Hidden text in MacOS 11.3 beta suggests removal of Rosetta 2 compatibility layer in some countries

Time to go down to Memphis, er, Cupertino, to check for a decree


Researchers have discovered language buried in the forthcoming release of MacOS Big Sur 11.3 that suggests Apple may withdraw the Rosetta 2 binary compatibility layer in some regions.

The text, discovered by writer and developer Steve Moser, says: “Rosetta will be removed upon installing this update.”

Another reference to Rosetta 2 reads: “Rosetta is no longer available in your region. Applications requiring Rosetta will no longer run.”

Rosetta 2 allows applications initially compiled for Intel Macs to run on the latest-and-greatest ARM-based Apple Silicon machines. Upon running an x86-64 application for the first time, the software automatically translates the Intel instructions to those that will play nice on Apple’s home-grown SoC.

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Precedent has shown Apple will only offer Rosetta 2 for a limited time. The first incarnation, which bridged the gap between the transition between PowerPC and Intel, was discontinued in 2011 following the release of Mac OS X Lion. That discontinuation was largely driven by the fact that most PowerPC apps had already been converted to Intel, making Rosetta largely redundant.

The text uncovered by Moser suggests Apple could be forced to withdraw Rosetta 2 for reasons beyond its control. The firm has not yet confirmed what territories will be affected, nor the reason why.

One plausible (though unconfirmed) explanation suggests that some of the underlying technologies used by Rosetta 2 are patented in some territories by other companies. As previously noted by this publication, patent spats can be eye-wateringly expensive for the infringing party. One notable example is Intel, which was recently ordered to pay VSLI $2.18bn after it was ruled to have violated two patents pertaining to semiconductor manufacturing.

Regardless of the explanation, any removal of Rosetta 2 could be catastrophic for many users, massively complicating the transition to Apple Silicon.

A significant chunk of apps are still only available in Intel-compatible binary form, and thus are only able to run via the compatibility layer. Examples listed on one database include Discord, LastPass, AWS Client VPN, Microsoft To Do, and Microsoft Teams.

This “app-gap” would provide an incredible dis-incentive for consumers and business users in those affected territories to upgrade, leaving them languishing on Intel for the foreseeable future.

We’ve asked Apple for comment. ®

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