Three ways to keep running your Rosetta apps with Lion installed


Despite warnings that your Rosetta applications won’t run under Lion, some applications are simply irreplaceable and have no effective post-Lion alternative. All is not lost. Here are three solutions that will let you access those old applications, and only two of them require pre-upgrade planning.

Simple: You don’t have to run the app often

For the application you run only in a blue moon, the easiest way to keep your Rosetta applications while making the move to Lion is to clone your existing hard drive to an external volume. Storage is cheap these days, and this solution requires no modification of your hard drive and no risk of data loss. You don’t even have to reinstall your applications; all your preferences and settings stay in the correct place. Everything just works. The one caveat: You will need to do this before you upgrade to Lion.

First, purchase an external hard drive that is slightly bigger than the used space on your existing internal hard drive. A 1TB USB external hard drive these days is less than $100. You can opt for Firewire 400 or 800 for a higher cost, but if you are only using the Rosetta app occasionally, you can probably save money in exchange for slower performance while booting into Snow Leopard.

Once you have the external hard drive, use a program like SuperDuper or CarbonCopyCloner to make an exact duplicate of your existing drive. Then, when you need to run your Rosetta program, go to System Preferences, then Startup Disk, and start up from the external hard drive. While you’re booted off the Snow Leopard drive, turn off your backup solutions so the systems don’t get confused. Just to be safe, copy any data you create to your primary drive.

Easy, simple, and it doubles as a good safety precaution before upgrading to Lion in case something gets hosed in the process.

Intermediate: You need better performance in the app or you use it fairly often

If you have some room to spare on your hard drive, another option is to create a partition with Snow Leopard installed. If not, you’ll have to upgrade your hard drive so that you have enough space for Snow Leopard and Lion. Again, you should do this before the Lion upgrade.

The advantage of this solution over the external hard drive is that it’s much faster to boot off your primary drive — and it’s possible that you won’t have to purchase any additional hardware. The key disadvantage is that you need to have enough space to do this. I’d suggest at least 20 GB available for an effective Snow Leopard partition, plus enough space for the applications you need as well as data, if you save to that partition.

Note: Partitioning is a low-risk activity, but there is still risk of data loss. Be sure to backup your data before doing this.

Once you create the partition, you could clone your existing Snow Leopard install to your secondary partition, but most people don’t have that much space on their drives. Instead, you can do a clean install of Snow Leopard on your new partition and use the Migration Assistant to import from your existing install just the applications and data you need for your Rosetta environment. That can save you space and time reinstalling applications.

This option saves you boot time and potentially money by using an existing hard drive, but requires a bit more planning and manual labor.

Advanced: You really, really need to use the app

You want to be the cool kid on the block. How about running a virtual version of Snow Leopard (Server)? While VMware and Parallels allow you to run virtualized versions of Windows and other operating systems, they also allow you to run Snow Leopard Server (but not the client, due to Apple licensing restrictions).

Buying a new retail copy of Snow Leopard Server just for a VM would be expensive, but you can save money by spending $99 to join Apple Mac Developer Program. Members of the program are currently permitted to run Snow Leopard Server for free in a test environment. (If you go the developer route, be sure to check the current Terms of Service to see if your situation applies.)

Once you install Snow Leopard Server in your Virtual Machine, you can ignore or turn off any server functions. It behaves as a normal version of Snow Leopard, able to run any of the Rosetta programs Snow Leopard can. You can do this before or after you upgrade to Lion, so if you’ve already done the upgrade, this is a way to get back your Rosetta functionality.

The key advantage of this option is you can run your Rosetta applications without rebooting your machine. You’ll take a minor performance hit when compared to running it off a separate partition, but you’ll save time rebooting. Additionally you can easily put the environment to sleep and keep it in the background for activation when needed.

The obvious disadvantage is cost and labor. You’ll need to obtain Snow Leopard Server and buy a copy of VMWare or Parallels (if you don’t already own one) and install the programs in the virtualized environment along with the necessary applications and data. If you’ve got easy access to these products, then this is a great solution.

Relying on old, outdated software is risky but with these solutions you can buy yourself some extra time. What other innovative ideas will you try to shoehorn Rosetta into a Lion system?



Why is Apple not supporting programs running Rosetta like Microsoft office 2004? Is Apple in a feud with Rosetta?


As a developer, I can tell you that no one is “lazy”. Basically if you have an app that relies on carbon libraries or was written originally using tools other Obj-C and XCode, you’re looking at a total rewrite. While of course any app that started development in the past couple years should have been on board, it’s rather hostile of Apple to drop support for code bases that have worked perfectly well for years. Apple changes the rules of the game far too often: PPC, Universal, Intel only, 32/64-bit, no Tiger support, in-app content purchases rule changes mid-stream, etc… Other devs know what I’m talking about. Luckily Obj-C and XCode at least seem here to stay, but even that is never certain.


Partition existing hard drive that has Snow Leopard installed?
Nothing was stated about how to do that or what software might be needed to do it. Any suggestions?


I looked at the document you suggested. I did a full backup of my HD yesterday. I’ll add a partition to my drive, clone Snow Leopard from existing partition to the new partition with older applications that need Rosetta. I will upgrade the original partition to Lion after removing all of those older apps. This is starting to feel like the OS9 to OSX transition.


Because Apple sells hardware, not software.

You can virtualize Snow Leopard Server or up to 2 instances of Lion.


Mac OSX? iLife? iWork? Aperture? Final Cut? How come you say Apple sells no software?


How odd that you can legally have umpteen partitions that can boot a variety of OS X versions on the same computer but don’t – DON’T – run one in virtualization. I wonder why that is.


You’re allowed to run Lion in virtualization on your computer without any extra charge (I think you can run 3 copies on each machine).

Duncan Fowler

I have been finding a lack of printer and scanner drivers on places like Epson and HP.
Many of the old drivers are dependent on Rosetta
Looks like I will have to wait until they are released before I can upgrade.


There’s still developers who haven’t made the jump or more annoyingly have stated the current product will never be compatible but guarantees the next full version will. I’ve got a few vendors taking that tact. Annoying, but for some folks, I guess they think it’s fair.


I run JXM, control software for the XM-PCR radio, every day to have music going while I’m working. It’s a PowerPC-only app evidently, but there are Windows versions of XM-PCR software that work under Win7, so I guess I will have to run a Win7 virtual machine all the time under VMWare Fusion in order to continue using the XM-PCR. I am not about to throw away my XM Radio yet.


why not run VirtualBox, instead of VMWare of Parallels? It’s free.


Hate VMWare and won’t run it. Second option right out of the question as is the first. Fourth option. Don’t run any apps that have to use Rosetta and I’ve already delete the garbage applications since software developers are to $%^& lazy to update them.


Software companies are going to have to warm up to the fact that they have to keep up or get left behind… Lion is the future for Apple, not Quicken. Bad move for Intuit, IMHO.



Sorry, I disagree. Apple needs not always jump the gun. While it is cutting edge, they are killing users. Final Cut Pro X should be referred to as “let’s push all of our clients that built their companies around us over to AVID”. They were cutting edge with the Newton and nearly went under. All I am saying is that they need to engage these companies before launching. I have removed Lion from my machines due to the fact that the majority of my daily software does not work.

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