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SheepShaver Brings Classic Mac OS to Snow Leopard

In the run-up to the original release of Mac OS X, users were justifiably worried about compatibility. Mac OS X was a completely different operating system from its predecessors (Mac OS 9, Mac OS 8, System 7). Recent Mac OS 9 applications that had been "Carbonized" might run natively under Mac OS X, but older applications certainly would not. Were users doomed to lose access to all their older applications and documents?

To solve this problem, Apple tided its users over with Classic, an environment that emulated Mac OS 9 within Mac OS X. But this solution was fated not to last forever. Classic reached the end of its life in Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger; later versions of Mac OS X don't include Classic, and Classic doesn't run on Intel machines at all.

If, like me, you still have an older application or document that you'd occasionally like to open, what can you do? I actually have three different approaches. For certain applications that won't run properly even under Classic, I have several ancient (by computer standards) machines that can actually boot into Mac OS 9. I also have two PowerPC-based Macs that run Tiger and therefore have Classic. But all of that is a lot of trouble, because I'm not usually using those machines; I'm usually using my Intel-based Mac mini, and running Snow Leopard. But even there - even on an Intel machine, even under Snow Leopard - I can run an older Mac OS, enjoy my older applications, and read and edit my older documents, by using SheepShaver.

SheepShaver is a PowerPC emulator that runs under Mac OS X. It started life over 10 years ago as a commercial application for BeOS, but it is now open source and free, and is a clear testament to what the dedication of a few knowledgeable volunteers can accomplish. The Mac version of SheepShaver is a universal binary, so it runs natively on an Intel-based Mac. (Versions that run on Windows and Linux also exist.)

SheepShaver lets you run any older system between Mac OS 8.5 and Mac OS 9.0.4. (There is another program, BasiliskII, with a parallel history, that emulates a 68000 processor and lets you run System 7.5 through Mac OS 8.1, but I haven't tried it.) Unlike Apple's Classic environment, which integrated its windows with Mac OS X's windows, SheepShaver displays all the older system's windows inside its own single application window, as if SheepShaver were acting as the monitor of an old Mac; you should't find this at all inconvenient or disconcerting, especially if you've ever used screen sharing under Mac OS X.

I must warn you that setting up SheepShaver is not for the faint of heart, and giving detailed instructions is beyond the scope of this article. The best way to get started is through the resources at the E-Maculation Web site, which provides a particularly good step-by-step tutorial (as well as forums where I have received very courteous and accurate technical advice). You'll need a generic (not hardware-specific) installation CD for the system you'd like to run (I used a Mac OS 9.0.4 installer that I had lying around). You'll also probably need a machine that can run Classic, in order to obtain a ROM file; I used the technique described in a different tutorial, where you download the Mac OS ROM Update disk image and use Apple's Tome Viewer utility to extract the ROM file from it.

With the ROM file in hand, properly named and located with respect to the SheepShaver application file, you launch SheepShaver and set up its preferences. There will need to be a disk image file onto which SheepShaver will install your older Mac OS, and from which it will subsequently boot; so, you create that file. And, in order to get your own software and documents into that disk image file, there must be a "shared" folder in the Mac OS X world that SheepShaver can see and project into the older Mac OS world; so, you create that folder and tell SheepShaver where it is. There are some other preferences to set up, but the tutorial tells you what settings to use.

Now you insert the Mac OS 9 (or whatever it is) installer CD into your computer and start up SheepShaver, telling it to boot from the installer CD. When this works, it's positively thrilling, since you are actually running from the installer CD in emulation mode inside SheepShaver, thus proving to yourself that SheepShaver can work on your machine. The disk image file that you made in the previous step has also mounted as an empty drive in the SheepShaver world. So, you now install the system onto that empty drive - that is, into the disk image file. Then you quit SheepShaver and start it up again. This time, though, you boot from the disk image file, which, if all has gone well, now contains a clean installation of the system.

All of that sounds rather daunting, and to be honest, it is. But once it's done, you'll be living in a plug-and-play world; you have to suffer all this suspense only once. It took me an entire morning to accomplish the steps described in the previous two paragraphs, as things kept going wrong and I repeatedly had to scrap the disk image file and try again. Eventually, however, I did get it right, and was rewarded at last by seeing Mac OS 9 boot under Snow Leopard, directly from my hard disk, without the Mac OS 9 installer CD being involved. I had done it! I was shaving sheep!

The rest is simple. Any time you start up SheepShaver, it boots your older Mac OS, and there you are. When you tell your older Mac OS to shut down, it does, and SheepShaver quits. That's all there is to it, really.

But what if you want to do any useful work? Mac OS 9 comes with a few applications, such as SimpleText, but to open your own applications and documents, you need to copy them into the disk image file. You do this in two steps. First, you move or copy them into the "shared" folder I mentioned earlier. Now you start up SheepShaver. The Mac desktop as presented by SheepShaver displays two "disks": the boot disk, which is really the disk image file, and the "Unix" disk, which is really the "shared" Mac OS X folder. So now you copy the applications and files from the "Unix" disk onto the boot disk, where they should operate properly.

I've made a screencast showing that I can run such nostalgia-laced applications as MORE and HyperCard on my Snow Leopard machine. As you can see, SheepShaver starts up and boots Mac OS 9 in emulation in just a few seconds, and presto, I'm opening a MORE document or a HyperCard stack instantly. Look also at the "disks" at the upper right of the desktop: "baa" is really the disk image file, and "Unix" is really the "shared" folder.

I have not pressed SheepShaver to its limits, nor do I expect to. I haven't used it to access the Web or to input MIDI or to do any weird hardware-based stuff like that (even though SheepShaver is said to implement Ethernet networking, serial drivers, and even SCSI emulation). As long as I can occasionally access an old MORE document or HyperCard stack, I'm an extremely happy camper.


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Comments about SheepShaver Brings Classic Mac OS to Snow Leopard
(Comments are closed.)

Does this mean I can actually install Classic OS applications -- such as my Agfa Arcus II scanning software or Photoshop 3.0.5 -- with this setup?

I have a Spring '09 iMac, OS X 10.6.1 on one drive and OS X 10.5.8 on another.
Alfredo Mora  2009-10-23 14:02
I use SheepShaver on my MacBook Pro with Snow Leopard to run HyperCard, Microworlds and many other applications. Even I can connect with my iDisk using Goliath; all works fine and it is very fun!

Nothing more retro than this :-)
MSHime  2009-10-23 14:28
Will Hypercard run under SheepShaver?
Anything that will run under 8.5-9.0.4 should run just fine with the possible exception of drivers and other 'low-level' utilities.
Nicholas Bonsack  2009-10-23 15:11
Short answer: yes!

Long answer: SheepShaver runs most everything except for any version of Quicktime later than 4.0.3, any version of OS 9 beyond 9.0.4, and any games that require hardware acceleration.

It's also bit touchy when software tries to address memory that's out of bounds.. which they shouldn't be doing anyway, but there's quite a bit of poorly written classic Mac software out there. Especially games. There's a preference you can uncheck to make it tolerate those sorts of bugs, but it makes SheepShaver noticeably unstable.

It seems to run best with OS 8.6. Ethernet networking works great, haven't tried any of the other fancy stuff.

I'm very happy with it.
Alarik  2009-10-23 16:08
It should be added that the extant devotees of WordPerfect for Mac, under the tutelage of John Rethorst, long ago used SheepShaver on newer Macs (OS X) to run the wonderful word processor. I don't have the address at hand but a search of the Yahoo groups for WordPerfect for Mac will turn up the site where you can download "kits" containing all you need to install SheepShaver and to run WordPerfect (which is included). The forum contains a tremendous amount of advice and counsel.

It's all very gratifying.
John Rethorst  2009-10-25 10:25
Thanks for your kind words, Alarik. The WordPerfect group is at Go to the Links section for our SheepShaver and Basilisk downloads.
Bill501  2009-11-03 06:48
The WordPerfect/Mac discussion forum on Yahoo Groups provides a
complete and easy to use installer for Sheepshaver in their files
section. (You must join the group to access the files section.
Joining is free and you can unsubscribe at any time.) The
Sheepshaver installer there includes an installation of WordPerfect/Mac!
Obi-Wandreas  2009-10-23 17:23
There's an App called, of all things "Classic on Intel" which contains the whole thing in one easily downloadable package.

Unfortunately, I can't get it to register any changes in screen size, so I'm stuck with an annoying resolution. It's still quite useable, however, for the odd game that never got updated. A fullscreen option would be great, though.
Obi-Wandreas --

I've looked for Intel on Mac, and all I find is a Torrent download, which I can't seem to acquire. Besides, I'm always a bit leary of torrents due to possible contamination. Is there another source?

W.O Hardy  2009-10-25 17:52
Intel on Mac is a fine package, but only really available via Torrent. You should know that it uses a much older version of Sheepshaver which is why Obi-Won experiences that fullscreen problem (which is fixed in newer releases).

With some effort, you can probably drop the newest SheepShaver build into the package, however.
instig8r  2009-10-23 23:21
I use SheepShaver to develop in FileMaker 4 (for my one holdout client) on my MBP. Works great!
jim thompson  2009-10-24 06:45
What about something OS 10, pre-Intel, say 10.3??
pacmania1982  2009-10-25 06:01
Why use Sheepshaver? If you have a Mac that is PPC, just install the classic environment
msilver  2009-10-26 07:31
you would have to run something earlier than 10.4 if I'm not mistaken. This allows you to run classic software on the latest apple hardware.
Classic stopped working as of 10.5, even on PPC hardware that can support it.
Jeff Harris  2009-10-24 06:48
There's another emulator for Mac 68000/020/030 machines: Mini vMac. I was able to run some c.1990 apps that I have archived.

There are also some links to download ancient, long gone apps.
W.O Hardy  2009-10-27 17:17
Correction: Mini vMac emulates only a 68000 machine. The 68020 emulation is experimental and incomplete. There is no 68030 emulation (yet).

Edit: Gryffin already mentioned this. Pardon me...
Gryffin  2009-10-24 18:55
Mini vMac is a very different beast; it really only emulates the 68000 (think Mac Plus, SE, Classic) in black and white at 512x384 resolution, with only very preliminary support for the 68020 (Mac II), larger screens and color. As such, it really only runs OSs up to System 7.5 well.

There's another emulator called BasiliskII that emulates the 68030 (Mac IIx/IIci/IIsi, Performas) and 68040 (Quadra, Centris, higher-end Performas) up to Mac OS 8.1. It works and is configured a lot like Sheepshaver, probably because Sheepshaver was based on BasiliskII. However, although I had BasiliskII running fine on Leopard, it won't even launch on Snow Leopard.
I've used Sheep Shaver to run MacWrite Pro on my Intel Mac so as to be able to access lots of old MacWrite Pro documents.

One of these days, I'm going to write an AppleScript to find all those old MWP documents, open them, and save them in some other format. :-)
Gary Goldsmith  2009-11-06 18:09
I've just got an iMac running Snow Leopard. And have a Mac Mini running Tiger, so I can still use my OS9 apps. Would a KVM switch allow me to access the Mini from the iMac, as an alternative to SheepShaver?
Richard Peairs  2009-11-09 08:50
This forum saved my 55 year-old marriage! My wife is totally devoted to WP 3.5 for the Mac. She has evolved (since 1985) in her Mac usage to her latest, a PPC G5 iMac, running Tiger. WdPft has run somewhat shakily under Classic since we first moved to OSX. The G5 is now showing problems. I got my own new 3.06 Core 2 Duo iMac earlier this week. A beautiful machine. If I also got her one, would SheepSaver give her a "stable WdPfct? If so, then all would be truly right w/the world. Alternatively, I guess I could install XP (I can't believe I'm writing that!) and run WdPfct for WIN with Parallels. Any recommendations, hints, cautions, warnings . . . ?
I last used SheepShaver specifically to run WordPerfect 3.5 and get some files recovered. It seemed to work just fine at the time.

I will say that Word Perfect for windows is NOT the same program. I liked Word Perfect 3.5, and I *LOATHED* every version of WP for Windows I was ever afflicted with.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-11-09 08:53
Glad to hear we're helping maintain marital harmony. A number of others have mentioned the WordPerfect Yahoo Group, where they reportedly have installers designed for just your situation.
Frank Milne  2009-11-09 21:52
Have got Sheepshaver running happily on a MacBook Pro Intel, thanks to Matt's excellent article but have come up against the printing problem. Is there a way to do this from Sheepshaver to a USB printer?
My oldest install disks are 9.1 and newer. How would one go about picking up a legal copy of Mac OS 9.0.4? I'd really like to decommission my old PPC machine.
Martine  2009-11-20 13:03
Hello. I speak french and my english is not very good. Since I have installed Snow leopard on my Mac mini, I cann't have any connexion (via Ethernet) with my Cube PPC running Mac OS 9.2.2. But I need this connexion to read on 10.6 my DAO 's files coming from my 9.2.2. Do you think that with Sheepshaver I can have the connexion between the two of them to read my files ? Thanks !
Matt Neuburg  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-11-20 13:26
You are correct that Snow Leopard eliminates AppleTalk, so file sharing with a Mac OS 9 machine is impossible. SheepShaver should work, according to this documentation:
But other utilities are required, and it doesn't look easy!
Martine  2009-11-21 01:00
Thank you very much, I'll try to install this WE.