"Okay, I’m totally awesome, now just be careful upgrading, okay?" Photo (CC) Shawn Kinkade.

Snow Leopard is coming, but try to keep your cool.

I’ve just finished the first of a series of previews for audio users considering the Mac OS Snow Leopard upgrade, due this Friday. This quote from Plogue, I think, is classic: “Any musician foolish enough to jump on new OSes without a hint of caution, inevitably makes me wish for a new kind of Darwin Award prize.”

Naturally, the same advice holds true for would-be Snow Leopard visualist upgraders. Snow Leopard includes lots of improvements, but none of the known enhancements qualifies as “must-have” on this Friday. That is, upgrading is worth considering, but rarely on launch day.

Of course, if you don’t have any gigs coming up, or if you’ve got more than one machine, or if you have the time to invest in mirroring a system and want to get a headstart on testing, upgrading may well be appropriate, so I’m doing our best to collect information about what is and isn’t working. Unfortunately, unlike Microsoft, which seems to allow open discussion of its OS by developers and publishes information many months in advance, Apple frowns upon any pre-launch discussion of technical issues – aside from pre-digested marketing materials. Happily, the window during which I can rant endlessly about this problem is about to close, at least for 10.6 – Friday is launch day.

In the meantime, if you’re curious about compatibility, here’s what we know so far:

Vidvox VDMX b7.3.5 is tested and works properly on Snow Leopard. We expect more official information on Snow Leopard from Vidvox on Friday. Note that even this should be taken with a grain of salt, because until there’s a larger base of testers, a lot of bugs in any program simply won’t be known yet.

At least two Resolume users have reported issues with Resolume Avenue, so if Resolume’s your tool of choice, you will definitely want to wait until you hear confirmed compatibility.

The operating system itself has a lot of nice improvements, but visual applications will need to retain compatibility with 10.5 for the near future, so the upgrade should by no means be considered mandatory if you want a smooth transition. In fact, if you’re jealous of the smaller install size of 10.6, you can halve the size of your 10.3.9 or later install right now using Monolingual. The reason 10.6 is smaller is because it strips PowerPC code from binaries. So, give Monolingual a shot and you get roughly the same advantages (theoretically, more space reduction thanks to removing extra languages, hence the name).

Hard-core users of tools like Quartz Composer may have reason to upgrade, but we’ll cover that in due course. Stay tuned.

But let’s confirm this line of logic:

1. There are subtle but significant changes in the new OS that will break things. Not break in a good way, but simply break as in broken.

2. Larger groups of users haven’t really tested the OS yet.

3. When those testers test the OS, they’ll discover those broken things. Someone has to do it. Then they get fixed.

4. There’s no massive advantage for visual applications to upgrading right away.

So, do you want to be the people experiencing the broken stuff, or let someone else do it for you? You’re getting this OS upgrade thing now, right?

  • Well, I can tell you, OpenGL is a lot faster in 10.6, so yea, Im upgrading, cause I like speed.

  • Oh and lets not forget OpenCL and some of the new things like QC 4.0 and what it lets you do. To say this isn't a visualist friendly release is not really being honest. But yea, things are going to break, 100%.

  • That would have been dishonest if that were what I had said.

    Oh, yeah, and again – technically, I would need a developer to violate NDA to even discuss the improvements you're talking about. Or I can copy and paste them from Apple's marketing materials. But that would be the very definition of dishonest.

    But let's be clear – I said that right *now*, on release, unless you want to be personally testing bugs, it's not a good idea to upgrade. Obviously some people are savvy enough to do that and have already begun testing Snow Leopard as developers earlier. But a bunch of end users running to do it is a very bad idea. It's just not likely to be a good use of your time, and if you don't upgrade carefully so you can revert if you do encounter problems, it can be disastrous.

    In any event, an OS upgrade should be preceded by first backing up and being ready to revert. Most people will want to spend some time making sure tools on which they rely have verified compatibility before upgrading, so that they time the upgrade when it's productive.

    I really look forward to hearing more about Quartz Composer 4 and seeing some benchmarks on OpenGL performance. That'd be fantastic. But it'll be worth waiting for that information, and for many users, waiting to upgrade.

  • Sam

    The early bird gets the worm, the second mouse gets the cheese.

    I wish I had thought on these lines when vista came out. So many wasted hours.

  • Hey!Cliché!

    I have been using Modul8 2.5.8 with snow leopard for a week with ZERO problems on a new (january) unibody Macbook Pro (2.8 ghz, 4GB ram, 250GB 7200rpm drive). I have two shows this weekend in Chicago, and I expect no issues.

  • Hey, look, one user can have a very good experience. Again, don't get me wrong.

    I think it's partly worth raising a flag because for some reason — what, Apple marketing? — users seem to come to the conclusion that:

    1. The OS will magically make their entire machine run faster, across apps.
    2. Everything will just work, and they should upgrade haphazardly at the minute Apple tells them to.

    Upgrades can be great, upgrades can even improve performance, but those two things never happen for everyone. And then when they don't happen, people have a tendency to blame third parties. (Microsoft, by contrast, has inspired a healthy fear in their user base, I guess?)

    I do think Vista was a special case in that it was a perfect storm of massive under-the-hood changes to some sensitive areas – particularly video drivers, which had a tendency to cascade problems all over everything else. But then, it sometimes only takes one bug to be a problem.

  • Upcoming CoGe 1.0 seems to be fully compatible with 10.6, but needs more testing. There is some really good features in QC 4.0, and speed improvement is more then good. I think 10.6 upgrade is go for all visualists.

  • Well, in fairness, I should say –

    Most visualists have a handful of apps to evaluate. Let's say Adobe Creative Suite, Quartz Composer (which you probably WANT to upgrade for), a VJ app…

    Musicians have plug-ins, more software, and hardware drivers to worry about.

    Then again, I still advise caution and careful evaluation – you don't want to figure out that it breaks stuff after you upgrade and then have no way to revert.

    "Speed improvement" – still want to see benchmarks on that. From where? Anton seems to suggest OpenGL drivers are improved, which is good news, and unlike other OSes I know those are generally baked into the OS updates…

  • Agent Orange

    I've been on Snow Leopard for almost 2 weeks now.

    The only thing I've found broken so far is plugins in QC4. It doesn't even recognize them. I'm sure this will be a simple fix.

    Other than that, using my existing copies of Ableton, Serato, The CS4 Suite and Cinema 4D all work perfectly fine.

  • Actually, I'd be interested to hear how to adapt plugins for QC. My experience with past versions of Quartz Composer was that some plugins simply ceased to work or needed to be rewritten with changes, but I know QC has stabilized somewhat and it's frankly been a while since I've touched it.

  • Hey!Cliché!

    And for the record, it did make my computer faster. It works as advertised. It is up to the software manufactures to get on the band wagon as developers and make sure that when we upgrade our software we bought from them works with it. This is a problem with the music and video software communities. They react instead of being proactive. It needs to stop so we can all grow.

    P.S. Apple has barely marketed this new OS. You have to go to the website and look at info page for the OS.

  • Peter, all of my QC plugins work except for my movie player, which I now have a working 32 and 64 bit compatible build of. The issue gets complex with Quicktime, so I wont get into it here, but anything that was built properly (ie regular API, non Kineme stuff 32 and 64 bit as the projects default to) for 10.5 QC should work just fine in 10.6 QC 4.0.

  • @vade: good to know. I think the Core Audio API calls can get messier, not because there are big changes, but because …well, because it's audio, and the tiniest problem can become catastrophic (i.e., glitch, crash, or both).

    @Hey!Cliche! – I'd agree if I thought people had their head in the sand, but they don't. As a developer, you don't just support the latest and greatest. You have different Mac versions. You have different Windows versions (for a lot of these developers). You have drivers.

    Music and video software developers are reactive because they have NO TIME. And OS upgrades usually have the effect of, from their perspective, making their lives more difficult without often delivering a corresponding benefit.

    It's just a fact of life you have to deal with. But expecting the independent developers to magically solve it isn't fair. They've done an extraordinary job, by and large, in the visualist community getting ready for this release, partly because I think they do care about the OS. There are problems I'm sure they haven't found yet because the *real* testing starts Friday when their users start upgrading.

  • Hey!Cliché!

    Like I said though, Modul8, a main stay in VJ-software on for the Apple platform, is running like a champ for me. I can't say enough good about it.

    It just seems that you come from a negative place when yout talk about apple. I am all for reminding people that waiting is good, but lets not blame Apple, or Microsoft for that matter, for pushing the platform forward.

  • Steve Elbows

    I cant wait till I can talk about this stuff.

    Users who dont want to miss out on the fun but are cautious about problems could consider installing Snow Leopard on an external hard drive or separate partition, to evaluate whether their apps of choice work ok.

  • Hey!Cliche! – I don't know how I could be *any* more clear in this article or the others on createdigitalmusic.com that I'm not criticizing progress. 😉 I think I've said repeatedly, this is all natural. Stuff changes, stuff breaks. I'm emphasizing this not to criticize Apple in any way, but to make sure users adjust their expectations, upgrade when they have to and when the time is appropriate for their system and not just reflexively, and that they prepare accordingly. (Back up, verify compatibility, etc., etc. Even with the backup, you want to plan ahead or you may simply be spending time on an upgrade you don't need or can't yet use productively! And sometimes just upgrading on October 1 instead of September 1 can save you some time.)

    What I am criticizing, and I'm happy to be open about this, is this:
    1. Unpredictable OS release schedules from Apple. Odds are, tomorrow 8/28 was a target before Monday, but Apple chose Monday to communicate this to the public.

    2. Restrictions on the ability to talk about operating systems in development.

    I'm mostly concerned about item #2, which I think is the real problem. There are even developer mailing lists on which you can't discuss certain items because of Apple NDAs.

    And another reason to keep complaining about this issue is that I'm hopeful that it doesn't have to be this way for all time. Apple finally lifted the blanket NDA on their SDK for the iPhone. The result? It's now much easier to get information and resolve problems.

    I don't want to be on an Infinite Loop (nudge, nudge) talking about this particular issue, don't get me wrong – and especially when Apple's engineering efforts do have plenty to praise. But I think you see symptoms with the Snow Leopard unveiling that come from this issue.

    1. The press isn't really able to talk about development innards in Snow Leopard.
    2. That's helped facilitate an extremely warped understanding of what Snow Leopard is among users.
    3. Users may upgrade and get frustrated and vent that anger unfairly at third-party developers.

    That cycle is already happening on the audio side. I don't think it's going to be as big an issue on the visual side.

    Now, I think some of this is just the way users are, so I'm projecting more of it on Apple's secrecy than they probably deserve. But if you do want to break users of that cycle – and give developers more tools with which to keep up with the OS – my personal feeling (disclaimer: "my" / "personal") is that freer access to information helps.

    I do know a bit about things improved in 10.6 and a lot of them are relevant to createdigitalmotion more than createdigitalmusic, so in the name of information, you can be sure we'll cover it on Friday. 🙂

    And OpenCL, CUDA, OpenGL improvements, etc., etc. are all moving in interesting directions on many platforms, so I hope we can look at that, too.

  • Rolin

    That might help in the decision making process too: http://snowleopard.wikidot.com/

    Peace 🙂

  • Steve Elbows

    To be honest I think that whilst users can have unfair expectations, and certain aspects of Apples approach could be considered unhelpful, developers who have sufficient resources and take the mac platform seriously could of done a lot to protect themselves from any fallout. There have been developer builds of snow leopard around for a long time, and so plenty of time to test and get things working. Hardware manufacturers should really get drivers ready for stuff so that major operating systems are supported very quickly after their release, if not on launch day itself. Many dont need to make any changes or have silently rolled snow leopard compatibility fixes into updates that have already been released. Launch day is the real test, if some companies do not bother to try their stuff on Snow Leopard in advance, then they deserve some criticism. At minimum decent companies should be ready to communicate known issues to their customers as soon as Snow Leopard is out. They should not wait to have customers report problems to them. Unfortunately these waters have been muddied because it seems there are plenty of people who are running Snow Leopard already, including plenty who should not really have it yet, and are talking about it in ways that go beyond what people who have it legitimately are able to at the moment. Im no fan of Apples control freakery over information, and it stands in stark contrast to the long public beta of Windows 7.

  • Oh, yeah – that's not to excuse developers from their responsibilities, too, especially when they're *commercial* developers. It's a pain, but it's their job. Obviously, there's a difference between testing something – and then having users find issues when they upgrade – and *not* testing. 😉


  • I've upgraded my PC to SL (yes, I use hackintosh). So far everything except my built in sound works, but I use an external sound card anyway. I've installed the bulk of my software I use, including Arkaos VJ, Grand VJ, Modul8, Adobe and Apple software.
    The only issue I have right now is I have to force it to use the 32bit kernel to see all my drives, but the finder and all the native apps run in 64bit, at least that is what the Activity Monitor says. I expect the 2 files I need use the 64bit kernel and see also all my drives will be up in the next day or 2.
    The system is definitely running faster, and Arkaos VJ is now being distributed to all the cores. I use Arkaos VJ as my main VJ tool but it is not MP aware so it doesn't take much to bog it down under 10.5.
    I did install Rosetta and the 2 PPC apps I still use that will not be updated still work too.

    I give SL two thumbs up.

    If you're thinking of upgrading, get a small 100-200G HD and use it for a clean SL install for testing. I go back and forth during these transition periods, but i always end up archive the older system drive after about 3 months. One other thing, this process is a lot easier if you keep all your data on other drives. I never let the system use main drive for data, I trust it better on drives that have no OS.

  • Thanks, Kevin. I highly recommend giving GrandVJ a try; it's got a much more modern foundation than its predecessor.

  • Peter, I use and like GVJ too, just not as much. For me AVJ is an instrument that is simple and organic in its approach to visual performance. GVJ is still lacking that automation and playback options that for me make visuals fun to perform with. It is more modern and playback is super smooth, but when i do use GVJ, I still feel like I am playing back video, not performing with it. I know the features are coming. Additionally, I think each version of Arkaos and each soft for that matter, has a feel to it. I still keep 2 old macs running os9 versions of AVJ and other VJ softs so I can preserve the techniques and styles I have emerged from. I still use a few OS9 apps to render clips with that I can't use with OSX. But Yea, SL is performing well so far, people should take it for a ride. Raaawr

  • LOL I still work with Tiger actually, because Reaktor was acting weird in Leopard..(I saw that on a mac that a friend of mine had).

    I guess it's about time now I upgraded to Leopard? (not snow leopard ofcourse)

    Well, if it aint broke.. don't try to fix it I guess 🙂