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Snow Leopard as guest in a virtual machine, part two

Update: The below was tested on Parallels Desktop 6. Commenters have reported that it doesn’t work on Parallels Desktop 7, which is indeed a drag. When I have some time I’ll take a closer look.

Yesterday, I explained how to install Snow Leopard as a guest in Parallels (or presumably another virtualization product for Mac) if you have a Snow Leopard Server DVD. Here, I explain how to do it without the Server DVD. You will need a blank (or erasable) 8 GB flash drive and a Mac which natively supports Snow Leopard (i.e. not the 2011 versions of the MacBook Air and Mac mini).

The same disclaimers apply: I’m not recommending this, I’m writing this as Ivan Drucker and not as part of IvanExpert, I’m not responsible for anything that happens, etc.

  1. Download Ubuntu Linux. (We will only be booting from this, not installing it.)
  2. With Parallels not running, insert an 8 GB flash drive.
  3. Open /Applications/Utilities/Disk Utility, click the flash drive on the left, click Partition, select “1 Partition” under Partition Layout, click Options, choose GUID Partition Table, set Name to “SL”, and click Apply.
  4. Install Snow Leopard to the flash drive.
  5. When it’s done, your Mac will restart; pull out the USB flash drive so it doesn’t boot from there.
  6. When your Mac has rebooted, reinsert the USB flash drive.
  7. Open Terminal (in the Utilities folder of the Applications folder), and type this line followed by return: touch /Volumes/SL/System/Library/CoreServices/ServerVersion.plist
  8. Unmount (eject) the flash drive, and remove it.
  9. Create a new Parallels VM. Choose “Continue Without Disc” and then choose “Ubuntu Linux” as the type of virtual machine, and select “Customize Settings Before Installation”.
  10. Click on CD/DVD 1 and select the Ubuntu .iso file you just downloaded to use it.
  11. If “USB Controller” is not listed, add a virtual USB controller.
  12. Click OK and start the VM. Ubuntu Linux will start up.
  13. When asked, click “Try Ubuntu”.
  14. At the Ubuntu desktop, choose Applications -> Accessories -> Terminal
  15. Insert the flash drive. When asked, choose the Ubuntu VM for it to be used with.
  16. Type: sudo dd if=/dev/sdb of=/dev/sda bs=16384
  17. The Snow Leopard installation on the flash drive will be copied to the Parallels virtual HD. You’ll see nothing happening until it completes, when it will show you the the number of bytes copied and return you to the Terminal prompt.
  18. Remove the flash drive, and type sudo shutdown -h now
  19. The Parallels VM will turn off.
  20. Configure the virtual machine, and add another hard drive. This will be your working drive, so make sure it is a capacity that works for you.
  21. Turn on the VM, and Snow Leopard will boot. However, you only have 8 GB of total capacity, which is probably not enough; plus there may be issues with your partition table.
  22. Get Carbon Copy Cloner or a similar utility to copy the drive “SL” to the drive “Macintosh HD”.
  23. When it is complete, shut down the VM, and go back to Configure. Remove the 8 GB virtual HD, but keep the files, for reasons explained below.
  24. Restart your VM, and you’ve got Snow Leopard up and running.

As explained yesterday: One thing to be aware of is that the presence of the file /System/Library/CoreServices/ServerVersion.plist causes at least two side effects: A) Software Update won’t offer you many updates that it is supposed to, and B) the Sharing system preference pane hides many of its settings.

So before using either, you should remove that file, but be sure to put it back when you’re done, or the VM won’t start up. If you do find yourself in that situation, add the original 8 GB Snow Leopard drive back to your VM and boot from that, then typing the command in line 7, substituting “Macintosh HD” or whatever you renamed your drive to for “SL”.  This blog post also suggests a script which takes care of creating and deleting it automatically; I haven’t (yet) tried it.

Mike September 6th, 2011

Hmm. had issues with Parallels 7 booting Ubuntu 11, but 10.10 boots fine. Unfortunately, Parallels gets stuck trying to mount the copied Snow Leopard partition. It hangs on reboot to the drive. Perhaps Parallels 7 patched this particular method of spoofing the system?

neilw September 8th, 2011

Will this work with the Snow Leopard install discs that come with a new Mac (iMac, specifically), or does it require a retail version of SL?

Also, how long does this all take? Looks like a lot of work just to be able to run Quicken. :/

Rich September 16th, 2011

I am also running Parallels 7
Cannot get it to work.
The first time it hung trying to copy the iso image of Snow Leopard to the VM
sudo dd if=/dev/sdb of=/dev/sda bs=16384
Just a black screen forever.

I tried again and it made it through that process but will not boot to the second hard drive that I created. (Step 21). I don’t understand how these instructions work because in Step 21, we just have a blank second hard drive. How could it boot? I am assuming that the rest of the steps are mandatory to make it boot. Will try that.

Rich September 16th, 2011

I think the problem might be that sda should be sda1
sudo dd if=/dev/sdb of=/dev/sda1 bs=16384

You can run Disk Utility in Ubuntu to see what the drive letters are

Rich September 16th, 2011

Nope, tried everything I could think of. Does not work with Parallels 7

MichaelLAX September 28th, 2011

I successfully installed Snow Leopard in Parallels 7 most recent update, but I am having problems getting Rosetta to install (for use in LION). See comments and questions in the comments under the first installment of this article.

David October 8th, 2011

I think Rich is incorrect about needing sda1. sda1 is a volume sda is the drive. dd or drive duplicate is about duplicating a drive not a volume. (I had to try this 6 times before I got it right.) Line 16 copies 1 drive to another – that is important because you need to copy the partition table as well. I made sure that the source drive and the target drive were the same size.

As to Rosetta, I made sure that was on the USB drive, before I started this process. On a Mac I installed SL on the USB drive and applied all of the updates and made sure that I started a PPC applications, so Rosetta would install.

I think there is a missing step for Parallels 7 – I don’t have 6, so I didn’t try that. In your general configuration for the VM you specify target OS. I had to change it from Ubuntu to Mac OS X, in order for the boot loader to load the correct OS.

David October 8th, 2011

But once I got it done, it works very well. I’m quite pleased. Makes me sorry I didn’t find this before I converted off Quicken. But this will be a lifesaver for Resorcerer.

Heimo Staud October 20th, 2011

Tried it with VMWare 3.1.3, and it went through all the steps fine, but when I get to step 21 (start up virtual machine), it tries a Network boot from AMD AM79C970A, and of course I get the message “Operating System not found”. In the settings for this virtual machine I went to Advanced, and set it to start up from Hard Disk/SCSI Disk, but no luck.

Any suggestions?

Richard L October 27th, 2011

Hmmmmm, I can’t even get past the first few steps. Snow Leopard won’t accept an 8GB drive; it squawks that it’s too small.

Richard L October 28th, 2011

Got it!

Here’s a few items that will assist:
– As David points out the drive duplicate in step 16 expects a the target to be the same size as the source. So, ass step:
15A) In the VM Configuration/Hardware, change the size of the Drive that was created to match the size of the USB Drive (8GB in Ivan’s Case)

– The “bs=16384″ portion of the Step 16 Command should be adjusted if USB Drive is a different size than 8GB. Mine was 16GB. Therefore, I used “bs=32768″ (This is calculated as GB Size X 2048).

– Finally, as David points out, in Configure/General change the type of OS Parallels is looking for to OSX (Server) 10.6 or 10.7.

That did it for me.

Craig November 4th, 2011

I found the same problem as David using the latest update of Parallels 6 on Lion. In particular, that the VM would not boot the MacOS X disk as it was initially configured as Ubuntu. Also, trying to boot Ubuntu by creating a 10.6 Server VM didn’t work either.
After step 19, i simply created a 10.6 Server VM following the same steps as was used to create the Ubuntu VM, then i exited Parallels before doing an install.
At this point i removed the .hdd file from my “Mac OS X Server v10.6.pvm” folder in ~/Documents/Parallels, and moved the .hdd file from the Ubuntu VM to the .hdd file i earlier removed (i.e.: “Mac OS X Server v10.6.pvm/Mac OS X Server v10.6-0.hdd”).
Starting up Parallels allowed me to boot into the Mac OS X Server v10.6 VM and i deleted the Ubuntu VM used to create the disk.

stuart January 3rd, 2012

Unfortunately , doesnt seem to work at the first step. I cannot install snow leopard on the USB drive. If I try to run a leopard disc (5 license install disc-not specific to machine) in Leopard it tells me I cannot and if i try to boot from it the computer just hangs. Never used to do that before I installed Lion

Tom February 8th, 2012

So I’ve been trying all this on a MacAir (native 10.7) using Parallels 7 – no CD drive on that machine. Have made numerous attempts at .cdr, .dmg of Snow Leopard Client (not retail disk). Having no luck – I’ve been working with a lot of these great suggestions, though – but unsuccessfully. I keep getting error message from Parallels Desktop 7 that no operating system is installed, please insert installation disk into CD drive (obviously MacAir can’t do that). Can’t find anywhere in “Configure” to use the USB drive with the 10.6 software, or the dmg image on desktop. Parallels requests which HD to choose (IDE, SATA, etc – I’ve no idea how to proceed here…) So I also have a MacBook Pro (originally with 10.4 – upgraded to 10.6.8). Any way to build a Snow Leopard VM in Parallels on that machine and somehow transfer it to the Air?


maclena February 18th, 2012

stuck by step: how to?
stopped SL installation DVD in, clicked instaal, but had a message “You can’t use this version of the application Install Mac OS with this version of Mac OS X.
You have Install Mac OS 23.1.1.”
Please help

Sasha A April 27th, 2012

On step 13, Parallels informs me that “There is no operating system installed in this virtual machine. Please insert an operating system installation CD into the optical drive of your Mac and restart the virtual machine.”

I verified that the CD/DVD 1 is linked to the Ubuntu Linux “.iso” and even changed the settings for the boot order to only have the CD/DVD.

Any ideas on what might be going wrong here?

Sasha A April 27th, 2012

Also (and I am being part lazy here to look up and read up myself and part cautious looking for expert advice), does the command line in step 16 (for copying SL to Ubuntu) depend on the size of the flash drive? I partitioned a 64 GB flash drive for Lion, SL, and Data, allocating 20 GB for both SL and Lion, so my copying will be from SL that is 20 GB, not 8 GB. I don’t see where the size of the Ubuntu HD is specified (is that because of the CD/DVD 1 usage?), so I am assuming copying 20 GB should be fine, though I am not sure whether the command line parameter “bs”, specified here as 16384, needs to change or not for my 20 GB flash partition.

Sasha A April 27th, 2012

Ah, the reason Ubuntu didn’t boot is because I downloaded the 32-bit version. 64-bit version boots fine.

Still wondering about what steps need to be modified if using a 20 GB vs. 8 GB flash drive.

Sasha A April 30th, 2012

Success! :)

Thank you!

To get it to work, as David mentioned, I had to change target OS from Ubuntu to Mac OS X. This would probably be best done after Step 19.

I still need to create a new drive and copy the installation onto it, but I anticipate this will be a breeze.

Thanks again for this guide, a life saver!

Sasha A May 2nd, 2012

Check out:

for another great way to install Snow Leopard in Parallels in Lion.

Sasha A May 2nd, 2012

Thanks again for this guide!

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