What Apple's 32-bit app phase-out on Mojave means to you

Apple has been pushing developers to move their software to 64-bit since mid-2017. Now, it's warning end users that it plans to bar 32-bit apps from running on the macOS desktop in 2019. Here's how to suss out which apps are affected.

Apple said in June it will bar all 32-bit applications from running on up-to-date Macs in little more than a year.

Although the Cupertino, Calif. company has been warning Mac owners when they run 32-bit applications since April and had told customers in June 2017 that the now-current macOS High Sierra would be among the last editions to support 32-bit apps, no banishment date had been set until this year's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).

"This year, we're announcing that macOS Mojave is the last release to support 32-bit, at all," said Sebastien Marineau, vice president of software, during a presentation at WWDC in early June. Mojave, also known as macOS 10.14, will release in the fall, most likely in September or October. Developers and users have been testing beta versions of Mojave since last month.

Marineau's edict meant that with Mojave's successor - macOS 10.15 - probably launching in the fall of 2019, Mac owners have a year and change to purge their machines of 32-bit apps.

32 bit on macOS Apple

This alert popped up when Kindle for the Mac launched, as a reminder that the 32-bit application has a short shelf life.

Apple's 64-bit push began last year

Developers got the word in June 2017 at that year's WWDC. There, Apple told programmers that macOS 10.13, aka "High Sierra" and the year's free upgrade, would be the final version that would "run 32-bit apps without compromise."

But users didn't get the message until April, when Apple published a support document and with the macOS 10.13.3 update, displayed on-screen alerts that read, "Name of application is not optimized for your Mac. This app needs to be updated by its developer to improve compatibility."

How to find 32-bit apps on the Mac

To see a list of a Mac's existing 32-bit applications, users should click "About This Mac" from the Apple menu, then click the button marked "System Report."

From there, scroll down to the "Software" section in the left-hand pane, then click on "Applications." Next, locate the column headed "64-Bit (Intel)" at the far right and click on it to put the list into ascending order; the 32-bit applications will be at the top.

Those 32-bit applications will each be marked "No" in the 64-Bit (Intel) column. (Users may need to widen the System Reports' window and/or drag some column dividers toward the left to make the 64-Bit (Intel) column visible.)

Mac system report Apple

The Mac will list every 32-bit application in the System Report. (They're the ones marked "No" in the right-most column.)

What happens next?

There's no reason to panic. The day when the Mac won't run 32-bit apps is more than a year off.

(The on-screen 32-bit alerts, which run only once for each eligible application, are less about informing users of an impending change than another way to prod developers to get cracking at 64-bit. That was clear from a message Apple pitched to developers a day before it activated the April warnings, reminding them that it was about to do so, and implying that they should prepare for an uptick in customer queries.)

Apple suggested that users "check with the software developer to see if 64-bit versions of your favorite titles are available." A search engine comes in handy here, with search strings such as "64-bit mac name of application" usually reporting results.

A cruise through a 32-bit app developer's website will be worth the while, as will be visits to the firm's support section and, if necessary, an email to the developer's support team asking about 64-bit availability - as well as a timeline, if that hasn't yet happened.

In corporate settings, this kind of investigation would typically be handled by the IT staff. But in smaller shops, workers may be responsible for uncovering app migrations to 64-bit. A common resource, like a shared document listing 64-bit availability, will make it easier to decentralize the work and circulate the results.

In general terms, the larger the developer, the more likely it has already made the move to 64-bit. Microsoft, for example, launched 64-bit versions of its Office apps - Word, Outlook, Excel and PowerPoint - in August 2016, automatically updating the suite's programs.

The 64-bit Office apps' predecessors, the Word and friends bundled as Office for Mac 2011, will likely be among the most prominent 32-bit standouts in the System Report list. The 2011 suite dropped off the support list in October; while Microsoft halted security updates, the applications continue to operate.

What are some of the Mac apps still stuck in 32-bit?

"As we push a platform forward, we sometimes have to deprecate legacy functionality to ensure that we're not holding it back," said Apple's Marineau at WWDC as he explained why the company was eliminating 32-bit support.

Among the most visible enterprise programs that failed the 64-bit grade was the no-longer-supported Office for Mac 2011. The 2011 suite dropped off Microsoft's support list in October 2017, but the applications continued to work after that date (even though they have received no security updates). The replacement, Office for Mac 2016, which will be supported until Oct. 13, 2020, offers 64-bit applications, however.

Other examples include Amazon's Kindle book-reading app for the Mac, Cisco's AnyConnect VPN client and Apple's DVD Player. (That gets an update to 64-bit in the macOS Mojave previews.)

How much time does 32-bit have?

Unlike rival Microsoft, which has not voiced plans to end 32-bit support in Windows, Apple has set a deadline. It's a rough deadline - the fall of 2019 - but a deadline nonetheless.

Apple has already barred new 32-bit apps from placement in its Mac App Store (it did so starting in January) and was to require "app updates and existing apps" in the e-market to be 64-bit as of last month. That second part, however, left enough wiggle room for 32-bit to remain in the store, such as the May 22 update to Amazon's Kindle.

Outside the Mac App Store, anything goes: Developers can continue to hawk 32-bit wares as long as they please from their own sites.

And while Apple has marked the calendar for dropping 32-bit support in macOS, there's nothing to stop users from running those applications as long as they stick with nothing newer than macOS Mojave. That may keep Mojave on more Macs than typical of an older edition of Apple's system software; the same happened to OS X 10.6, aka Snow Leopard, after it was eased into retirement, because it was the final edition able to run applications designed for the PowerPC processor, the Apple/IBM/Motorola-crafted CPU used by Apple before it switched to Intel in 2006.

If Apple maintains it standard patching policy, it will update Mojave with security fixes until the fall of 2020.

This story, "What Apple's 32-bit app phase-out on Mojave means to you" was originally published by Computerworld.

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