One of the biggest changes in macOS Catalina was Apple’s decision to drop support for older 32 bit applications. The last macOS to support 32 bit applications was macOS 10.14 Mojave.
You can only install 64 bit apps on Catalina & Big Sur which for most people isn’t a problem as almost all major software is now 64 bit.
However, there are some older applications that are still 32 bit only. The most notable is Microsoft Office 2011 but there are also others like MetaTrader, Adobe CS5 and CS6 and some Steam games which are still 32 bit apps.
The same applies to some music production or DJ software for Mac that have lots of 32 bit plugins that will no longer work in macOS Catalina.
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If you try to run a 32 bit app in Catalina or Big Sur, you’ll get the following “App is not optimized for your Mac and needs to be updated” error message:
You can also check if are any 32-bit apps on your Mac by going to the Apple logo > About This Mac > System Report… > Software > Applications > and checking the Kind field.
The only way to run these programs on macOS Catalina or Bog Sur is to install a virtual environment and either run macOS Mojave or earlier in it or run Windows on your Mac (if the app you want to use works on Windows of course).
This enables you to open applications in 32 bit mode on a Mac.
There are various virtual environments you can use for this but not all of them work on macOS Catalina or Big Sur because some of them, like Wine, are 32 bit applications themselves and don’t work on the latest versions of macOS.
The best way to run 32 bit apps on a Mac is by using Parallels.
You can download a free trial version of Parallels to try this for yourself.
Parallels allows you to run Windows and macOS simultaneously so whenever you need to use a 32 bit app, you can just switch to your Windows installation in Parallels.
In fact, Parallels is no so well integrated with macOS that you can launch 32 bits app from the Dock as if they were installed on your Mac natively.
Note that if you want to use a 32 bit plugin such as for a music application, the entire music production suite must be installed in the virtual environment. You can’t install the 32 bit plugin in Parallels and expect it to work with your music software installed in Catalina due to technological limitations.
Parallels has provided full instructions on how to do this below, using an installation of High Sierra as an example but the same method would apply if you were installing Mojave or Windows instead.
If you have any problems or questions about installing 32-bit applications on your Mac, let us know in the comments below.