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According to Hoyle...


SheepShaver Update 2009: Running


Classic Apps Today


January 2009

by Jonathan Hoyle



One year ago, I started a three part series on various methods of running Classic applications on modern Mac's.  As most of you already know, Apple's Classic environment (that which is needed to run applications built for Mac OS 9 and earlier) stopped being supported with the Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard operating system.  Furthermore, it was never supported on any Intel-based Macintosh.  Classic's fate (as far as Apple is concerned) will be further cemented with the upcoming Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard operating system, which is Intel-only.  For those who wish to continue running Classic applications, they are stuck either using a PowerPC-based Macintosh running Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and earlier, or using a third party emulator.  It is in the latter choice that I spent some time discussing.


In Part I of the series, I covered SheepShaver, Basilisk and Mini vMac. In Part II, we looked at Mac-on-Mac, and some Windows-based emulators running in Parallels or VMWare, such as PearPC, Executor and SoftMac.  Finally, Part III handled some final Q & A on the topic.


To my surprise, this topic has been the source of the greatest amount of feedback I have received from MacCompanion readers.  I still continue to receive requests for clarifications, information on ROMs and general questions every month.  Because of continued interest in the topic, I figured it would make sense to start off the year with an update on these emulation options.  I will recap some of the findings we have discussed previously, and provide updated information as to how these emulators are doing one year later.


SheepShaver vs. Anything Else


Although each of the emulation packages I discussed offers its own pro's and con's, SheepShaver is truly the only one worthy of consideration as a Classic emulator (and even this with strong reservations).  None of these programs is as nice and smoothly integrated into the desktop like Apple's Classic Environment.  Moreover, most are extremely buggy and will not run all of the software you used to in Classic.  For example, none of these emulators will run Office 98, so if your only purpose to run Classic is to avoid Microsoft upgrade fees, you are in for a major disappointment.  However, each of these are absolutely free, and many come with source code.  For you software developers who have time on your hands, perhaps you can take one or more and improve them to your liking.  The majority of these emulators also require you to provide Mac system software and compatible ROMs.


SheepShaver will be the main topic of this article, but before proceeding to that program, I would like to summarize the pro's and con's of the remaining six emulators.  In doing so, it will become obvious as to why none of these are as likely to fulfill your needs as SheepShaver.


Basilisk: This application is very much like SheepShaver, sharing many of the same features, bugs and even source files.  Its main limitation is that it is a 68K emulator, so unless the applications you are interested in running have a 68K version available, this will not really be of interest to you.  Having said that, it is the best of the 68K emulators available.  In fact, Intel-Mac users will find Basilisk to outperform SheepShaver for 68K applications.  The reason for this is that to run a 68K app in SheepShaver (which is a PowerPC emulator), there are two levels of translations this code must pass through: first from 68K to PowerPC in the Mac's native 68K emulator built into the Classic System Software, and then from PowerPC to Intel in the SheepShaver emulator.  Basilisk, on the other hand, has only one level of translation: from 68K directly to Intel, with no PowerPC intermediary.  To use Basilisk, you need to acquire 68K ROMs from a suitable 68030-based Mac, and System 7.x or Mac OS 8.0/8.1.  (Mac OS 8.1 was the final version of the Mac operating system to support 68K machines.)  A pre-configured hard drive containing System 7.5.5 that is compatible with Basilisk can be downloaded hereBasilisk is available to Mac, Windows, Linux and some other operating systems.


Mini vMac: This emulator is simultaneously the most fun to use and, sadly, the least useful.  It essentially emulates a 68000-based Mac (the Mac Plus and earlier models), and therefore of value only to the hobbyist and retro-computing fan.  Having said that though, it is a cool little application, and a lot of fun to play with.  Hard drives compatible with Basilisk can be used with Mini vMac, so if you use Mac Plus ROMs, you can use the same System 7.5.5 hard drive file available to Basilisk users.  Mini vMac is cross-platform and open source, with ports available for a surprising range of platforms.  Aside from the obvious ones (Mac, Windows, Linux), there are ports to PocketPC, Nintendo and even the (jailbroken) iPhone!  Remember those old arcade games you loved to play on your Mac Plus in the 1980's?  Well, now you can run these on your iPhone.  Very cool.


Mac-on-Mac: This emulator is the opposite of Mini vMac in as far as it emulates the most advanced of the Macintosh operating systems, yet somehow manages to be the most useless of the bunch.  Mac-on-Mac is essentially a Mac OS X port of Mac-on-Linux, which itself is an initiative to run Macintosh applications on PowerPC-based Linux systems.  Thus, Mac-on-Mac allows one Macintosh to emulate another.  The emulated Mac will not only host a Classic operating system (Mac OS 8.6 through 9.2.2), but will also run Mac OS X (from 10.0 through 10.3 Panther).  Best of all, no ROMs are needed!  This seems almost like a dream come true!  That is...until you look at the system requirements.  Mac-on-Linux (and therefore Mac-on-Mac) can be hosted only on a PowerPC-based system.  Furthermore, it currently does not run on Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger or later systems.  Since all of the systems that can run Mac-on-Mac already have the Classic Environment available to it, it seems a pointless endeavor.  When Apple announced its plans to transition from the PowerPC to Intel in 2005, the Mac-on-Linux initiative was abandoned.  It was hoped that some enterprising software engineers might like to dive into this open source project and update Mac-on-Mac to run on modern Intel-based Macs, but so far that has not happened.


PearPC: PearPC is actually a PowerMac emulator for the Microsoft Windows platform.  However, with the popularity of Windows virtualization software on Intel-based Macs, PearPC becomes a viable option for Mac users.  This application emulates a G4 processor, requires no ROMs, and can run Mac OS X 10.1 through 10.3.  Sadly though, it does not appear to be able to run anything earlier than Mac OS X, nor can it run the Classic environment within Mac OS X.  (Attempts to do so simply cause the emulator to hang.)  Being an open source project, one might think that there would be interest in fixing this problem, but sadly PearPC appears to be in mothballs, as no updates have been made in three years.


SoftMac: Like PearPC, SoftMac is a Windows-hosted emulator, so Parallels or VMWare will be required to run it on your Intel-based Mac.  Unlike PearPC, however, it emulates only a 68K Mac and needs you to provide the appropriate ROMs.  Although it seems to plod along at an acceptable pace on the PC, it does not do well on a Mac.  Moreover, there is nothing SoftMac offers that can't be done in a far superior manner with Basilisk  This may also explain why SoftMac hasn't been updated in six years.


Executor:  The final emulator in this list is the most unique of the bunch.  Originally a commercial product, producer ARDI has since released it a freeware.  In fact, this past October ARDI founder Clifford Matthews released its source code to the public.  Executor requires neither ROMs nor system software, but rather is a complete solution in and of itself.  Like the previous two, it is a Windows program, but unlike those two, it runs nicely on the Mac in virtualization mode.  Executor translates all Macintosh ToolBox calls into native Win32 API calls (which is how it gets around the need for ROMS or an OS).  Unfortunately, it emulates only a System 6 or System 7.0 Macintosh, making it far less useful than some of the other solutions we have discussed.



SheepShaver: Installation


There are three things you need to run SheepShaver on your Macintosh: the software itself, Power Mac ROMs, and a copy of system software compatible with those ROMs.  Let me discuss each of these items separately:


1. SheepShaver software.  Over the past year, some definite improvements have been made to the software.  Firstly, recent builds have integrated configuration preferences into the main application, obviating the need for a separate SheepShaver GUI application.  This is a build from July 21, 2008 and can be downloaded.  A couple of really annoying bugs have been fixed, but there remain other inexcusable ones.  For example, the false "crash" dialog that appears on PowerPC-based systems is still there.  Another is the lack of consideration of version information.  This latest is still called version 2.3, which is what each version over the past several years has been called.  You'll also note that there are two SheepShavers in the downloaded .zip file, one marked (H) and the other (S).  These refer to hardware cursor versus software cursor respectively.  Not sure why there are both, but I find (H) version to be less jittery and smoother to use.


2. Power Mac ROMs.  There are two types of ROMs that can be used with SheepShaver: Old World ROMs and New World ROMs.  Although Old World ROMs are more flexible in that they allow you to use a wider range of System Software, they are more difficult to obtain, as they must be read from an older Power Macintosh using a ROM reader.  As this is not likely a simple task for most, we will not consider this route.  New World ROMs, on the other hand, are freely accessible from Apple.  For this reason, I will assume this path.  Begin first by downloading the Mac OS ROM Update 1.0 software. The downloaded disk image will contain a file named "Mac OS ROM Update Tome".  This file is a compressed version of the PowerMac ROMs you want.  To uncompress it, you will need to use Apple's Classic application TomeViewer.  The resulting file is simply called "Mac OS ROM".  For a more detailed explanation of this step, visit this SheepShaver Installation Guide.


3. Mac OS System Software.  For those using New World ROMs with SheepShaver, there are only three versions of the Mac OS which may be used: Mac OS 8.5.x, 8.6 or 9.0.x.  Anything prior to Mac OS 8.5 is incompatible with New World ROMs.  Anything after Mac OS 9.0.4 is incompatible with SheepShaver.  Finding the appropriate boot CD is also a bit tricky.  Many Mac OS boot CD's were delivered with specific Mac hardware and will not install on anything but that system.  There are some generic Mac OS installer CD's which are non-bootable.  In any case, once you have the proper CD in place, make sure it is mounted on your Mac OS X desktop prior to running SheepShaver to use it for installation.  (For those using Old World ROMs, you can begin more easily by downloading the same preconfigured System 7.5.5 hard disk used by Basilisk and Mini vMac users.)



SheepShaver: Where We Are Now


Despite the improvements that have come to SheepShaver over the past year, we are still a long way from being a truly quality product. Were this a commercial product, I am convinced that many of these problems would have long since been solved.  In fact, we'd probably be seeing Classic apps once again running "outside the box" (as in Apple's Classic Environment, or Parallel's Coherence).  And were this a commercial product, I am confident a workable version of this could go for $199 retail, perhaps more.  But by being an open source project, there is no monetary incentive to improve SheepShaver.  Worse still, its existence prevents any commercial vendor from wanting to spend the R & D dollars to recreate it, just to compete against a freeware competitor.

At this level of progress, SheepShaver will likely remain valuable only to a shrinking niche market.  It remains too painful to rely on a day-to-day basis.  Those with critical needs for classic applications will likely keep a Power Mac G5 around running Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger.



Coming Up Next Month:  Apple in the Post-Steve Jobs Era.  See you in 30!


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