The Macintosh is a family of personal computers designed, manufactured, and sold by Apple Inc. since January 1984. The original Macintosh was the first mass-market personal computer that featured a graphical user interface, built-in screen, and mouse, eschewing the command-line interface and/or BASIC interpreter that had been the mainstay for home computers since the late '70s. Apple sold the Macintosh alongside its popular Apple II family of computers for almost ten years before they were discontinued in 1993, and later shortened the line to Mac in 1998.
Throughout its history the Macintosh comprised three processor architectures that represented the three commonly known generations. From its launch in 1984 up until 1994, Apple sold Macintoshes with the Motorola 68k family of CPUs. In the early 90s, Apple partnered with Motorola and IBM to create the Power architecture, using a CPU brand called PowerPC and naming some models accordingly like Power Mac. They then switched to x86 in 2006, explaining that Power failed to be competitive with Intel's Pentium M series. Macintosh computers have always included a platform-exclusive operating system that never had a consistent name.[N 1] Old World ROMs used System 1-7, and Mac OS 8 and 9 gradually dropped 68k support in favor of PowerPC. When Mac OS X was released in 2001, it required a New World ROM.[N 2] Some quick ways to distinguish an Old from a New World ROM is by checking for a built-in floppy drive and/or USB port. Old World ROMs used ADB for keyboard and mouse connectivity, whereas a New World ROM would have a USB port and no floppy drive. Mac OS X, which has different underpinnings from its predecessor, was introduced for PowerPC Macs in 2000 and is still in active development to this day, albeit for x86 (and ARM for its mobile cousin iOS).
A ton of Macintosh emulators have appeared over the years, some early in the system's release and others as late as a few years ago. Apple has strict terms about how their operating systems are used, which forces most emulators to maintain a macOS port to some degree. It should be noted that we do not aim to be the last word on Mac emulation; there's a community called E-Maculation that covers this more thoroughly, as they offer builds for many of the emulators shown here on their forums. We'll either be further ahead or severely behind.
|Name||Operating System(s)||Latest Version||Active||Recommended|
|Mini vMac||Windows, macOS, Linux||3.5.8||✓||✓|
|Basilisk II||Windows, macOS, Linux||1.0 R5||✓||✓|
|MAME||Windows, macOS, Linux||0.210||✓||TBD|
|PCE||Windows, macOS, Linux||0.2.2||~||TBD|
- Basilisk II
- An emulator targeting the "Mac Classic" and "Mac II" lines. The successor to Basilisk, a similar emulator for Linux and BeOS, it works by providing replacement drivers for components that would normally be hardware (a sort of HLE approach). Aside from the usual Windows, macOS, and Linux ports, Basilisk II also received an acclaimed PSP port (by way of homebrew).
- Mini vMac
- The successor to vMac, an older emulator. Targets the Macintosh Plus, but is known to support other models.
- To say it's a multi-system emulator would be an understatement. It covers a wide range of electronic history, with its namesake being arcade machines. Just typing in "Macintosh" will list basically everything Mac-related like the original Macintosh 128K (unfortunately labelled as Not Working) and the Macintosh II (which is OK). See the full list here.
- PCE (PC Emulator)
- A multi-system emulator. One of the computers it targets is the Macintosh Plus. Stables used to release every two years but stopped in 2013. A snapshot exists for December 2018 however, which suggests that the project isn't completely dead.
|Name||Operating System(s)||Latest Version||Active||Recommended|
|SheepShaver||Windows, macOS, Linux||2.4||✓||✓|
|PearPC||Windows, macOS, Linux||0.6.0||✗||✗|
|Classic Environment||Mac OS X (PPC)||Mac OS X v10.4 "Tiger"||✗||✓|
|QEMU||Windows, macOS, Linux||4.0.0||✓||TBD|
|Rosetta||Mac OS X (Intel)||Mac OS X 10.6.8 (Intel)||✗||✓|
- An open-source "run-time environment" that includes a PowerPC emulator for non-PowerPC systems. Originally commercial software, it is the companion app of Basilisk II, which emulates 68k Macs. It hasn't seen significant development in a while, yet it runs most if not all Mac OS applications in full speed on any Windows PC. It can interface with and copy files to and from host hardware, but suffers from the lack of memory management unit support, not to mention that it is riddled with hacks and workarounds, which accounts for why some applications such as the default bundled Internet Explorer flat-out crashes, and can only run up to 9.0.4. Like Basilisk and vMac, it needs a firmware image from a working Mac.
- This emulator had been developed since 2004 and marketed itself as a Mac on Windows solution. However, it encountered controversy when another team announced the closed-source CherryOS, which aimed to do the same thing and was revealed to have used code from PearPC (violating its license). PearPC lacks a usable interface (all that's available is the "Change CD" button), so using a frontend may be necessary.
- Known for its presence as an x86 hypervisor, QEMU emulates a wide range of architectures. In 2015, a Google Summer of Code event brought PowerPC Macintosh support from a curiosity to a possibility and it now supports a specific range of versions as of 2017. Like PearPC, QEMU is run from a shell.
- Apple's official PowerPC emulator for x86-based Macs included in Tiger (10.4.4). Though it wasn't included in Snow Leopard, it was still possible to transfer it from a previous Leopard install. It was removed entirely in OS X Lion. Rosetta uses QuickTransit technology licensed from Transitive Corporation, and works transparently from the end-user, leading Apple to market it as "the most amazing software you'll never see." as it, unlike most emulators, does not have a user interface. Rosetta works best on software that isn't system-intensive, such as office applications; games and other software applications which rely on kexts, libraries or certain instructions may not work properly if at all. A compatibility list is available here.
No Intel Mac emulators exist. However, using macOS Unlocker for VMware, for example, you can patch VMware products to run macOS in a virtual machine. A script has also emerged that allows one to install macOS Mojave in VirtualBox. If you want to run modern macOS software without a Mac, those are your two best options outside of doing a Hackintosh/OSx86 setup. There is also the work in progress Darling compatibility layer for running Intel macOS software on Linux. This project is similar to Wine but currently only has experimental support for GUI applications.
- E-Maculation - This links to their wiki, but they also have a forum that's "super busy." They provide setup guides and builds when the emulators themselves don't.
- It used to be called System or System Software until version 8, when it was renamed Mac OS in 1997. Version 10 was named Mac OS X in 2000, and when version 10.8 was released in 2012, it was shortened to OS X and then macOS when version 10.12 was released in 2016. Don't try to make sense of this.
- Though that didn't stop some programmers from making bootloaders for the very late Old World ROM models that used PowerPC.