Free emulation and virtualization on Mac

There are now several choices when you want to emulate and/or virtualize different operating systems on the Mac. Software like Parallels Desktop, VMWare Fusion and VirtualBox often come to mind. Recently, however, I have discovered a free, open source emulation and virtualization software, UTM, which is based on another FOSS project, QEMU, that runs on the Mac (and even on iPhone and iPad!). I am familiar with QEMU but on Linux environments.

I wanted a new Linux desktop to experiment on, before applying any new software and/or configuration to my Raspberry Pi 5. Whilst I can use the spare Raspberry Pi 4 that I have in my drawer, but setting it up, nuking it and doing it again is just too cumbersome. I decided to give UTM a go and run it on an M2 Mac Mini with 16GB of RAM.

UTM is available directly from the website (for free), or on the Mac App Store, as a paid version. The revenue from the paid version helps support the UTM project. I chose to test it first, so I downloaded it from the website.


UTM dashboard with Debian 12 image installed

Once installed, you can go to the website's gallery, where different operating system images can be downloaded. There is, of course, the option to create your own operating system environment. Since I am testing UTM, I decided to get one of the OS images from the gallery, an ARM-based Debian image, which is perfect to run on Apple Silicon. 

After downloading it, you are good to go -  I was ready to do my Linux experiments - easy peasy! The image has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage configured and it runs really fast (did not expect it to run faster, honestly, than Linux Mint installed on an Intel processor with 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD with no emulation or virtualization!). This Debian 12 desktop image comes with a lot of games, which I immediately deleted, created my own account, and installed software that I plan to experiment on. That was really quick!


Firefox browser on Debian 12 Desktop running on UTM

If you are in need of running ArchLinux, Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, Kali Linux, MacOS 9, or even Windows XP, 7, 10 and 11, heck, even Sun Solaris 9, on your Apple Silicon Mac, I highly recommend that you check out UTM.
Next on my list is to create my own virtualized OS environment and run RaspberryOS perhaps. Once I have successfully done this, it will be time to move to the Mac App Store version and pay for it to support the developers.