System Software and Mac OS

1.1.1 - What version(s) of the Mac OS will run on my Mac?

Apple TIL Archive article 18406 describes System Software compatibility for System Software prior to 7.1. The Apple Museum at Bott has a page of version history on the very early Mac OS versions.

Apple TIL article 8970 describes System Software compatibility for System Software from 7.1 to Mac OS 7.6.

Thanks to Gamba's "Run OS 8.1 On Your SE/30" project, you can now run 8.1 on any 030-based Mac if you really want to.

It's possible to run up to at least Mac OS 8.6 on a PPC-upgraded IIci (and probably on other PPC-upgraded 030-based Macs), but it requires a ResEdit hack (warning - this page contains the only images in the entire FAQ, about 15KB total) and some technical knowledge. No one, as of this writing, had managed to get Mac OS 9.x running on a PPC-upgraded Mac, but that doesn't mean it can't be done.

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1.1.2 - What versions of the Mac OS are available online?

Various versions of the Mac OS from System 6 to Mac OS 7.5.5 are available for free online. All versions linked here are North American English versions unless otherwise indicated. If you need a non-English version, try searching Apple's Software Updates (but don't hope for much before System 7.5). French- and German-localised versions of system software prior to System 7 is available here. They also have English versions of most revisions of the OS before System 7. KanjiTalk, the Japanese version of the Mac OS, is available in pre-System 7 form here. Most System versions prior to 6.0 WERE available here, which still has many links to System software downloads but no longer hosts any of them. Early in 2001, Apple changed their licencing structure to cause the removal of all System Software prior to 6 from legal distribution. For more information, see Stuart Bell's Low End Mac article.
System 6.0.3 is available direct from Apple.
System 6.0.5 is available direct from Apple.
System 6.0.8 is available direct from Apple.
System 6.0.8L is available here or here. Note: It only works on the PB100, LC II, and Classic II (and all Macs that suppport other System 6 versions). It does NOT work on the Colour Classic.

System versions 6.0.1, 6.0.2, 6.0.4, and 6.0.7 are no longer available from Apple, but it's not a big deal - System 6.0.8 will work just fine for most System 6.x installations. If you really need an earlier version of 6.x (possibly due to size constraints), well, they're there for you to get. System 7.0 is available direct from Apple.
System 7.0.1 is available direct from Apple.
System 7 Tune-up (HIGHLY recommended with the above two System versions) is available direct from Apple.

System 7.1 is not officially available for free. It can be ordered from the Apple Order Center. Their phone number is 1-800-293-6617, a free call from within the US. Thanks to GY for the phone number. Go to the Mac 512 User Group's System Software download page for some links to 7.1 downloads. System 7.1 Update 3 (HIGHLY recommended for all System 7.1 users) is available direct from Apple.

System 7.5.3 is available direct from Apple as a 19-part download (NOT disk images) requiring approximately 40MB of disk space. The Network Access Disk, a commonly requested item, can be found here.
System 7.5.5 Update (highly recommended for the above) is available direct from Apple.

Versions of the Mac OS after 7.5.5 are not yet available for free. eBay is probably the best source for Mac OS 7.6 and up, where most non-current Mac OS versions can be found for $30 or less. Apple still wants $99 for the CD version of the full Mac OS 7.6 and up, which can be ordered from the Apple Order Center at 1-800-293-6617.

Mac OS 7.6.1 Update (requires Mac OS 7.6, recommended for all 7.6 users) is available direct from Apple.

Mac OS 8.1 Update (requires Mac OS 8, recommended for all 8.0 users) is available direct from Apple.

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1.1.3 - Which version of the Mac OS is best for my Mac?

I'll try to give a very generally applicable recommendation here, but specific questions are beyond the scope of this FAQ. In general, if a Mac can run up to 7.6.1, 7.1 is the ideal version for it. If it can run up to 7.6.1 and you need the features in 7.5.x and up, use 7.6.1. Most stock Macintoshes, in my experience are at their fastest with the version of the OS one generation previous to the maximum supported on that machine. (I'm not counting 7.5.x and 7.6.x as different generations, since 7.6.x was essentially a bug-fix and PPC code update to 7.5.x.) Note that these recommendations DO NOT apply to Macs upgraded with a faster/newer processor.

If you have a 128K, 512K, or 512Ke, check out the link to System Software prior to System 6 and pick one of the Systems listed as being for the 128K-Plus (NOT the Guided Tour disks). Which one you use really depends on what features you need.

If you have a Plus, SE (any model), or Classic, use System 6.0.8 unless you absolutely need the features of System 7. Why? System 6 Heaven has a good explanation.

If you have any 020- or 030-based Mac, 7.1 is generally the best for it but 7.5.x/7.6.x will run acceptably well; major exceptions are the IIfx, which runs well all the way to 8.1, and the LCs (including the Classic II and Colour Classic) prior to the LC III, which should NOT use anything past 7.1 if you want to keep your sanity.

Quadras are fastest with Mac OS 7.1 plus the extras mentioned below, but if you need HFS Plus support or have a PPC card, use Mac OS 8.1.

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1.1.4 - What the heck is all this System Enabler stuff?

System Enablers are pieces of software that add support for certain machines to the Mac OS. For example, the IIvx came out after System 7.1 was finalised, and thus support for the IIvx is not built into System 7.1. The Enabler 001 file adds this necessary support, and a Mac IIvx will not boot under System 7.1 without it. If your Mac shipped with an enabler (check out AppleSpec to see if it did), make sure you don't remove that file from the System Folder. If you have extraneous Enablers, however, you can safely remove them. Check out Apple TIL Archive articles 11491 and 21176, which describe the current version of every System Enabler needed (as well as revision history) for nearly all Macs, before removing any Enablers from your System Folder. Note: the LC III+ is not on the list but should be the same as the Performa 460.

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1.1.5 - What am I supposed to do with these disk image things?

Those "disk image things" require you to use Disk Copy 4.2 or Disk Copy 6.3.3 (both available from Apple) to mount them. If you want to make floppies from them, use the "Make Floppy" command in Disk Copy after mounting an image from within Disk Copy. And please, read the Disk Copy README file. It's really not that hard to do.

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1.1.6 - How can I get an OS on a Mac using only my PC?

It's reasonably common that someone gets an old used Mac and it has no operating system on it. Often, these people don't have anything other than a PC to access the Internet. As long as your Mac is an SE FDHD or Mac IIx or higher, you can use these directions compiled by Alex Harrington (aka "fastkeys") to get that Mac up and running. Due to irreconcilable physical differences in the floppy drives of PCs and Macs, a Mac 128, 512, Plus, original SE, or un-upgraded II cannot use this procedure. If you have one of these, you'll need to get a Mac that can read PC floppies or find someone willing to make floppies for you.

You'll need your PC (running Win 9x or NT), some error-free 1.4MB floppies, and a good deal of patience. Download the following:

Once you have everything, install Stuffit Expander, unstuff the disk image to a new folder on your hard disk, and name the folder something short, like "Mac." Copy the RAWRITE program into this same folder. Rename the image file to image.img. Start your MS-DOS Prompt and type the following:

RaWrite 1.3 - Write disk file to raw floppy diskette

Enter source file name:

Landon Fuller notes the following:

On *nix systems, you can [you need to, in most cases] remove the header from uncompressed disk images by skipping the first 84 bytes of the image when writing it to disk.

On Linux:
dd if=imagefile.image of=/dev/fd0 bs=84 skip=1
In order to get the image file, use Aladdin Stuffit Expander for Linux (runs on most x86 unices with Linux binary emulation). Operate on the data fork, not the resource fork.

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1.1.7 - Is there a list of startup key combinations and what they do somewhere?

Startup key combinations - like holding down the shift key to disable extensions in System 7 and higher - are pretty well documented on the 'Net. Since Charles Poynton's site has disappeared completely, I've written a derivative work myself, based on his page but focused more on 68K Macs.

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1.1.8 - What are those "extras" I should add to System 7.1 to make it more like 7.5?

First, install System 7.1 Update 3. Once you've done that, you want to get the CFM-68K Runtime Enabler 4.0, ObjectSupportLib 1.2 (included with CFM-68K download), Drag Manager 1.1, and Thread Manager. Make sure you install Finder 7.1.3 as well; it's in the Thread Manager package, inside the Finder 7.1.3 folder.

When you get those installed, restart and then install Open Transport 1.1 and 1.1.2.

If you want the Mac OS 8 look, you can install the Appearance Manager, and for a heirarchical Apple menu, just copy over the Apple Menu Options control panel from a 7.5.x/7.6.x installation. WindowShade can be installed in a similar fashion.

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Last Modified on 06 November 2013
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