisk?

For most people, SheepShaver is the best choice, as it is the only PowerPC emulator that can run Classic. However, if all the Classic apps you wish to run support 68K, Intel-based Mac users will do better with Basilisk.


5. What do I need to do to run SheepShaver?

Essentially, you need to obtain these three items: the SheepShaver software itself (a free download), a Power Macintosh ROM file, and a version of the classic Mac OS which is compatible with the ROM file you are using.


The hardest of these to obtain is typically the ROM file. Probably the quickest way is to do so is to download the Mac OS ROM Update.


Once the disk image is mounted, you will find a file named Mac OS Update Tome. This is the ROM file you want, although it is compressed as a Tome file. You can decompress it using the Classic application TomeViewer.


6. How do I obtain Macintosh System Software?

It depends on which version of the System Software you wish to use. SheepShaver emulates a Power Macintosh 9500 series computer which requires System 7.5.3 or higher. Until very recently, Apple provided System 7.5.x as a free download from its web site, but nowadays you will have to search the web for it.


For System 7.6 onward, you will need to acquire these on your own, such as on Ebay. It is important to remember to ensure that the System Software you are loading is supported by the Mac ROMs you are using. The maximum version of the System Software supported by SheepShaver is Mac OS 9.0.4.


7. How do I obtain a Mac ROM file?

There are two types of Macintosh ROMs: Old World ROMs and New World ROMs. New World ROMs are those distributed as part of the operating system (Mac OS 8.5 and higher), as a file named Mac OS ROM inside the System Folder. Unfortunately, not all New World ROMs are compatible with SheepShaver, so it is important to be careful which you select. For those wishing to run a pre-Mac OS 8.5 operating system with SheepShaver, you will need to acquire Old World ROMs. Since this type of ROM is built into the Macintosh hardware, a ROM reader is typically needed to acquire these. Also, this web site may be able to offer help in this regard.


8. Could you email me a compatible ROM file?

Sigh. Unfortunately not. Legally, the ROMs are owned by Apple and you license their use. There are two ways to get a legitimate license to these ROMs: 1) through a download from Apple's web site (and the license agreement is part of the installation package), or 2) by acquiring a Macintosh computer and reading its ROMs. Many of you are aware that ROM files for a number of computers (Apples and otherwise) are circulated all over the Internet. Some of these are legal (those which are simply copies of the free ones from Apple); others however are not. Which are which is not always apparent at first glance. In any case, I have yet to hear of anyone serving time for a "non-licensed ROM file" rap. Perhaps Apple treats it as a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" situation?


9. I downloaded Mac System Software and ROMs directly from Apple, but SheepShaver refuses to boot. What happened?

The versions of your System Software and ROMs are not compatible with one another. Apple provided free System Software for versions up through 7.5.x. Beginning with System 7.6, Apple charged for these, and thus does not supply them as a free download. The versions of the Mac ROMs that can be downloaded from Apple require Mac OS 8.5 or higher. In other words, the freely downloadable ROMs do not work with the free System Software. If you use one, you cannot use the other.


10. So...what do I do now?

You either need to get ROMs compatible for your System Software, or System Software compatible with your ROMs. Since obtaining SheepShaver-compatible ROMs is usually more difficult than obtaining newer versions of Mac OS, you may find it easier to simply look around for later operating systems.


11. Okay, I obtained a Mac OS 9 Installation CD. However, it does not boot in SheepShaver.

There are a few possible reasons that this can happen. First and most obvious, your installation CD may not be bootable. You can tell if your CD is bootable by the existence of a System Folder at the root level of the CD. There are ways around some of these issues. One way is to begin with a pre-configured bootable hard drive file that SheepShaver understands. provides a starter disk which comes with System 7.5.3 pre-installed. (Note that you must use older ROMs to use this.) Once you have booted with System 7.5.3, than you can use your non-bootable installer.


Even if your Mac OS 9 installer is bootable, it may not work if you are using an installation CD designed for a specific computer, such as an iMac or Powerbook installation CD. The best way around this is to use the ROMs associated with that particular Macintosh. If you have an installation CD, you may have access to the Mac it came with. If so, you simply need to boot into that Mac and run a ROM reader application to capture these ROMs (visit this link for more information).


Finally, even a generic bootable Mac OS 9 install CD can fail if the CD is formatted as Mac OS Extended (HFS+). Due to a bug in SheepShaver, only Mac OS Standard (HFS) CD's appear to boot in SheepShaver. This is the situation I was in. I tried to burn a Mac OS Standard CD containing these files, but the Mac OS X disc burning doesn't make that easy. I ended up having to use a combination of steps: I obtained an older ROM file from the internet, used the System 7.5.3 starter disk mentioned above, then updated to Mac OS 8 (since System 7.5 does not understand Mac OS Extended format), and finally updated to Mac OS 9.0.4. Pheew!


12. The application I wish to use is 68K-based. Am I better off using SheepShaver or Basilisk?

PowerPC-based Mac users are better off running all their apps (68K or PPC) in SheepShaver. The reason for this is that Apple's built-in 68K emulator (which runs in SheepShaver) is faster than Basilisk's 68K emulator. For Intel-based Mac users, the opposite is true: Basilisk is by far much faster than SheepShaver for 68K apps, with CPU and Math performance being 9 times and 5 times better, respectively. This performance differential is due entirely to the fact that 68K apps have two layers of emulation in SheepShaver (68K translated into PPC, and PPC translated into Intel), whereas there is only one layer of emulation in Basilisk (68K directly translated into Intel).


13. If I wish to try Basilisk, what are my ROM and System Software options?

To run Basilisk, you must use ROMs from a 68K Macintosh, and these are all Old World ROMs (and thus, not downloadable from Apple). Therefore, you should use a ROM reading program - and get more information about acquiring ROMs. I recommend using the ROMs from a 68030- or 68040-based Mac II style computer. Once you have these ROMs, simply download the starter disk available from Emaculation, which is a hard drive file with System 7.5.5 preinstalled. You can then upgrade this drive (if you wish) to a later version of the operating system, with a maximum of Mac OS 8.1.


14. Can I run other operating systems on these emulators, such as Linux?

Mostly not. These emulators do not emulate the target processor's MMU (Memory Management Unit) capabilities, something which is required by most Linux operating systems. There are Unix-like OS's which do not require the presence of an MMU, such as some versions of MachTen and Minix and so these may work (but I have not tried them). If the client operating system lives within the application space of a Classic program, then chances are pretty reasonable that it will run in SheepShaver or Basilisk.


15. My emulator is running slow on my Intel-based Mac. How can I improve performance?

On an Intel-based Macintosh, the performance of SheepShaver and Basilisk can be tremendously improved by checking the Enable JIT Compiler checkbox found in the GUI application:



Even better performance is available for those running Parallels or VMWare, as the Windows versions of SheepShaver and Basilisk outperform their Mac counterparts. However, there are more crashes and compatibility problems using these Windows versions, so I would not recommend this approach unless performance is critical and more important than robustness.


16. What value (if any) is there of the other emulators?

For emulating a Mac Plus, Mini vMac is certainly the best. Executor is one the fastest emulators for a pre-System 7 environment, but has some compatibility issues. Furthermore, it is a Windows app, so you will need to be running Parallels or VMWare to use it. Mac-on-Mac does not support Classic, but does a fairly decent job of running earlier versions of Mac OS X. Unfortunately, Mac-on-Mac does not run on Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger or later, and development appears to have all but stopped. Neither PearPC nor SoftMac appear to run properly on the Mac, but perhaps future versions will address this problem?


Coming Up Next Month: Now that we have considered the Classic Mac OS, we now look toward other operating systems that you can run on your Mac, including the many flavors of Linux. See you in 30!

[ Part I | Part II | Part III ]


To see a list of all the According to Hoyle columns, visit: