On this blog, I’ve covered Basilisk II and recently Mini vMac, two of the more popular classic Macintosh emulators. However, recently, there’s a new kid on the block.
Each emulator has its era of specialty. Mini vMac covers the compact Mac/System 6 era by emulating a Macintosh Plus (circa 1986.) Basilisk II covers the later System 7 era by emulating a Macintosh Quadra 900 (circa 1991.) SheepShaver’s specialty is PowerPC Macs running OS 8 or OS 9. (Note: I have not yet covered SheepShaver on this site.)
My go-to classic Mac emulator was Basilisk II until Catalina hit. As we know, Catalina drops support for 32-bit applications, and I’m guessing Basilisk II was somehow one of them. Basilisk II ran perfectly on the 2014 MacBook Air (which is still on Sierra), but I always hit a brick wall when trying to install it on my 2019 MacBook Pro. I’ve been running Mini vMac with some luck, but I hate the limitations it presents. (On the upside, apps that run well in Mini vMac should run well on the 1991 Macintosh Classic I’m working on reviving back to life.)
Macintosh.js emulates the same machine Basilisk II does (in most cases) – a 1991 Macintosh Quadra 900. The Quadra 900 was one of the most powerful Macintosh models Apple sold at the time, along with its little brother (and my personal grail of vintage Macs) – the Quadra 700. Both used the Motorola 68040 processor, which would be the most powerful and last Motorola processor used by Apple prior to the PowerPC transition. The Quadra 900 was a beast in its day – expandable up to 256 MB of memory, five NuBus expansion slots and one PDS (processor direct slot) and could be ordered with a hard drive as large as 400 MB. The Quadra 900 was replaced by the Quadra 950 a year later in 1992, but both were supported until Mac OS 8.1. The Quadra 900/950 case (which is perhaps my favorite pre-Jobs Return case design) was also used for the Apple Workgroup Server 9150.
As it turns out, Macintosh.js is based on Basilisk II with some modifications made.
The installation procedure for Macintosh.js is similar to that of Mini vMac (at least on a Mac.) You simply download the package, expand it and drop the Macintosh.js application in your Applications folder. Then you will have a fully-functional Mac OS 8 emulator on your computer.
While Macintosh.js is just as easy to install as Mini vMac, there are some big differences. (Most notably color, OS 8, etc. But I’m putting those aside and discussing the emulators themselves.) In Macintosh.js, it’s easy to transfer files to and from the virtual machine. Like in Basilisk II and SheepShaver, Macintosh.js has a “Unix” folder on the host machine which allows you to easily transfer files using the Finder or Explorer. (Mounting disk images in Mini vMac is very easy, but transferring files that are not part of an image require the use of a piece of software that must be mounted in the Mini vMac’s virtual machine.)
The creator of Macintosh.js, Felix Rieseberg, includes some games and apps so you can have fun with Macintosh.js right out of the box. These games include Oregon Trail, Alley 19 Bowling, Duke Nukem 3D, and a couple others. Unfortunately, I was unable to get some of the games – Dungeons & Dragons and Civilization II – to work.
The apps included with Macintosh.js include Adobe Photoshop 3, Adobe Illustrator 5, Adobe Premiere 4, Apple’s Webpage Construction Kit and a couple other things.
While Macintosh.js comes with two popular web browsers of the day – Internet Explorer 3 and Netscape Navigator 3. Unfortunately, I was unable to get Macintosh.js to connect to the internet, so it’s only useful (unless there’s a hidden setting somewhere) for viewing the included HTML documents under Apple’s Webpage Construction Kit.
While Macintosh.js is an easy and “painless” way to dip your foot into experiencing the classic Macintosh environment (with Mac OS 8), it does have some bugs and other issues. I noticed that from time to time the mouse would act weird. Also, I would be unable to close windows or open files from the Finder without restarting the virtual machine. Some of the included game files, as previously mentioned, do not work.
If you want to experience Mac OS 8 in its glory from your modern computer without having to worry about configuring a virtual machine and potentially running into problems with Catalina, you can’t go wrong with Macintosh.js. If you want to run anything newer (OS 9) SheepShaver is the best solution. Anything older will require Basilisk II (System 7) or Mini vMac (System 6, compact Mac/black-and-white.) I may round out the series on classic Macintosh emulators by trying SheepShaver at some point in the future.
The creator of Macintosh.js also apparently developed a Windows 95 emulator. I may also try it out in the near future and review it.