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Running Classic Applications

As briefly discussed in Chapter 1, "Setting Up Your Mac," the Classic environment is a way for you to operate some older Mac software while still using the newer Mac OS X operating system. Using Classic, almost any application that was functional in Mac OS 9 can run inside Mac OS X.


You must have at least 128MB of memory to use Classic. Also, a 400MHz G3 (or faster) computer is recommended. Why? Classic is a process running under Mac OS X. When it's in use, your computer is really supporting two operating systems simultaneously. As you can imagine, this is quite resource intensive.

Launching Classic

The Classic environment needs to be launched only once during a Mac OS X login session, and it can be launched manually or automatically. After it's running, Classic remains active (but mostly unnoticeable) until you log out or manually force it to shut down.


How can you find out whether a piece of software on your hard drive is indeed a Classic application? You can always ask the Finder. Simply select the icon for the program in question and choose Get Info (or press Command-I) from the Finder's File menu. A Kind of Classic Application indicates that the software requires Classic to operate.

There are two ways to launch the Classic environment: through the Classic panel in System Preferences, as mentioned in the last chapter, or by double-clicking a Classic application.

First, let's start Classic from the System Preferences panel. Here's what to do:

  1. Locate the System Preferences icon in the Dock and double-click it (the icon looks like a wall-mounted light switch) or choose System Preferences from the Apple menu.

  2. In System Preferences, click the Classic icon to open its Preferences panel.

  3. Click the Start/Stop tab of the Classic Preferences panel. Here you see several options, including a Stop or Start button for manually turning Classic off or on, Restart for when you want to reboot Classic, and Force Quit for when the Classic system is unresponsive after a crash.

  4. In the Start/Stop tab, click the Start button to launch Classic. Mac OS 9 takes a few minutes to boot, and then you're ready to run your older applications.

Let's try the second way to launch Classic:

  1. Locate an older, non–Mac OS X application in your Mac OS 9 Applications folder, and double-click it.

Yes, there's only one step. If Classic isn't already running, it boots automatically before the application you've chosen is launched. It may take a little while for both Classic and the application you've launched to open and be ready for use. Remember that, after it's started, Classic remains in the background until you log out of Mac OS X or manually stop Classic. Even when you log out of all Classic applications, Classic itself is still running.


The Classic System Preferences panel shows the status of the Classic environment—that is, whether or not it's running. Because Classic does not appear as an active task in the Dock, this is one way to check its status.

Although it's true that in most cases Classic will run until you log out or manually stop the process, it's still (like Mac OS 9 itself) susceptible to crashes. If Classic crashes, so do any applications running within it. You must restart the Classic process to continue working.

Using Classic Applications

The first time you open a Classic application, you'll notice that several interesting things happen.


Be careful not to alter settings in a Mac OS 9 control panel! When running Classic, the Mac OS X menu bar is replaced by the Mac OS 9 menu bar with a rainbow apple at the upper left in place of the solid-color one you usually see. Using the Mac OS 9 Apple menu, you can access all the earlier system's control panels and associated functionality. Settings in control panels such as Appearance and Sound are harmless enough, but it's possible to accidentally disrupt your network connections by working with the TCP/IP and AppleTalk control panels. It's best to avoid the Mac OS 9 control panels altogether.

Visually, Classic applications look different from applications that run under OS X. These older applications appear just as they would under Mac OS 8 and 9. The Aqua appearance does not carry over to the windows, buttons, and other interface elements, but the Mac OS X Dock and Process Manager do recognize Classic applications.

After it starts, Classic is easy to use without extra detail about how it interacts with Mac OS X. You simply operate programs as you normally would. However, there are a few exceptions that might be confusing for you:

  • Copy and paste/drag and drop—Two of the most common means of moving data in the Mac OS suffer when working between native and Classic applications. It can take several seconds before data copied from one environment is available for pasting into another. Dragging and dropping text and images between native and Classic applications fails altogether.

  • Favorites—Although Favorites are available in the Mac OS 9 environment, they do not transfer between Classic and Mac OS X.

  • Open and Save dialog boxes—Mac OS X applications are aware of the special folders and files used by the system and take care to hide them. The same cannot be said for Classic applications. The Open and Save dialog boxes clearly show the invisible items. Although normal, these invisible files could be alarming to users not accustomed to seeing them.


Note that when using the Classic environment, applications still need to access all hardware through Mac OS X, so software trying to access hardware directly will fail for devices not compatible with Mac OS X. (See Chapter 7, "Choosing Peripheral Devices," for more information about devices compatible with your Mac.)

Users expecting a completely seamless work environment might be disappointed by these shortcomings, but they're relatively minor quirks in a very convenient arrangement.

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