Using Virtual Machines (VM) for Legacy Music Notation Software

I recently had to retire my trusty 2007 Macbook due to lack of Dropbox support for OS X Lion (10.7). I ran into an unexpected snag with the Macbook Air I bought to replace it, though: the most current OS X operating systems do not support older versions of Finale, but a number of orchestrators I work with still use Finale 2011 and Sibelius 6.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this dilemma in the form of virtual machines.

A virtual machine (VM) is an emulation of a computer operating system. This operating system could be a different operating system (such as Windows OS running inside the Mac OS) or, in this case, an older version of the same operating system (e.g. two different versions of the OS running on the same computer).

My Macbook Air is now running High Sierra (OS X 10.13), but I have El Capitan (OS X 10.11) installed inside Parallels Desktop to run older software versions of Finale and Sibelius. It was a relatively painless process, though not without a few kinks along the way. I hope my experiences will help others navigate those setbacks.

To install an older version of OS X you will need some sort of installation media. This was actually the first snag I ran into, because the Mac App Store wouldn’t let me download the El Capitan installer onto either my Macbook Air (because the computer was “too new”), or onto my old Macbook (because the computer was “too old”). Thanks, Apple. Fortunately, a colleague was able to send me a disk image file (DMG) of the El Capitan installer. Thanks, Brian!

Here is the support article on Apple’s website showing how to download OS X El Capitan for various computer models, and here is a link to El Capitan on the Mac App Store.

On loading Parallels Desktop, you are guided through the process of selecting an installation source, prompting you to “drag image file here”. So, I did just that, dragging the DMG file I had obtained into the appropriate spot.

Spoiler: That is NOT the way it works!

DON’T do it this way!

It sure seemed at first that it was working: “macOS” showed up as an installation option in Parallels, and it looked like OS X was installing, but it would inevitably end up as an error.

Looking good…

The install method actually recommended is to first mount the DMG file by double clicking it. Parallels then recognizes the installer inside:

THIS is how you do it!
The installer is recognized…

Then, once this is selected it gives the option of creating a bootable version of the installer:

…and Parallels creates a bootable version for you.

Using this method went off without a hitch, and El Capitan was soon up and running.


Installing Finale 2011 within the VM was also fairly straightforward, though again there are a few things to be aware of. First and foremost, I needed an installer, which was a little challenging given that the Macbook Air does not have an optical disc drive, and the oldest version of Finale you can download an installer for from MakeMusic is Finale 2012!

dI used Disk Utility on my old Macbook to create a DMG version of my physical Finale 2011 DVD-ROM, and transferred it over with a flash drive. The Finale installation also required downloading of some of the core Xcode files from Apple (thankfully not the whole thing), and a legacy Java installation.

The download for the legacy Java installation doesn’t seem to work from browsers within the El Capitan VM, so I had to download it from my “real” OS, then copy the installation file into the Parallels shared folder.

You can download the legacy Java 6 runtime for OS X versions 10.7-10.13 from Apple here.

The Parallels shared folder feature has a bug where re-saving an existing file will cause the timestamp to get rewritten as Dec. 31, 1969, which can be frustrating when trying to sort files by date & time:

Existing file, dated October 10, 2011
Re-saved file, now dated December 31, 1969

The solution is to set up File Sharing in the host OS and then access those folders as network drives from within the VM, rather than use the Parallels system. Network drives can then be set to be accessed automatically on login (system preferences, users & groups, login items), and don’t exhibit the same strange behavior.

Setting up VM OS to automatically connect to shared folders

My experience is limited to Parallels Destop, but there are other virtual machine solutions such as VMWare Fusion which will probably yield similar results. If you need to run legacy software on a newer machine on either the Mac or Windows OS, virtual machines are incredibly useful tools… Just be prepared to encounter a few setup quirks along the way!

Thanks to Brian Monroney for his help in setting up and troubleshooting my installation!

Jacob Winkler is the Artistic Director of the Seattle Girls Choir, and an instructor in Finale and Sibelius for the Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program. He is frequently engaged as a choral singer for film and game soundtracks, including the Halo, Assassin’s Creed, and World of Warcraft series. LinkedIn

2 Replies to “Using Virtual Machines (VM) for Legacy Music Notation Software”

  1. Very prescient. I know I’ll need this in the future, fortunately my ‘legacy’ software still runs on the latest OS at the moment but, for sure, the day will come… Thanks Robert! I’ll keep this handy you can bet on it.

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