Apple makes some of the most advanced computers on earth, but it has been doing so for a good few years, and has created countless computers that could be considered collectable items.

If you’ve been thinking about picking up a classic Mac, such as an original iMac G3, Power Mac G4 Cube or Sunflower G4 then you might want an operating system to match.

See: The five weirdest Macs of all time

Alternatively you might have the latest up-to-date software but also want to run an older operating system, either for testing or for software compatibility.

Apple has a tendency to focus on the new, sometimes obscuring older products. This guide will help you buy older Mac OS X operating systems and programs. Here is a guide to what older systems you can buy, and where you can pick them up from.

How to get older Mac software

Where to find older Mac OS X software

Contrary to popular belief it is possible to pick up older Mac OS X software from the Apple Store (the online store, not the App Store app). You can pick up copies of Mac OS X from Apple running back to Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard (the first operating system optimized solely for Intel-based Apple Macs).

Here are some links to buying older versions of the Mac OS X operating system from Apple.

Apple has has this page outlining information on the older Mac OS X operating system.

Note that each operating system will ship to you on an optical disc, so you’ll need an Apple SuperDrive to install the operating system on one of the newer Macs that ship without an optical drive.

See: Is it worth buying an Apple USB SuperDrive?

If you want to go back older than that you need to start hitting stores other than Apple. A good place to look is Amazon, which has a series of marketplace stores as well as the Amazon itself. These independent stores host a range of software.

Buy old Mac operating systems from Amazon Mac Software department

The Amazon Mac Department is a good place to start when looking for older operating systems and programs.

Amazon marketplace goes all the way back to Mac OS X 10.1 but most people surely wouldn’t want to back further than Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, which was the last operating system to run happily a classic iMac G3. But if you want history for it’s own sake than Amazon or Ebay are the places to go.

Buy old Mac OS X software from eBay

The old stalwart eBay remains a classic point of call for picking up old software; along with any other retro goods and collectables. Of course eBay often lacks the immediacy of Amazon, and while there are a range of sellers on eBay your milage will vary according to the seller.

Browse the eBay Mac Software section or do a web search to find what you’re looking for. Don't’ forget to read the description carefully and be prepared to wait a little longer for it to arrive.

iMac G3

Getting Older Apple Software Downloads

If you’re going to go back older than Mac OS X then you can freely download several items of legacy software directly from Apple. Apple has this list of Older Mac Software that you can download direct from its site.

Running older Apple Software

It is possible to install the older software on your Mac, but if you're looking to install an older version of Mac OS X for testing then it probably makes more sense to run it in a virtualized environment. Ever since Mac OS X 10.8 Apple has allowed virtualization of its operating systems, and while this doesn’t strictly apply to the license of older operating systems there seems to be no physical barrier to running older versions of Mac OS X in a virtual environment .

Parallels Desktop 9 lists support for the following Mac OS X operating system

  • Mac OS X Mountain Lion 10.8
  • Mac OS X Lion 10.7x
  • Mac OS X Lion Server 10.7.x
  • Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server 10.6.x
  • Mac OS X Leopard Server 10.5.x

See: Parallels Desktop 9 for Mac review - highest-performance virtualization package for OS X