Like clockwork, Apple churns out each fall a new version of the software that powers its Macintosh computers, touting cool and useful new things it can do.
This year, the updated operating system is notable for what it won’t do.
The new release, called macOS 10.15 Catalina, may prove fatal for some of your favorite Mac apps. That’s because Catalina will only work with programs that are written using 64-bit code. Many programs – including some created by Apple itself — are crafted using older, 32-bit code. Those older apps will stop working once you install the next version of macOS on your Apple desktop or laptop.
And you have been warned this was coming. For a couple of years now, launching a 32-bit app on a Mac that’s been updated generates a message that says the app is not “optimized” and that it “will not work with future versions of macOS”.
Welcome to the 32-bitpocalypse, which is expected to hit in September when Apple traditionally releases its latest software. If you’ve been clinging to older versions of programs, or if an older app you rely on just hasn’t been updated, you’ve got some tough choices to make.
Possibly more concerning is that some of the files you created with older programs may no longer be usable, particularly video recorded in an older format. All those early digital movies you took of your kids? Poof!
So what’s happening here? It’s a classic case of Apple moving beyond older technology, regardless of collateral damage. In this case, it has to do with the type of processors used in Macs, and how software works with them.
Apple’s current line of Macs all use 64-bit Intel processors, which refers to the way data is handled and stored in a computer’s memory, and they have since 2006. Earlier Intel-based Macs used 32-bit processors. For years the macOS has accommodated apps written for either processor. That’s about to end. Programs written with 64-bit code run faster and smoother on the macOS.
Microsoft’s Windows operating system has made a similar journey from 32- to 64-bit computing, but at the moment Microsoft has no plans to drop 32-bit support from Windows.
If you’re a Mac user, there are several steps to avoid the 32-bitpocalypse.
Figure out which apps are 32-bit. Your Mac can show you which apps are using 32-bit or 64-bit code. Click on the Apple Menu icon and choose “About this Mac”, then click “System Report” in the box that pops up. Scroll down the list in the left-hand pan and, under Software, click Applications.
On the right you’ll see list of programs. Open the window wide enough so the “64-bit (Intel)” header shows and click it. Apps that are 32-bit will have a “No” in this column. Use this list to see programs you use regularly that are 32-bit, and then it’s time to take action.
CATALINA PREVIEW: Apple unveils macOS Catalina at its developers conference
See if there’s a 64-bit version. Check with the developers to see if newer, 64-bit versions are available. If you’re using an older version of a program that has updates, chances are the newer releases are 64-bit, but you may have to pay to upgrade. If the cost is prohibitive, or if updates are not available, look for less expensive or even free alternatives.
Don’t forget your drivers. Peripherals such as scanners and printers use software called drivers to talk to your Mac. If you are using an older printer, scanner or all-in-one device, you’ll want to check with the manufacturer to see if 64-bit drivers are available. If the driver and its supporting software hasn’t been updated in a while, there’s a chance it may never be, which means your device may not be compatible with Catalina.
Convert your media files. Video and audio files created long ago may have formats that rely on 32-bit software. That means they won’t play on a Mac running Catalina, even if you’ve got 64-bit software that can handle the file format. Programs such as Adobe Premiere, the freeware app VLC and even Apple’s own QuickTime may be able to convert these files to a 64-bit format. Veteran tech writer Jason Snell has a good discussion of how to handle this at his Six Colors blog.
What can you do if you have a critical app that you must use, and no 64-bit version is available at all? This is a common scenario in businesses that use Macs, and the only real option in this case is to not upgrade to the latest version of macOS. While you’ll miss out on Catalina’s useful new features, you can keep using older releases of the software for a while.
That’s because Apple continues to release patches and security updates for previous versions for some time. Although the company doesn’t have a formal policy (unlike Microsoft, which has detailed “end of life” schedules for Windows versions), you can usually count on updates for the previous two macOS releases.
For example, recent macOS security updates go back to 10.12 Sierra, released in September 2016. But 10.11 El Capitan is no longer getting this support. In general, you can hold out for about two years before you’ll need to bite the bullet.
Hopefully you’ll have found updates or suitable replacements by then.