Want to run yesterday’s Macintosh software on your modern Mac or PC?
Since my DOSBox post, where I demonstrated classic MS-DOS software, I’ve wanted to find and use a classic Mac emulator to experience the classic Mac experience – to run classic Macintosh software, experience the user interface and see what has and hasn’t changed.
The Macintosh operating system’s history is often split into two sections: the classic Macintosh OS, and the modern macOS. macOS has evolved since Apple introduced it back in 2001 as Mac OS X, but it is very different from its precursor. (For instance, macOS is based on BSD UNIX; the classic Mac isn’t.)
The website E-Maculation is dedicated to classic Macintosh emulators.
There are three “main” classic Macintosh emulators: Mini vMac, Basilisk II and SheepShaver.
Mini vMac emulates compact Mac models (such as the Macintosh Plus, although it also supports models from the 128K to Classic.) Therefore, you’ll only get a black-and-white display and limited power.
SheepShaver, on the other hand, emulates the PowerPC-based Macs. In 1992, Apple started switching from using the Motorola 68K processors to the PowerPC chips. The PowerPC chips were designed by the AIM Alliance (Apple, IBM and Motorola) and were used until 2006. SheepShaver is the best option if you want to run Mac OS 8 or Mac OS 9.
Basilisk II, the software I’m going to be demonstrating, fits snugly in the middle. It still emulates a 68K-based Mac, but emulates a modular model that was capable of displaying color, offered more power and could run later versions of the Macintosh hardware. Specifically, Basilisk II mostly emulates a Macintosh Quadra 900 (circa 1991) running System 7.5.3 (circa 1996.)
With all of this out of the way, let’s talk about getting our emulator up and running.
Installing/Configuring Basilisk II
Unlike DOSBox, where everything came ready-to-go, Basilisk II requires a lot of work to get it up and going.
I decided to install Basilisk II on my early 2014 MacBook Air, running macOS 10.14.5 “Mojave.” Not only are you running a Macintosh emulator on a true modern Mac, but I found installation was somewhat easier on a Mac.
I’m not going to provide step-by-step configuration instructions. For that, E-Maculation has you covered. They have the detailed instructions for configuring Basilisk II in macOS here. They also have instructions for use with Windows and Linux.
Basilisk II requires downloading a ROM file to work. Because the classic Macintosh operating system only works on a true Mac (whether it be a true Apple Macintosh or, later, a clone) it requires this ROM file to start and work.
In addition, Basilisk II requires downloading the operating system files (obviously) and setting up a place to store the files and setup an emulated drive volume.
Once you get everything set up and the Basilisk II GUI configured properly, you can then start the Macintosh and install the operating system.
After running the System 7.5.3 installer and allowing the software to copy the files onto the system volume, the emulator will restart. Then, System 7.5.3 is ready to go.
You can adjust settings to your liking, such as enabling color and installing software.
Speaking of installing software, you will need to either download software or copy them from your own library.
For someone like me, who doesn’t own any classic Macintosh software, there are some websites out there archiving classic Macintosh software. The one I frequent is Macintosh Garden – which has a lot of classic Mac games, utilities and productivity software.
Most files are preserved in StuffIt compressed files. Most of the time, uncompressing the file will reveal an outdated disk image that requires conversion using the macOS Disk Utilities utility. After conversion, you can access the disk image contents and drag the files into the folder that can be accessed in the emulator.
Now, let’s take a look at some software I tried out. I tried to find and try the Macintosh version of the software I used in my DOSBox demonstration.
All of these can be found on Macintosh Garden, where I found them. Click the header to go to the Macintosh Garden page for that program.
In DOSBox, one of the first programs I tested was a MIDI player that used DOSBox’s OPL2 emulator. DOSMID was what I expected… and DOSBox’s OPL2 emulator wasn’t that good.
For the Mac, Arnold’s MIDI Player (AMP) is a good option. AMP uses QuickTime to actually produce the music. AMP provides a GUI for playback controls (unlike DOSMID) and other views, such as a synthesizer view, track listing, karaoke, etc.
One nice thing about AMP is I could import my entire MIDI library and open any file I wanted – no renaming needed. While DOS required each file to be renamed (to have a filename of 8 or fewer characters), Macintosh didn’t have the same requirements.
I recorded AMP’s output for a couple files. Below is AMP’s rendition of the William Tell Overture, along with the recorded version from DOSMID running in DOSBox.
AMP has a feature for recording audio to a .mov file through QuickTime. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find a way to open the file using modern software.
Therefore, recording the output was tricky. First, I tried using Soundflower. (Soundflower is a macOS utility that records the system’s sound output.) While Soundflower worked for recording a couple songs, it stopped working about three or four songs in. (Soundflower is very touchy and unstable, at least on recent macOS versions.)
I ended up recording the sound output using the MintTin and Audacity.
In DOSBox, I tested Ford Simulator 1988. Ford Simulator was a program released every year by the Ford Motor Company to provide details about their vehicles, offering a “virtual showroom.” Ford Simulator 1988 even included a driving game.
Ford Simulator II isn’t much different from the 1988 DOS version, although the user interface is obviously different for the Macintosh – and the vehicles have changes. There are more vehicles in Ford Simulator II for the Macintosh.
Ford Simulator II only consumes the top left corner of the screen and is only in black-and-white. The program was likely written for compact Macintosh models – such as the Macintosh SE – which were more popular at the time the program was written. (Considering the program released in late 1989, the only color Macs at that time were the Macintosh II, IIx and IIcx.)
Ford used the simulator to provide information about each model. In the “Electronic Showroom,” many Ford/Mercury/Lincoln models are available with a graphic and description. The “Buyer’s Guide” section allows you to view in-depth details about all Ford/Mercury/Lincoln models offered in 1990, with their specifications, options, window sticker and even a spreadsheet for making financial calculations.
Like the 1988 DOS version, Ford Simulator II has an “Infocenter” section, which has details about many of the features Ford offered on their vehicles in 1990. The Macintosh version includes nice graphics and animations about many of the features.
Ford Simulator 1990, just like all of the other Ford Simulators, includes a driving game. Unlike the 1988 DOS version, the Macintosh version is much trickier to play.
Lastly, Ford Simulator II has a feedback section. Users could fill out the form on their computer, print it out and send it Ford.
Now that we’ve bought a “new” car, let’s do some work.
One of the things I’ve done a lot of is page layout. I’ve always used Adobe’s InDesign page layout program as opposed to Quark XPress, although at one time I did get to play around with Quark XPress.
Before Adobe InDesign, there was Adobe (Aldus) PageMaker. PageMaker was a very early page layout program, released in 1985 for the Macintosh (the PC version was released in December 1986.) Quark XPress, on the other hand, was released in 1987.
Desktop publishing is one of the things that put the Macintosh on the map. With it’s advanced GUI, users could easily produce page designs, illustrations, slideshow presentations, etc. quicker than before. With this, many applications for desktop publishing were released for the Macintosh in the 1980s – from PageMaker to PowerPoint and Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.
PageMaker 4.0 was released in 1990 for the Macintosh, with a PC version following in 1991.
As with other WYSIWYG page layout programs of the era, samples and lessons were included to allow users to learn the program.
Many features found in PageMaker 4.0 can also be found in modern page layout programs like InDesign and Quark XPress. Color swatches, paragraph styles, grids, guides, etc.
PageMaker 4.0 also included samples for different types of publications, such as newsletters and cards.
Unfortunately, unlike modern page layout programs – there is no option for publishing the document as a PDF. I tried to “print to PDF” but that option was unsuccessful.
Perhaps one of the most popular game titles of the late 1980s/early 1990s, Lemmings was released on almost every platform. From the IBM PC, Commodore 64, Apple II, NES, SNES, and many other gaming consoles, there was a Lemmings version for that platform.
The Macintosh also had its own version.
Gameplay is almost identical to the MS-DOS version. The levels, graphics and controls are very similar.
The biggest difference is the music and sounds. I prefer the Macintosh version’s music and sounds over the MS-DOS version.
In addition to Lemmings, Tetris was another popular title from the late 1980s/early 1990s that made it on to almost every platform available.
Gameplay of Tetris is no different from what you would find on any other version – back then or now. (In other words, there is not much to discuss here.) It’s just bricks that you can rotate and position by using different keys on the keyboard.
The thing that I did like about the Mac version are the nice backgrounds.
Now to a game that almost every kid born between 1980 and 2005 has likely played… the Oregon Trail.
I was too young to experience the Apple II version of this game, but I did get to experience the graphical Windows XP version in elementary school. It was a very fun game, and I can remember my class spending a lot of time playing the game.
Now I got to experience the Macintosh version.
The Macintosh version of The Oregon Trail is very similar to the Windows XP version I played in elementary school. The graphics, interface, gameplay and almost everything else was identical to what I remember.
Obviously, the interface is nice. I liked how there was a map of the route with the landmarks you would pass on this version. I also liked how you could do things like “take a rest” at any point – instead of waiting for the game to catch up at a river or landmark.
One interesting thing about Oregon Trail is how it affects the desktop wallpaper. The desktop wallpaper will rapidly change colors at the splash screen, and will also display a slightly different color while playing the game. While likely a bug, it’s actually a pretty bug.
This concludes my demonstration of Basilisk II, a classic Macintosh emulator that allows you to enjoy the classic Macintosh operating system along with its software from the comfort of your modern computer. Although installation is more difficult when compared to DOSBox, Basilisk II is compatible with almost all games that were compatible with Macintosh System 7.5.3.
If you just want to play around in the classic Macintosh environment and some period software but don’t want to install an emulator or go through the hassle of setting one up, there are options – although its more limited.
James Friend created PCE.js – a website featuring an emulator of a Macintosh Plus running System 7 in black-and-white mode. There are a couple different emulators, one with many different games and programs, one with just KidPix, etc.
As previously mentioned, these in-browser emulators have many limitations. Friend’s emulators are emulating a Mac Plus – which only offers black-and-white graphics. Also, since it is in-browser, there is no way to upload files to (or download from) the emulator.
But there are a lot of upsides to the in-browser emulator. There is no need to download or install any emulation programs like Basilisk II, SheepShaver or Mini vMac. The in-browser emulator also runs comfortable on mobile devices. The screenshots were taken using my iPad. Navigating around the emulator and using it on the iPad was very easy, and it ran fine with no real hiccups that I encountered.
Since the in-browser emulator is emulating a Mac Plus, the graphics are very similar to what you actually would’ve found on the ubiquitous “Compact Mac” models of the late 1980s. Color graphics, higher-resolution displays and other “luxuries” didn’t come until 1987 with the introduction of the Macintosh II – which itself was extremely pricey.
Overall, emulators are a great way to experience the computers of yesterday without actually owning one. Vintage computers are often expensive and unreliable, especially vintage Macs. While it is fun to own older hardware, this is the next best thing…
Emulated on the early 2014 MacBook Air.
Windows Update (August 6, 2019)
Today I finally got the Windows version of Basilisk II to work on my ThinkPad W541 (daily driver machine)… somewhat.
After checking my volumes and installation again, I tried things one more time. I managed to get a black box to appear, but nothing inside. I was unable to close the black box, forcing me to force quit out of it.
Apparently, I’m not the only one with this problem. Emaculation said that the solution is to use an older, more stable version of Basilisk II.
After downloading Basilisk II and starting a new system volume from scratch, things went more smooth. This time, I got the infamous Macintosh start up chime followed by the blinking question mark. There’s something wrong with the system volume, as it isn’t seeing it.
Going back to the settings screen and comparing it with the one found on the Emaculation installation guide, I found the problem. I mounted the wrong disk file. After fixing this, the Mac “booted” up.
Once the emulation began, the system software installation process is identical to running Basilisk II on a modern Mac.
After “ejecting” the system install disk and restarting the system, it was official.
But I noticed some oddities. After changing the display settings to color, the desktop pattern chooser only displays black-and-white options. When changing the color setting back to gray in the “Monitors” system preferences window, everything but the Apple menu icon remains in color – although the system should be displaying in grayscale. Really odd.
It works, but not very well. Obviously some odd issues here and there.
Installing Basilisk II on my daily driver was something I wanted to do as it makes things just much simpler. For instance, audio recording. The output of DOSMID in DOSBox was easily captured as I was running the emulator on my ThinkPad W541, which runs Windows 10 – which allows you to record the sound output from your computer without any cables, dongles or third-party programs. (Which is nice, since most modern computers don’t feature a microphone or line-in jack.) Unfortunately, macOS doesn’t have anything like that without installing a third-party app like Soundflower. As I mentioned previously, Soundflower is fairly unstable and can even cause the entire system to crash. So to capture the audio from Basilisk II/Arnold’s MIDI Player, I had to plug my MacBook Air into my MintTin.
The second reason I wanted to install Basilisk II on my daily driver is the convenience. I could easily open it up and start playing without having to go and grab my MacBook Air, which my dad uses as his daily driver. When I return to school in a couple weeks, I will no longer have easy access to the MacBook Air.
But it seems like Basilisk II is more stable and easier to setup and run in macOS, at least in my experience.
While likely best left to a separate post, I was planning on bringing the late 2014 MacMini out of retirement/storage to be my main Basilisk II host. (Kind of like how the T42 is my main DOSBox host machine.) But, unfortunately, the late 2014 MacMini still refuses to boot.
Basilisk II on macOS Catalina (August 3, 2020)
When I first received my 2019 MacBook Pro back in March, one of the things I tried to install was Basilisk II. However, I wasn’t able to install it. I gave up after tinkering with a beta setup GUI designed for Catalina and using a third-party app to create the HFS volumes for the virtual machine to run from.
Thankfully, tonight I was able to get Basilisk II to run on Catalina. Turns out the whole issue may have been the fault of your’s truly rather than an incompatibility with Catalina. Last time I forgot to extract the System 7.5.3 setup files. Now all is well.