Apple have dropped 32-bit support with macOS Catalina

Written by: Alexander N. Messenger

Apple’s macOS Catalina was recently released, and with it a big change. In their most recent build they have dropped support for 32-bit software.

This means that 32-bit apps will not work on a Mac which runs macOS Catalina and future versions.

Apple originally gave 32-bit its notice by pushing alerts on macOS High Sierra, notifying that 32-bit app support was going to be dropped.

Screen shot of macOs 32-bit app warning
Screen shot of macOS 32-bit app warning

As it stands, macOS Mojave will be the last version of macOS to run 32-bit apps.

Why have Apple dropped 32-bit support

Screen shot of Apple's webpage about dropping 32-bit support
Screen shot of Apple’s webpage about dropping 32-bit support
Link: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208436

Based on what Apple have publicly stated (see image above), they have most likely done this to force a performance improvement on their computers, whether they be older models or brand new. Newer Macs contain hardware which is built with 64-bit architecture. This would mean that 64-bit software would be able to take advantage of the 64-bit hardware and any other capabilities that either work with 64-bit better or only.

Also by removing 32-bit support from the macOS system they are probably making it lighter. For example, this could mean the system will run faster. (This of course is not taking into consideration any additional changes or bloat Apple or the user might do to the system).

However, from another perspective, I would imagine that Apple would also be saving money in the development and maintenance of the macOS system, as they are no longer having to deal with both 32 and 64-bit support. Overall they can get a performance boost on their machines, and perhaps save or reallocate some money in the process. This of course is just me speculating, but it is something to think about.

What can you do if you need 32-bit support on Mac

Unfortunately there isn’t really anything you can do on macOS Catalina if you need 32-bit support at the moment. You can only cope with what has happened. Apple have basically given existing users an inconvenience and more work to do, just to cope.

If you need to use software which is 32-bit, you either:

  • Don’t upgrade at all
  • Find out if the software developer is going to do a 64-bit version
  • See if the software is available on Windows or Linux, and if it is (and if you can afford to), then change operating systems and use the Mac for something else

I have also seen some more technical suggestions mentioned:

  • One approach is to partition your Mac and run Catalina on one partition and a prior version of macOS on the other for 32-bit support.
  • A second suggestion is to use a virtual machine on macOS Catalina to run a previous version of macOS for your 32-bit needs. The idea is to save you from having to log off from one system and boot into another (like the previous approach above). However I would have thought that this approach would be more taxing on the system, and require a more powerful computer to cope.

Personally I think these solutions for this particular reason are inconvenient. Before attempting these options I would seriously recommend you consider if your 32-bit apps are worth it. In fact, to that point, how much macOS Catalina is worth it if you need to run 32-bit apps. Plus, if you are not used to doing partitioning, are not the most “tech orientated” person, or perhaps you don’t have the time to learn about this stuff, then it might be best to avoid these solutions.

The final suggestion I have is to find alternate software. It could be that another company or community has produced software which will do the same task as your current 32-bit software. For example, if your 32-bit software is Microsoft Office and you don’t want to pay for a new version, then you could look into using LibreOffice instead.

When it comes to games which are 32-bit, it is most likely that the company will not be upgrading the game to 64-bit. So if the game means that much to you, you will have to try one of the solutions mentioned above.

How to check for 32-bit apps on Mac

  1. Open the “Apple menu” in the left corner of the menu bar (Apple icon)
  2. Select “About This Mac”
  3. Then click “System Report”
  4. In the sidebar, scroll to “Software”
  5. If the list is not fully expanded then click, the small arrow next to the word Software

At this point there are two options for checking what 32-bit software you might have installed. However, I advise you to check both places, as I have noticed some inconsistencies between the two lists on my system.

For example, the Legacy Software list indicates that some installed software is 32-bit, when the applications list says otherwise, and the Applications list has indicated 32-bit applications as being 64-bit. I have opened the applications which are supposed to be 64-bit, which the Legacy Software list indicates to be 32-bit and no warning message has popped up. I have then done the same with applications I know to be 32-bit which the Legacy Software list has correctly indicated, but the Applications list has wrongly indicated and a warning has popped up.

Option 01:

  1. Under Software select “Legacy Software”
  2. You should now be able to see what 32-bit software is on your computer
Screen shot of Legacy Software in System Report
Screen shot of Legacy Software in System Report

Option 02:

  1. Under Software select “Applications” and you should now see a list
  2. Scroll to the right on the list (or expand the window) until you see the column labeled “64-Bit (Intel)”
  3. For ease, click the label name to order the list under bit type, and this will group all 32-bit and 64-bit software together separately
  4. You can now see which applications are 32-bit and 64-bit (”No” is for apps which are 32-bit and “Yes” is for apps which are 64-bit)
Screen shot of Applications in System Report
Screen shot of Applications in System Report

Conclusion

I know there are people who will disagree with me, but personally I think it was unnecessary to remove 32-bit support. They have caused yet another headache and additional work for their customers, all for what appears to be a so called performance boost which people may or may not notice.

In addition, they have cut users off from new and old software which is still needed. As it stands there is 32-bit software which has been developed within the past decade, which are actively updated (not abandoned). But even if the software has been abandoned, it doesn’t mean it is not in use.

I do not think Apple have offered an adequate solution for users who need 32-bit support, and to that point most companies do not have millions or billions of dollars at their disposal to remedy their 32-bit software to 64-bit problems on macOS. I wouldn’t mind betting that there are Mac users who have bought their really expensive Macbooks within the past few years, under the assumption that Apple’s system supports 32-bit.