Three ways to keep running your Rosetta apps with Lion installed

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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?

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