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Run Snow Leopard in Virtual Machine to retain PowerPC Applications July 25, 2011

Posted by Robert Harder in Utility.
Tags: , , , ,

I finally discovered how to run Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard in a virtual machine after I was caught off guard that Mac OS X 10.7 Lion no longer supports Rosetta, Apple’s technology for seamlessly running PowerPC applications on Intel processors. I have enough PowerPC applications (like The Print Shop, my old copy of PhotoShop, and my scanner driver) that I was not going to upgrade to Lion on my home computer, but since I have successfully installed Snow Leopard in a virtual machine, I think I will take the plunge after all (and thanks to this Front Row hack also).

Installing Snow Leopard in a Virtual Machine

I followed these instructions on OS X Daily which were for installing a developer release of Lion, but it worked for Snow Leopard as well.

This seems to be the secret for installing 10.6 in a virtual machine: you need to trick OS X into thinking you have the server version of it by creating an empty file at /System/Library/CoreServices/ServerVersion.plist on the installer DVD and on the final hard drive image. All the steps lead up to and support this insight.

My experience differed slightly from the instructions above, so here are some comments:

Their Step 1. I had to make a 7GB disk for Snow Leopard instead of the 5GB disk that Lion needs. I think I made the Image Format “read/write” instead of “DVD/CD master,” but I cannot remember.

Their Steps 3–4. I just “restored” the entire Snow Leopard Installer DVD image, since Snow Leopard was not a App Store download.

Their Step 5. I did not find, and thus did not copy, any kernelcache file.

Their Step 6. I did not remove any System/Installation/Packages file or copy any packages. “Restoring” the DVD image was sufficient to get the information onto the new disk image.

Their Step 9. I did nothing with any nvram files.


I now have Snow Leopard running in a virtual machine inside of Lion. I have found that after 10–15 minutes of inactivity in Snow Leopard that it seems to freeze up. I do not know if this is an issue with Lion, VMWare, or Snow Leopard.

Update. Solution is here: Disable sleep, etc. in Energy Saver.


1. Robert Harder » Check for PowerPC Programs Before Upgrading to Lion - July 25, 2011

[…] I have installed Snow Leopard in a virtual machine to retain access to my PowerPC […]

2. drew c - August 1, 2011

I must have missed something here… I’m unsure how to hack my system into thinking my OSX install is a OSX Server install. Here’s what I did… Can you correct me please 🙂
1. Created a new .dmg (which I named myinstall)
2. Created a .dmg from Mac OSX Install 10.7
3. Restored using disk utility
SOURCE: Mac OSX Install 10.7
DESTINATION: myinstall

4. Stuck here….

3. drew c - August 1, 2011

Actually, it looks like I figured out the terminal portion but it requests a password… the problem is, it won’t let me actually type the password. Any suggestions?

4. drew c - August 1, 2011

OK… Sorry. I keep figuring out stuff as I play with it. So I’ve figured out a way around the password issue and have installed snow leopard on the VM. But now, I can’t seem to get the “touch” to work on my HD volume. It keeps saying “no such file or directory”. My Volume was /Volume/Macintosh HD so I typed this into terminal:

touch “/Volumes/Macintosh HD/System/Library/CoreServices/ServerVersion.plist”

Anything wrong with that?

5. drew c - August 1, 2011

Alright, got it all to work. I had to change the volume from “Macintosh HD” to “SnowLeopardHD”. Apparently, the volume name cannot have spaces. Thanks for letting me “think out loud” by writing comments on your site 🙂

6. Robert Harder - August 1, 2011

@drew c Odd about the space. You have quotes, which is necessary, unless you use a backslash. Glad you got it working! Don’t forget to turn off the energy saver stuff.

7. Asger - August 22, 2011

When laucnhing the VM in Fusion it starts with the apple and spinning wheel boot logo, bu then the apple becomes a circle with a line through it, indicating something is wrong.

8. lee - August 23, 2011

I’m at the same spot as Asger

9. Alistair Mackenzie - September 10, 2011

Thanks for the post – very useful.
I manage to create the ServerVersion.plist file but vmware still says it’s not a server os – is there a step 13?

10. juge - September 23, 2011

I am having problems running a Snow Leopard in a virtual box as Lion as my host, I get to install but then I do not have a “hard drive” to install it in? any help?
ie; It gets through all setup process and then right before installation (in virtual box) it does not give me an option as to where to install it :(?

11. Rob - October 5, 2011

Hello all, I also get the circle with the line through it, did anyone solve the issue?

12. Robert Harder - October 6, 2011

Hmm. All the times I’ve seen the “NO” circle, it’s been because the ServerVersion.plist file was missing. Double check: boot from the DVD, open Terminal, and check for the file. But then, I’m sure you’ve already done that. Sorry, I’m not sure what else might be wrong.

13. Jack Parks - October 17, 2011

Your instructions worked perfectly. Thank you for posting them. The only thing that doesn’t seem to work is applying the Snow Leopard updates, like 10.6.8 (I have an older DVD version of 10.6) I was hoping to apply the patches and security fixes. Have you figured out a way to do this yet. I figured I would check here first before I begin my Googling journey.

14. Jack Parks - October 18, 2011

If you want to be able to run “Software Update”, then follow these instructions. I could not get the alternate method he describes to work.

15. Noah - October 20, 2011

Stuck on Step 11, trying to force select a different start up disk. I can’t get the boot menu to show up while starting the VM. Pressing or holding the “esc” key at any point while the VM is starting up (including at the VM flash screen) does not register and just causes the Mac alert sound to sound. And I just keep getting the dialogue that it can’t boot because I’m not running Mac OS X Server.

16. hhumbert - October 24, 2011

i’m exactly where noah is above me.
any help out there?

17. Robert Harder - October 24, 2011

@Noah @hhumbert Not sure what’s going on there. Sorry.

18. hhumbert - October 26, 2011

actually, i think what is happening is that the boot manager screen is popping up, but so quickly that it cannot be accessed. i’ve seen something about somehow slowing down this process but only on a pc.
( http://forums.overclockers.com.au/showthread.php?t=698018) maybe someone can figure this out for mac? thanks so much. this board rocks!

19. hhumbert - October 31, 2011

any more help out there?
would love to get this to work.


20. SE - November 1, 2011

Hi Guys,
Can anybody help provide some clarity, stuck on step 10 as I am not sure what hard drive this is referring to. I have lion and trying to run snow leopard as a VM

“After the installation disk boots up, the first thing you should do is run Disk Utility and format the hard drive. All the norms apply; GUID partition map, Mac OS X Extended (Journaled) format, etc. When done, Quit to return to the installer.”

21. SE - November 1, 2011

My installation disk has booted up but not sure what needs formatting.

22. Dave - November 2, 2011

Woohoo! I got it to load and run, installed Rosetta, and updated to 10.6.8.

BUT…I can’t get any PowerPC apps to run, which was the whole point of it all! Quicken 2006 looks like a “package” rather than an app, and it won’t launch. Office 2004 apps (Word, Excel, etc.) show up as “Unix Executable” files and launch into Text Edit, which shows garbage characters. Etc., etc.

Intel apps run fine. And I checked via Terminal to be sure that Rosetta is indeed installed. It is.

I have seen a couple of other postings about this…but no help.

Anyone have this figured out? (Thanks.)

23. hhumbert - November 3, 2011

@dave how did you get past step 11?
i have no help for your problem, obviously, sorry.

24. Nathan - November 5, 2011

So when you upgrade to Lion does it move all of your ppc applications into a folder and archive them kind of like the Classic days? Or do you have to make sure you have a copy of the apps stored elsewhere before the Lion upgrade?

Robert Harder - November 8, 2011

I seem to recall the apps were just left where they were. -Rob

25. Dave - November 16, 2011

@Dave #22
Okay…here’s the answer to my own question. Both Quicken and MS Office have *installers* which require Rosetta. Evidently just copying the apps themselves (or using the apps on your host OS via file sharing from your guest SL OS) isn’t enough. So I dug out my old Quicken install disk, installed it on my SL guest, and Voila! It works.

Then I copied over my Quicken data files from host to guest, and I’m all up to date and good to go.

I couldn’t find my old MS Office install disk, so it looks like I’ll be saying goodbye to Office. Bon voyage, Office!

26. Gab - January 28, 2012

I got everything to work, well most of it since I’m installing SL. I followed your instructions to the letter yet I’m stuck at the booting of SL in some kind of panic mode? It calls a debugger which says panic, then another debugger that says double-panic… Eventually everything blacks out and all that remains is “BSD process name corresponding to current thread: Unknown” to which the vm just reboots and repeats this same shit again. Any tips? I got everything right till step 10, but it won’t boot.

27. Gab - January 28, 2012

Oh and I’ve been using Parallels… Is that an issue?

28. Robert Harder - January 28, 2012

@Gab The kernel panic doesn’t sound familiar to me. Anyone else?

29. Run Snow Leopard (non-server version) as guest in Lion - February 9, 2012

[…] but not Snow Leopard. That is, according to the EULA — it’s probably possible to do this (this blog post will help you out there) — but to be compliant with the EULA, you shouldn’t. Answered by […]

30. Alo - September 2, 2012

I just wanted to update that these steps work just fine in VMWare Fusion 5.0.1

I was worried since the option to install the non-server version of SL was available in 4.1, but it looks like the option was removed in 5.0.1

So, it’s nice to have it back. Thanks for the info. I’ll be putting a writeup on my blog with the modified steps within the next few days.

31. Kurt Richard Todoroff - December 7, 2012

iMac 27-inch, Late 2009
Quad-Core i7, 2.8GHz
OS X 10.8.2

Parallels 8 Desktop
All updates installed

I formatted the internal hard drive as a 970GB partition (Mountain Lion) and a 30GB partition (Snow Leopard). Like many people, I boot into the SL partition from time to time to run PPC applications. Then, I boot back into ML when I am done using the PPC application. This is cumbersome.

I use Parallels to run three Windows business applications that are not available on OS X.

I would like Parallels to boot Snow Leopard from the 30GB Snow Leopard partition, instead of performing an installation into Parallels, because I don’t have the SL installation disks. Parallels 8 does not support this. Does anyone know of a method to fool Parallels into running SL from the 30GB SLS partition, the same way that many people run Windows in Parallels from Boot Camp? I have not located any information that addresses this configuration.

Thank you for your assistance.

Kurt Todoroff

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