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Who cares what Apple's about to announce? It owes us a macOS x86 virtual appliance for non-Mac computers

Shift to Arm processors will maroon some users – and Hackintoshes are problematic

Comment Apple will today announce shiny new things. Supposedly it'll be the sixth Watch series, and a mid-tier iPad Air. I want it to announce something entirely more useful, though: a macOS x86 virtual appliance for all capable systems.

Apple has famously resisted macOS being virtualized on computers other than its own, but now it's engineered a mass-extinction event for Intel Macs by shifting to Arm, that policy should change. We should be able to officially virtualize macOS on whatever suitable host hardware we have to hand. The operating system's fine print right now permits up to two virtual instances of macOS per Apple Mac machine with macOS installed. Non-Macs are prohibited from booting macOS, virtual or otherwise.

Your humble hack thinks it is time to change that policy because it is inevitable that a small-but-significant number of macOS users run applications that are tightly coupled to Apple's Intel-powered hardware and will be a colossal pain in the rear to migrate to anything else. They can continue to run those software suites in their virtual macOS appliance on whatever suitable PC they have. There will also be some people who have their own special reasons for just wanting x86 macOS machines for the long haul.

Yes, those users can stock up on Intel Macs while they are still sold. And yes, Apple has promised brilliant translation of apps built for x86-powered Macs with the Rosetta environment on Arm. But Intel Macs won't last or be available forever, and users of software that just won't do well under Rosetta deserve another option.

That option is a macOS virtual appliance that runs on Hyper-V, Linux KVM, ESXi, Parallels, VirtualBox, VMware Workstation, and what have you, on whatever suitable hardware you've got.

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I'm totally happy if these appliances won't run on future computers more powerful than today's Macs. While the idea of macOS on a hypothetical future four-socket PC brandishing a fistful of 32-core i9s sounds like fun, I understand that Apple will need primacy for its Arm-powered products.

I'm also happy without long-term security support for these appliances. Folks who need this kind of VM will know they're headed for strange places, but also know that a properly isolated virtual machine can mitigate some security concerns. Those among you who buy one as a curiosity will need to go into the purchase with eyes wide open.

Some of you may at this point suggest DIY x86 Macs, aka Hackintoshes, as an alternative. It's certainly possible to create a Hackintosh but they are a faff to get running reliably, in my opinion. They're also problematic because Apple's T&Cs for macOS only permit the software to run on actual Macs, not whatever x86 box you've built for the job.

I don't think Apple has anything to lose by selling macOS virtual appliances because I expect that Arm Macs will be exceptional and a desirable upgrade. The VM will have limited appeal, but those who want or need it will adore it.

So go on, Apple. Give us a virtual Mac for the ages. Think Different and change your policy. And once you see how much it's appreciated, feel free to do a macOS appliance for something like the Raspberry Pi, too. ®

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