Apple Warns macOS Users to Move Away From 32-Bit Applications

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Apple and Microsoft have always pursued different approaches to backwards compatibility, with Microsoft generally prioritizing the capability far more than Apple has. That difference in stance is largely the result of Redmond having a vastly larger legacy installation base than Cupertino, but it means Mac users need to keep a slightly closer eye on apps they use. Now, Apple is warning 32-bit macOS app users that the versions of the software they’re relying on don’t have long for this world.

What it isn’t doing, however, is telling anyone when the 32-bit/64-bit split will actually arrive. When you run a 32-bit app for the first time, you’ll see the following message:

macos-high-sierra-32-bit-app-alert

The message only shows once, but Apple is hoping it’ll be enough to get developers on the 64-bit bandwagon. It’s not clear if Apple is planning to turn off 32-bit support in macOS High Sierra or if that’s going to be reserved for future versions of the operating system. Apple has been requiring new software in the Mac App Store to include 64-bit support since January 1, so the company is clearly planning to turn off 32-bit compatibility at some point in the near future.

The support document Apple has published states:

The technologies that define today’s Mac experience—such as Metal graphics acceleration—work only with 64-bit apps. To ensure that the apps you purchase are as advanced as the Mac you run them on, all future Mac software will eventually be required to be 64-bit.

Apple began the transition to 64-bit hardware and software technology for Mac over a decade ago, and is working with developers to transition their apps to 64-bit. At our Worldwide Developers Conference in 2017, Apple informed developers that macOS High Sierra would be the last version of macOS to run 32-bit apps without compromise.

Users who wish to make certain their applications are 64-bit can check them by hitting the System Report button in the About This Mac menu. Scroll to Software, select Applications, and then check the 64-bit field. A “Yes” means an application is 64-bit, a “No” means the app is 32-bit.

As Apple points out, it’s been 10 years since the company began transitioning to 64-bit and it’s perfectly reasonable to tell companies to finish the job and code for 64-bit already. But the fact that it’s taken this long would seem to make Apple’s ARM pivot by 2020 less likely — if getting people to adopt 64-bit code takes a decade, how long does it take to get them to write code for ARM instead of x86?

It’s also not 100 percent clear if Apple is completely removing the ability to run 32-bit code or just planning to emulate it in the future. The support document notes that High Sierra is the last version of macOS to run 32-bit code “without compromise,” which at least implies that emulation might be used to provide this function in the future.

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