MacOS High Sierra is the last macOS release to support 32-bit apps “without compromise” (presumably meaning without performance degradation, and with maximum compatibility), and betas of macOS 10.13.4 are now notifying users if 32-bit apps are being run. This might suggest that 32-bit Mac apps will run through a compatibility mode like Rosetta or Classic in the near future, and eventually, it seems likely that Apple will drop support for 32-bit apps on the Mac completely in a some future system software release, favoring 64-bit apps.
But there are a fair amount of 32-bit apps which are widely used on many Macs, despite Mac OS itself being 64-bit since Snow Leopard. If you’re not sure what apps are 32-bit or 64-bit, then you’ll be glad to know that Mac OS has a handy tool available within System Information to quickly show you all the apps which are 64-bit or not.
How to Find and View All 32-Bit Apps on a Mac
The simplest way to see all 32-bit applications (and 64-bit apps) on a Mac is to use System Information
- Hold down the OPTION / ALT key on your keyboard, then pull down the Apple menu
- Choose “System Information” from the top of the Apple menu list *
- In the System Information app, scroll down the left-side menu and look under “Software” and choose “Applications”
- Look for the “64-bit (Intel)” option in the column header, and click on that to sort the column by 64-bit
- Every app that says “No” is 32-bit, every app that says “Yes” is 64-bit
In the screenshot example here, you can see that this particular Mac has quite a few 32-bit apps installed and in regular use, including Steam, SuperDuper, TextWrangler, Warcraft 3, and WriteRoom. Of course this is just an example, and there are many other apps used by Mac users which are 32-bit.
If you find 32-bit apps, and you plan on consistently installing all future Mac OS software versions and updates, then you’ll want to get those apps updated to 64-bit, contact the developers to ask about 64-bit support, or find replacements for the apps in question. It’s likely that 32-bit apps will still run down the road in macOS (for a while anyway), but Apple suggests there will be some sort of compromise associated with doing so.
How does this impact me? Why do I care what apps are 32-bit or 64-bit?
Currently, this won’t impact you at all. But, this may impact which apps work on your Mac in the future, under a future Mac OS system software version.
If you don’t plan on ever running any Mac OS beyond macOS High Sierra (10.13.4+) then it won’t impact you ever. For example if you avoid a theoretical macOS 10.14, 10.15, or 10.16 release, then it likely won’t matter at all. But if you install a future macOS system software version with some sort of abstraction layer to run 32-bit apps, the performance may be less than optimal. And further out, if a MacOS release loses all 32-bit app compatibility, those apps may not work at all, without 64-bit updates from the developer anyway.
There is some precedent for this, both on the Mac and in the iOS world. For example, fairly recently Apple iOS abandoned 32-bit app support, which led some apps to stop working on some iPhone and iPad devices. And in the past, Apple has taken similar measures with Rosetta for PPC apps on Intel chips, and when running Classic apps in the early versions of Mac OS X.
OK, but I can’t find ‘System Information’ on my Mac!
* If you don’t see “System Information” in the Apple drop down menu, then you probably did not hold down the OPTION key while reviewing the Apple menu options. Hold Option and try again. Or, try an alternative method of launching System Information app.
You can also access System Information from the /Applications/Utilities/ folder, or by launching it via Spotlight.
Does this also mean Macs and MacOS will be 64-bit too?
Yes. But… if you’re a keen observer of computing history (and who isn’t! *nerd snort*) then you may recall that Mac OS X Snow Leopard shipped with a 64-bit kernel and all releases since then have too. In other words, if your Mac is vaguely new, it’s already 64-bit, since Macs haven’t been 32-bit since 2006 when the first series of Intel-based Macs debuted (but you can always check for 64-bit CPU architecture or which of the 32-bit or 64-bit kernel is in use if you aren’t sure about a particular Mac). Essentially this means that after about a decade of supporting the older 32-bit apps and architecture, Apple looks like they want to move entirely to 64-bit soon.
So just keep an eye on what apps you’re using that may still be 32-bit, and update the apps that you can. Or if you’re highly reliant on an older 32-bit app that won’t be updated, consider avoiding macOS High Sierra upgrades or any other future major system software release where full support may no longer exist, at least until you have your app situation sorted out.