macOS Mojave will officially be the last version of Apple’s Mac operating system to support 32-bit apps. But what if you absolutely need to use a 32-bit app going forward? While it isn’t exactly the easiest solution, you can always use a virtualization program to create a virtual machine running Mojave.
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This is, truthfully, a bit of a tedious and tech-y task. Partly, that’s because setting up a Mac virtual machine is a bit more difficult than virtualizing Windows or Linux. But as of the writing of this article, it can be done and could be a working solution for running 32-bit apps in macOS Catalina and beyond.
What is a virtual machine?
Virtualization, in a nutshell, is a way to run any operating system on your current computer without needing to install them individually or create a dual-boot situation.
Instead, a virtualization program like VirtualBox, Parallels Desktop, VMware Fusion, or similar apps lets you create virtual machines — essentially self-contained computers that operate independently of your host operating system.
In the context of 32-bit apps, this means that you can still run them in an instance of macOS Mojave even after you’ve upgraded your Mac to Catalina.
There are also plenty of other uses for virtual machines, but we’ll get to those later.
The first required steps
For illustration purposes, we use Oracle VM’s VirtualBox app but the steps are similar for other virtualization programs.
The only things you need for this to work is a copy of Oracle VM’s VirtualBox app, which you can download here, and an ISO image of the macOS version that you’d like to install.
Unfortunately, an ISO image of macOS is pretty hard to come by. While there are plenty of websites out there that have their own ISO images, they all come with a certain level of risk.
Creating an ISO Installation Media
Because of the risk of random ISO images, we actually recommend creating your own using the official macOS Mojave installer.
Note: Apple doesn’t typically offer past macOS version installers through the App Store indefinitely. We recommend trying this before you update to macOS Catalina.
- Open the Mac App Store and search for macOS Mojave.
- Click on Get to download the installer.
- If you can’t locate it in the App Store, go to Apple’s page for macOS Mojave
- Find the installer and right-click on it. Then, select Show Package Contents.
- Find a file called InstallESD.dmg inside Contents/SharedSupport/.
- Move the file onto your downloads folder, desktop, or elsewhere so your Mac creates a shortcut to it
- Open the Disk Utility app.
- In the top menu bar, select Images > Convert.
- In the next window, find and select that InstallESD.dmg shortcut to covert it
- Change the image format type to DVD/CD-R master for export.
- Rename the file from InstallESD.cdr to Mojave.cdr
- Change the save location (the Where field) to your downloads folder, desktop, or elsewhere for the destination folder
- Once all your variables are set, select Convert.
- Quit Disk Utility when it completes
- Verify the name of the new file is Mojave.cdr (and if needed, change it to this)
Next, you’ll need to actually convert the .cdr file that this action creates into an .iso file.
First, find the .cdr file in your destination folder. We recommend putting it in Downloads or Documents for easy access.
Then, open the Terminal app and enter the following command. Change the NameOfFolder and NameOfFile to the names you created
hdiutil convert ~/NameOfFolder/NameOfFile.cdr -format UDTO -o ~/NameOfFolder/NameOfFile.iso
Once the command finishes running, check your destination folder to see if you have an .iso image. This is what you’ll use to install macOS Mojave in VirtualBox.
If the iso file name includes the .cdr at the end, rename the file to remove that .cdr so the final filename is Mojave.iso
How to use VirtualBox to run macOS Mojave
Before you start, make sure to download VirtualBox and install it on your Mac.
- Open VirtualBox.
- Click on the New button.
- Select Mac OS X for the operating system and Mac OS X (64-bit) for the version.
- Continue through the process of setting up the memory size and the h. We recommend setting a size of at least 32GB.
- Once you get to the step asking about a hard drive, choose to Create a Virtual Hard Disk Now.
- Choose VDI for the hard disk type. Click next.
- Now, navigate to Settings > Storage.
- In the SATA controller section, click on Add Optical Disk and select the .iso file you created earlier.
- Under the Display tab, set the video memory to at least 128MB (or its maximum value).
- Quit the Settings.
Now, you’ll want to boot the virtual machine. Just select it from your list and click on Start. After a while, it’ll ask you the installation language and where you want to install macOS.
From here, select Utilities in the top menu bar and open Disk Utility. Select VBOX HARDDISK Media and erase the storage by clicking on the Erase icon at the top.
Enter the desired name and quit Disk Utility when it’s finished. Now, you should see a new storage media. Choose that for the installation of macOS Mojave.
Make sure to go back to Settings > Storage and eject the .iso image.
Then, just boot up the machine again to see if the installation proceeds normally. If all went well, you should see the standard Mac setup menu.
We recommend skipping logging in with your Apple ID during setup and trying to log in later in the App Store.
When you get it all set up
Once you get the macOS Mojave machine all set up, you should be able to use it normally.
Just note that Apple’s software isn’t always the best for virtualization. Because of that, some of the system features — like audio or video acceleration — may not work properly. Other apps, like iMessage or Apple Maps, may also fail to load.
In other words, it may not be the best option as a daily driver machine. But you should be able to install and use 32-bit apps on the virtual machine, even after you’ve updated your shot Mac to Catalina.
Other uses for a virtual machine
While VirtualBox and virtual machines are great for running 32-bit apps on macOS Catalina, there are plenty of other uses for them.
You can, for example, run a virtual version of Windows on your Mac. There are also plenty of Linux distributions available for VirtualBox, if you’d like to use them.
Virtual machines are also great for security. If there’s a sketchy file that you’re curious about, you can save a snapshot of your virtual machine and open the file within that machine.
If the file ends up being nefarious, you can always revert to that earlier snapshot or delete the virtual machine entirely. It won’t end up threatening your host computer.
(Thanks to AppleToolBox reader Will Goad for the suggestion!)
Mike is a freelance journalist from San Diego, California.
While he primarily covers Apple and consumer technology, he has past experience writing about public safety, local government, and education for a variety of publications.
He’s worn quite a few hats in the journalism field, including writer, editor, and news designer.