Life after Final Cut Pro

April 7, 2008

Sometime good things come to an end

I’ve made up my mind (final reason) to phase out all Apple products from my production pipeline: OS X, Final Cut Express and GarageBand (FCE 2.0.2 is now unusable, GarageBand 1.1 very close to unusable under Leopard).

I was thinking of investing in the Final Cut Studio package and new Apple hardware, but I really dislike Leopard, I dislike the way Apple treats its decade long customers, how they cheated me by selling me a buggy product like Leopard and made me loose valuable time (and money) by making me figure out on my own that Leopard never was ready for prime time on the PPC. This was most dishonest… Before that Apple had sold me a very noise iMac G5 – since bitten by Leopard I like to call it “my little Hoover” (Apple: ever tried sound editing…?).

That’s just it, folks! This is a goodbye from a platform I loved and promoted passionately (just ask any of my friends) over the course of many many years – I even made a bet with one of my best friends when things looked really bad for Apple in the mid-90’s. My friend said Apple would not make it, I was sure they would get their mainstream success sooner or later. My friend now ows me an apple, a McIntosh to be precise… Well, next time I see him I let him know that he may keep the wager – I have no more interest in it.

This was not an easy decision, but looking back Leopard was really the final reason. I had thought about alternatives for quite a while, but Ubuntu seemed not ready and I wanted to wait and see what Apple offers with Leopard: I was hoping it would be awesome and give me a good excuse to stick with the Apple ecosystem, the polished interface, its easy of use…

You can’t always get what you want

I let the Rolling Stones say this one for me:

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need

I wanted OS X and FCP but what I need is Ubuntu and a set of free and open-source apps that will allow me to replace the Final Cut Pro product line step by step over the coming months, possibly years: I am aware that today there is no finished open-source solution to FCP (we were introduced to Cinelerra at the TOSMI training last spring and unfortunately I was not convinced by what I saw, but I will have another look at it within the next couple of months).

What I plan to do now:

• document all free and open-source alternatives that seem attractive for high-end film- and video editing

• research, describe (write tutorials) and link to workflows and solutions in regards to open-source non-linear video editing and help bringing it to the mainstream

• help designing and developing (by giving feedback, discussing, bug testing) a free and open-source NLE of my choice

• discuss the possibility (and usefulness?!) of setting up a non-profit fund where film- and video editors worldwide can (if they wish anonymously) donate money to speed up the development of a fully featured, open-source alternative to Final Cut Pro

The last point will be a long term project, right now I’d say that the best existing open-source solutions seem about three to five years away from being able to compete on a feature-by-feature basis with FCP. But: I believe it is possible to start phasing out FCP of your production pipeline right now – read on for more!

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”

… is my favourite Albert Einstein quote. So what opportunities brings me the fact that I am getting rid of Apple in favour of a free and open-source non-linear editing solution…?

cheaper, more customisable and expandable hardware (ever bought RAM from Apple…?)

a free and open-source operating system (I’ll probably go for Ubuntu) that is being developed and tested in all possible openness (so it’s less likely to have a wild leopard bite you in the neck when you just don’t expect it)

a wide range of high end free and open-source audio, video and 3D applications that can be customised in ways that closed-source commercial products like Apple’s Final Cut Pro just can’t be due to their closed-source nature

• the certainty that all my investments (bug reports, how-tos, donations, …) end up in a product that will always be available free of charge for me, for others and for future generations

total independence from a multinational corporation like Apple that currently can decrease my productivity by selling me buggy software while being totally dishonest about possible shortcomings of their product

support of an emerging Linux PC hardware market that brings cool design and usability to the former “beige boxes” world – this will further help with the adoption of Linux and speed up the process of frustrated Apple users like me migrating to the free software world

• Apple will have to try much harder to satisfy its user base and start innovating (instead of decorating) – competition is good for users on both sides

• I will be forced to learn new software and will have to solve problems along the way – perfect for improving my skills, deepening my knowledge

A start

Last summer the offline editing for my Blender made 3D animation Visual Machine no. 1 was done with Final Cut Express and it was onlined with the Blender NLE. Once I’ve got my PC hardware together and the latest Ubuntu is installed and configured, I’ll try using Kino for offline editing. I’ll keep testing workflows involving the Blender NLE (for onlining, possibly also for the actual editing). There are a couple of limitations you have to work around when doing this, but as I learn more about them I’ll be able to develop strategies and tools to overcome those limitations – one idea is to use (Python) scripts for automating certain cumbersome workflows – once tested those scripts could be shared in a handy library with the free software editing community and will allow:

• a highly optimised workflow within a particular app like Blender that currently might lack certain non-linear editing features

• the creation of a user friendly trans-apps workflow e.g. for combining the best of Kino with the best of Blender to have one package (incl. documentation) that can be distributed and promoted to e.g. Final Cut Pro users

I have done a bit of research already over the last two years while working on the P2P Audiovisual Guide and when collecting links for my remixlinks project. Now I have to figure out the whole thing in all its details, make tests, find solutions that work for me. But since my main project currently is a 3D animation and after that another one is already waiting, I will have to make this switch from the Apple to the Linux world in a series of smaller steps. Maybe by the end of the year I’ll have a first (set of) workflow(s) that I successfully tested and can recommend for production use – or maybe I will just be surprised by finding out what others already have in place and things will go much faster…?

Conclusion

I never really thought I’d come to this, but Apple messed up things with Leopard in an extreme kind of way (it’s not quite as bad as Vista seems to be, but for sure it feels like a Vista light) – and since Apple is not willing to listen (final reason) I have now come to the conclusion that it would be limiting or even foolish (and at least lazy) – to further rely on Apple when it comes to non-linear video editing.

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Vox populi

April 6, 2008

Here a couple of search queries that my readers used in the last two days to find my iMac/Leopard blog entries (WordPress shows me those queries – without any other personal info attached to it (!) – on the admin page.)

I see very similar search queries every day.

No further comment…

my imac fan is too loud

imac fan noise leopard

“is an application which was downloaded”

mac os x 10.5 leopard is an application

jfif preview os x

turn off “is an application which was do


Apple forum: my message about Leopard + iMac G5 just got removed!

April 4, 2008

After maybe 30 min. this post on the Apple forum that I just made got removed. Now I know why I felt like making a screen-shot…! *Update, 05.04.08: to be precise the first “screen-shot” is a .pdf made via  “Save as PDF”, the second one is a real screen-shot. You can see the URL on top of the .pdf one: it is the same as on the other one…! – And my forum message is still off-line today, so I take this as Apple’s answer to my question about if they can fix these problems. Not good.*

My forum’s message URL currently says:

“Error: you do not have permission to view the requested forum or category.”

(Note: the first screen-shot was made with the current Firefox Beta, the second one with Safari.)

Looks like someone from the PR department at Apple is trying to censor me?! Well done, Apple! This is the internet, people do talk about these things…! (And I am sure I will share this story with my dear Apple Final Cut Pro User Groups colleagues!) And this is the text that someone from the Apple forums just removed – I believe it was an appropriate and tasteful posting for the “Using your iMac G5” forum at discussions.apple.com – Apple seems to think differently…

Dear Apple: fix Leopard + iMac G5 (fan noise, sleep problems, bugs, …)!

Dear Apple,

in case you want to keep me as a costumer I ask you to quickly fix all the current issues with Leopard and G5 iMacs. My iMac has become almost unusable since I upgraded (slow, excessive fan noise, narcoleptic condition aka sleep problems and of course the long list of Leopard bugs that made this the worst upgrade since I started using Macs back at System 7). Read my full blog entry – not very flattering – here: “Leopard is killing my iMac – next stop Ubuntu…?” https://indiworks.wordpress.com/2008/03/26/leopard-is-killing-my-imac-next-stop-ubuntu/

I’d like to be able to continue using Macs and stay on this platform, but if 10.5.3 does not fix the main issues (and 10.5.x all the others in due time) I am forced to downgrade/upgrade back to 10.3.9 – and then I don’t think I will be investing in Apple hardware again.

I was sincerely hoping that Leopard would fix my iMac’s G5 fan noise problem and as we all know those problems just got worse.

This might be the end of a long and wonderful friendship – when one side does not keep its promises (deliver high quality soft- and hardware) why should I stick with you…? I feel cheated – so far. Apple, can you still deliver…? If so: show me! Now…

And Apple: here the link of the day for you. Long live free and open-source software!


Leopard is killing my iMac – next stop Ubuntu…?

March 26, 2008

Leopard is a real beast

I’ve been using Macs since System 7 and my Powerbook (145B) that I bought in the mid 90’s still works and is my back-up solution for working (with text) if nothing else is available. I’ve recommended Macs to everyone over the years who had computer problems and probably convinced quite a few people to make the switch to a Mac.

Three years ago I got an iMac G5 and it’s a beautiful machine to look at and I enjoy working with it – but it has one major design flaw: its fans. They can be very – very loud. The newer iMacs don’t have that problem, but this does not help me. Last November I upgraded from Panther (OS X 10.3.9) to Leopard (OS X 10.5) and was hoping the fan problems would go away. I was wrong – it got worse:

It seems that Leopard (and possibly to a certain degree also Tiger) was not made or optimised to run on PPC hardware, from looking at forums I see that quite a few people have exactly the same problem as I have: the iMac going to sleep all of a sudden while you are working – just like that! Recently it kept dozing off while I was repairing permissions (another Leopard bug: this can take very long). I had to force quit the permission repair process and ignore a warning that this could destroy data…

Right now I am rendering a last test version of my latest Blender made 3D animation and have to work with “automatic” processor power (significantly slower than “highest”) to prevent the iMac from constantly going into sleep mode (“reduced” seems broken altogether under Leopard, this was the option I had to use under Panther for listening to music because of the iMac’s ever modulating, Tinnitus-like high-pitched fan noise). (BTW: I’ve already zapped the PRAM, reset the SMU and checked that the power cable is plugged in correctly. Also a couple of weeks ago the mainboard had to be changed (did Leopard break it?) – so I don’t think my iMac’s new narcoleptic condition is a hardware problem.) What this now all means for me is that rendering times have doubled – because of Leopard! Wow.

What to do? I am now looking at all the options. Maybe Apple releases a 10.5.3 update in the next couple of days and all my problems will go away. This would be very cool but I am not very hopeful. Once I’m done with my current 3D project I’ll probably have to downgrade (or is it upgrade?) back to Panther.

Leopard with Vista qualities…?

Are you sure you want to remove the items in the Trash permanently?

is now a default warning. I just could not believe that Apple would do such a nonsense. I should have read it as a warning sign that there is something wrong with the OS… While you can turn off this message there is another one that you can’t turn off (at least not easily and not globally):

(App’s name) is an application which was downloaded from the Internet. Are you sure you want to open it?

There is no option to turn off that most annoying warning message!

Why this is really bad: recently I saved a few cool scans from the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive and wanted to open them: but Apple’s Preview does not recognise the .jfif extension (!). While the much better NicePlayer can open them Leopard gets in the way with its vistaesque question:

pbanimation01.jfif is an application which was downloaded from the Internet. Are you sure you want to open it?

Yes, OS X thinks that JPEG File Interchange Format (JFIF) files are an application! But it gets worse: when you try to open multiple .jfif images at the same time (that you previously drag-droped/saved from Firefox to the desktop) you have to open them one by one and for each of them confirm with a mouse click (hitting return is not an option) that you really want to open “an application which was downloaded from the Internet! Or you could manually rename all of the files to .jpeg so that Preview can handle them… In any case it now can take a minute or two to open a bunch of new .jfif image files on my iMac. What a mess…!

This is only one of many examples where Leopard gets in the way of my productivity. Here two more highlights:

I use the Stickies app a lot. But in Leopard there is no way to turn off spell checking permanently for the Stickies and I absolutely dislike that ugly red underline for what the spell checker thinks is a misspelled word. The problem is that you can only can turn off spell checking for each single Stickies note individually – and next time you open the app you have to do it all over again – for each note you happen to use! You’d better not have 20 or more notes like me and are used to type in German without making use of capital letters (as would be the correct way of spelling certain words): not only can you not turn off the automatic spell checking (there is not even a shortcut for doing it with the note by note method) but also the Apple spellchecker does not have an option for ignoring capital letter misspellings…

But even worse than that is Spotlight: there are certain things (like my Firefox bookmarks.html or the StickiesDatabase file) that Spotlight just does not find (I’ve tried reindexing, cleaning all sorts of cache files…). The old Apple search might have taken a moment to come up with results, but it always worked and was easy to use. Spotlight just does not find certain files, offers a set of very confusing and for me useless options and in the end is slower than the old search because it tries to update search results in realtime while I’m typing and my iMac is just not fast enough for that.

To make a long story short: Leopard is not an elegant, not a user friendly operating system but at this point (10.5.2) a very buggy commercial beta release with many features that I just do not want but can not turn off (e.g. Stacks, which looks like a cheap rip-off of this cool technology). At the same time it is incompatible with Apple’s own Final Cut Express 2.x (that I bought only three years ago with the iMac) while other, non Apple software – older than three years – still just works…

So what happened? Why did Apple release Leopard so early? What does it mean for me as a consumer in regards to future Apple products? And most important: can I still trust Apple…?

I will soon be needing a more powerful computer for my next 3D projects. But should I buy another Apple product after the iMac G5 fan noise saga…? My main problem is that I also need a good NLE and Apple’s Final Cut Pro (while not ideal or really modern any more) is still the best choice in terms of money for value (there are open-source alternatives but none of them offers the full spectrum of features and ease of use that FCP has). But: if I buy the Final Cut Studio package now is it going to work on Apple’s latest OS offering in three years time…? Or will it be incompatible just like Final Cut Express 2.x is today with Leopard…? I do not think I should be forced to buy new hard- and software every three years – and who knows if I will always be able to afford it…? What I want is a more permanent solution. I need quality equipment. Something I can rely on. Something that “just works”. I’ve had enough of beta products like my fan noise challenged iMac G5 or beta products from other vendors like my super buggy Sony Ericsson mobile phone that I still have but avoid to use whenever I can (I got that one before the Sony rootkit fiasco – I have not bought any Sony product since).

True world domination: be humble and D.I.Y.

To me it now looks like we’ve reached a point where the quality of commercial (consumer) hard- and software from big companies is just not acceptable any more. (Faster and faster product development cycles to keep the cash machine working while only beta products are thrown to the market.)

Maybe small, local businesses selling open-source hardware is the answer…? Or just 3D printing your own, online community developed hardware…! But it’s just not quite there yet…

This is also something the open-source movement should always remember when looking at the mistakes that companies like Apple make:

Do not release software (without the beta label) before it has been thoroughly bug tested. Buggy products can anger your most faithful, decade-long fans and customers up to the point where they are so enervated that they will switch to alternatives sooner or later.

E.g. I don’t use the VLC that often any more: under Panther it kept crashing whenever I tried to close it and under Leopard the better solution often is to use the NicePlayer and having Perian installed – I just can’t see that stupid warning message any more that pops up every time the VLC can’t keep up with playing back a particular file (the NicePlayer also allows you to go back and forth frame by frame and the VLC at this point unfortunately does not support the TARGA (.tga) image file format that is a very useful standard in the 3D world).

True world domination will only work if you remain humble, deliver high-quality products and are honest about possible shortcomings of your offerings.

Stuck in the middle

After Installing Leopard back in November I also wanted to install Ubuntu on my iMac but in the end had to give up: there is no more official support from Canonical for the PPC platform and while the Ubuntu live CD worked well enough I could not “shrink” my OS X partition with GParted (this is necessary before going ahead with the actual Ubuntu installation for a dual boot set-up) – GParted just kept crashing and neither the Ubuntu community forum nor the GParted forum had a solution for this problem.

I could of course now get rid of OS X altogether and just install Ubuntu, but then I would also be stuck with an old Ubuntu version while not knowing if it really works well in the long run on my noisy iMac. So it looks like I will soon be stuck with an older (but at least very reliable) Mac OS (10.3.9) for the time being. Leopard most probably is not an option for me and dual-booting OS X/Ubuntu seems not doable without being a Linux ueber-geek.

Conclusion: this is a transition period – commercial solutions like Apple hardware and OS X might not live up to the promise and and open-source alternatives might not always work (yet).

Next stop Ubuntu…?

While the shiny new Macs from my local Apple store sure look very nice I feel less tempted than ever to invest in an Apple product again – the € 129.- I paid for Leopard back in November look like a bargain compared to the time I lost trying to be productive with it. I now might end up buying non Apple hardware and installing the latest Ubuntu release once it becomes available later this spring.

It’s been a while since I recommended buying a Mac to a friend and I don’t know when I’ll be able to do this again. But:

I certainly can not recommend Apple’s Leopard (tested up to 10.5.2). Think twice about “upgrading” (specially if you are on a PPC) and better don’t do it at all if you are using a PPC iMac!

This apple looked really nice, but unfortunately it was picked way too soon and now leaves me with a very – very sour aftertaste. The good thing: there are alternatives and they seem more attractive than ever to me.


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