Those who forget the past are condemned to emulate it. Apple's announcement last year that the company would cease selling PowerPC-equipped Macintoshes also meant the end of Mac OS 9's lingering remnant, the Classic compatibility environment.
The Classic environment requires a PowerPC processor in order to run Mac OS 9 in a little prison in which programs can behave within certain parameters. We know plenty of people who need dual-boot Macintoshes - those that can run either Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X from a cold start - and those that have legacy programs that have never been revised but operate perfectly well within Classic mode.
It rubbed many people the wrong way that Apple couldn't simply wire Classic to work under PowerPC emulation. After all, Mac OS X for Intel incorporates on-the-fly Rosetta emulation for Mac OS X programs that aren't recompiled in universal (PowerPC/Intel) binaries or Intel-only binaries.
It comes as a great relief that one company has decided to take a stand. The oddly named Stoic Form, based in Dublin, Ireland, told TidBITS in a briefing late this week that it had created Stoic Form Classic, an independently developed version of Classic that runs within Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). They recommend a PC system with an Intel Core Duo processor - if it weren't ironic enough that Mac users who need to maintain Classic applications will have to switch to Windows to do so. Stoic said they licensed virtualization code from Lismore Systems, whose emulation software resembles Microsoft Virtual PC for Mac OS X.
Stoic Form said that they were also able to license the Transitive technology that powers Apple's on-the-fly code translation in Rosetta. Rosetta turns PowerPC code into Intel instructions for most software that hasn't been rewritten as a universal binary (PowerPC plus Intel code in one package). The company said that you must own and install a copy of Mac OS 9; they don't want to get close to violating Apple's intellectual property rights. Although Windows XP SP2 is required now, Stoic claimed a version that runs within Mac OS X on Intel-based Macs was in the works, but refused to speculate about a release date.
To run Classic in Windows XP SP2, you download a 25 MB file from Stoic Form's Web site - they're currently in a closed beta, soon to go public - and install it. For those familiar with Virtual PC and other emulators, the experience is the same. When launched, Stoic Form Classic offers a blinking disk icon. Insert a Mac OS 9 installation CD, and all will go as one expects. In fact, as Virtual PC for Mac and Windows have shown, having a software emulator that pretends to be extremely standard hardware can make installation even simpler than it is on a random PC.
Classic mode was never speedy even on the fastest G5s. That's why Stoic Form's emulator will be a great relief: it runs Mac OS 9 programs as fast as a moderately speedy G4 processor. In fact, most Mac OS 9 programs should run faster than on almost all Macs that can still boot Mac OS 9 natively.
Stoic Form wouldn't provide many details about the company, nor why they'd be offering Stoic Form Classic for only $40 when it ships in the second quarter of 2006. But we at TidBITS find it somewhat suspicious that Stoic Form is an anagram of Microsoft, and that the firm is based in Dublin, where Microsoft has extensive operations for Europe. Lismore, the company they licensed components from, was also originally based in Dublin, too, before moving to Moscow - which might mean that some employees have shifted from one firm to another.
Could Stoic Form Classic be Microsoft's own Switcher campaign? An attempt to lure the millions of Mac owners still running Mac OS 9 or needing Classic into buying fancy new Intel-based systems running Windows XP - and later Vista? It seems overly subtle for Microsoft, though, so perhaps we should merely be satisfied with the irony of Classic gaining a new lease on life thanks to Windows.