To Open This App, You’ll Need To Install Rosetta

A developer's perspective setting up Apple’s new M1 Mac Mini

Jesse Freeman
Dec 5, 2020 · 8 min read

A few months back, I purchased a 2013 Mac Pro to be my daily driver while waiting to see what Apple’s plan was for their new ARM computers. I basically picked up the Mac Pro for my computer collection but was surprised that it is still a powerful computer even at 7 years old. On paper, the base M1 Mac Mini with 8 gigs of ram should blow away my 6 core, fully loaded Mac Pro with 128 gigs of ram. To find out if the reviews praising Apple’s ARM chips were accurate, I bought the M1 Mini to set up for Web and game development. My goal was to use only ARM native applications, and as you can imagine, I didn’t get very far.

Here are some of my early thoughts.

What Doesn’t Run Natively

It won’t come as a surprise to find out that almost all of the Apps I use daily, be it for development or productivity, flat out refuse to install on the M1 Mini without Rosetta. Rosetta 2 is the new Intel translation layer Apple created to run legacy Apps during the transition. Perhaps the most shocking failure right away was Apple’s own Xcode. After opening the version currently on the App Store, I was greeted with the following message.

When I hit “not now,” Xcode displayed a blank window, and I couldn’t get rid of it unless I forced quit.

I wasn’t off to a good start. Apparently, someone on Twitter said I should get the Universal build from the developer portal, but I half expected it to work out the gate.

Up next were some of my game development tools. Unity announced early that there would be native support for Apple Silicon, but I couldn’t actually find an M1 build of the IDE. Unity is a bit odd in that it now forces you to install their HUB to download and manage the different IDE versions. Of course, the Unity HUB is not native.

After poking around on Google, I came across a forum post talking about a special build of Unity 2020 that I couldn’t find. The closest I could find to a direct download still asked me to install Rosetta.

Trying to skip installing Rosetta presents you with the following message and forces you out of the installer.

During my initial hours using the M1 Mini, I was stuck manually entering my passwords because 1Password wasn’t native yet on the Appstore. There is a beta build, but you need to install Rosetta to get the installer to work since you can only download the M1 compatible build through a special in-app option.

I usually use a Pomodoro timer, but Workflow Timer wasn’t native yet, which didn’t surprise me since it was created by a sole developer.

Even writing this blog post is a challenge because while I was able to install Grammarly’s Safari plugin from the App Store, it also requires Rosetta to work.

What’s frustrating is that Apple does little to help distinguish which Apps are M1 compatible right now. Instead, I am forced to make a lot of trial and error installs to find it out myself.

Then I found out that none of my .NET tools would work since Visual Studio for the Mac also needs Rosetta.

The latest .NET Core 5.0 SDK installer, which I’m still not clear on if it actually works on Apple Silicon, refused to install.

Finally, the latest Visual Studio Code build was not compatible, but there was a new beta, which I’ll talk about in a little bit.

These apps and SDKs represent the core collection of tools I use to make games. From Xcode to Unity and even directly coding in .NET are not possible without Rosetta. So let’s take a look at what works.

What Works

While all the apps I couldn’t install natively would paint a bad picture, there were still enough Universal apps to be quasi productive out of the box. While it’s a given that Apple’s own consumer apps work, such as Safari, iMovie, Pages, and Keynote, there are a few others.

Affinity Photo, which I’ve used to replace Photoshop, is native and on the App Store. Even better, it’s a fraction of the cost of a yearly subscription to Adobe’s Photoshop only subscription.

While Google has a Chrome version optimized for Apple Silicon, you can only get it from their beta channel. Honestly, I’ve been sick of how bloated Chrome has become over the years, so I’m using Safari now, which is native and incredibly fast on the M1, as my default browser. No surprise that none of my plugins work yet, so there is no option for Ad blocking or password management in Safari right now.

Bear, which is an excellent markdown note-taking app, works natively from the App Store.

For the past few months, I’ve been using Typora, which is by far the best markdown note-taking app I have ever used. Unfortunately, there is no M1 compatible build, and the Mac version is still in beta.

Much to my surprise, my favorite backup app, Carbon Copy Cloner works natively.

While I use Time Machine as my set it and forget it backup plans, I have some more advanced scripts in Carbon Copy that sync files to my NAS and an online code storage backup in daily, weekly, and monthly intervals. Right now, the only limitation is that you can’t create a bootable backup of a Big Sir computer, which is fine for me because I have never needed to use that feature.

There is work being done on some of the other developer SDKs I use, like NodeJS. It isn’t clear if there is a publicly available native build; it looks like you have to compile it on your own Apple Silicon computer.

I was able to find a working native installer for Visual Studio Code. Without any native SDKs to install, however, there isn’t much I can do with it.

Finally, while Spotify is not native yet, I went back to my MP3 collection a few months ago when I was rebuilding iPods. I’ve been trying to give Apple’s Music App a try, which is native but is the most unstable App on the M1 Mini. It’s locked up or crashed on me several times already, but that’s a story for another time.

Other Issues

While I haven’t really pushed this M1 Mini in the past few days since I set it up, I have seen some issues. I’ve had the Finder lock up on me several times requiring me to force quit it or restart the computer.

I think this may have more to do with the Finder trying to access my NAS than anything else. Along similar lines, I’ve noticed my external thunderbolt drive also hangs the Mini while it wakes up from sleep. There is a delay of a few seconds until I hear the external drive spin up.

The last thing I’ve noticed, which has more to do with my unique set up than the M1 Mini itself, is that I have to disconnect my USB keyboard and reconnect it to wake it up from sleep. My keyboard is connected to a USB switcher since I share it with several other computers at my desk, yet the M1 Mini appears to be the only one with this issue.

Luckily, none of these are deal-breakers since I expect some hardware quirks while Apple fine-tunes the OS and hardware over the new few months.

What’s Next?

While Apple’s new M1 chips have only been available to the public for a few weeks, developers have had 6 months leading up to the release to start preparing. While I expected more prominent companies to be ready for the release, I predicted this will be a painful transition for the next few years while Apple and software developers figure things out.

The good news is that all of the reviews I’ve read so far say Intel apps running under Rosetta are fast. Microsoft wasn’t able to pull off an x86 emulation layer for the ARM version of Windows, so if this is true, Apple will help ease developers into the new chip transition. Now that I have seen what works and what doesn’t, I plan to install Rosetta and test out all my dev tools to see how they work for me.

If you want to keep track of new Apple Silicon App releases, there is a great site that’s worth checking out here.

Mac O’Clock

The best stories for Apple owners and enthusiasts

Jesse Freeman

Written by

Sr Director of Technical Marketing at Akamai & creator of Pixel Vision 8. These are my personal thoughts on gaming, productivity, and 25+ years of development.

Mac O’Clock

The best stories for Apple owners and enthusiasts

Jesse Freeman

Written by

Sr Director of Technical Marketing at Akamai & creator of Pixel Vision 8. These are my personal thoughts on gaming, productivity, and 25+ years of development.

Mac O’Clock

The best stories for Apple owners and enthusiasts

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