A Memo to Professional Users: Stop Waiting!

December 29th, 2006

You’ve heard the claim: Mac users who crave the most powerful models have been waiting on the sidelines until their favorite image editing program, Adobe Photoshop, becomes Universal. At the same time, although a public beta is available now, the final version of the CS3 package won’t be out until spring.

Now it’s perfectly true that the beta version of Photoshop CS3 seems to work pretty well in many respects. Published benchmarks on Mac Pros show stellar performance, faster than any G5 you can point to. But it is a beta, and therefore it’s not suited for production work, and you wouldn’t want to depend on a product of this sort as a tool to make a living.

So it would seem, then, to make perfect sense to wait until spring before you buy a brand, spanking new Mac powerhouse. Maybe that’s true, but perhaps shouldn’t just sit and wait, as many have done, witness the reportedly stagnant sales of the Mac Pro.

As to that claim, well I think there’s little doubt that much of the reason for the tepid reception of the Mac Pro is the fact that some of the key applications power users require haven’t made the transition to Universal. In addition, there’s little doubt that Rosetta, Apple’s emulation software, slows performance rather severely, and is also memory intensive.

So holding off appears to make a whole lot of sense if you have a Power Mac G5 and don’t want to give up performance on some of the key applications that you need. But not everyone buys a cutting-edge Mac every year or so. I know of a few creative professionals in my own area that have Macs that are several years old, with G4 processors, so I suppose you could say they skipped a generation. Certainly if a computer is an important tool for your work, it’s hard to justify the expense unless you can show that the supposedly faster, newer model will indeed pay for itself in increased productivity.

So for the majority that would be upgrading from a much older Mac, a Mac Pro, iMac or even MacBook Pro are likely to run the current release version of Photoshop and other high-power applications a whole lot faster than the hardware they are using now.

In addition, Apple hasn’t been sitting still. Rosetta’s performance and reliability has improved steadily as Mac OS Tiger was updated. The recent 10.4.8 release, for example, only lists some minor improvements in Rosetta, yet benchmarks show that Photoshop’s performance is upwards of 30% faster in emulation. Marvelous! It also means that the Mac Pro can actually run Photoshop as fast or faster than a G5, and that’s before the CS3 Universal beta enters the picture.

What about other applications? Well, there’s always Microsoft Office 2004, which benefits somewhat from the improvements in Rosetta too. But it’s not a processor-intensive beast. Lumbering, yes, and it can use lots and lots of RAM. Indeed, Entourage can runs slow even on a the speediest PowerPC Mac, though performance is decent on the Intel-based models. This isn’t a critical factor, however, and it’s surely not the deal-breaker.

Although it probably won’t impact users of Adobe’s Creative Suite, I would not be surprised to discover that Rosetta will continue to undergo improvements and may be noticeably faster when Leopard arrives. No, this expectation is not based on any secret knowledge, but I think it’s a fairly safe guess.

So, after investing a whole lot of money on a new Mac, you wouldn’t have to commit additional funds for various and sundry software upgrades. You can see where all of this might add up.

In fact, I dare say that business users may be at the low end of the curve when it comes to buying upgrades of that sort. You see, it’s not just a new Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, but the add-ons, the plugins, which may be required to accomplish key tasks.

So those doing desktop publishing may also have to wait for newer versions of font managers and workflow applications too.

But if your new Mac can deliver productive performance in emulation mode, you wouldn’t be forced to buy everything you need from the start, but phase the products in over time. There’s also the issue of those inevitable early-release bugs that may make you want to wait for a maintenance update of a new application before diving in.

In short, if you crave a new Mac Pro, there may already be enough reason to buy it now and not wait until everything else you need is ready too.

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7 Responses to “A Memo to Professional Users: Stop Waiting!”

  1. reinharden says:

    Of course, by “now” he really means after, oh, 10:30 or 11:00 AM on Tuesday January 9, 2007. ’cause chances are high that the Mac Pro will be at least speed-bumped during/after the MacWorld Keynote. And I, for one, wouldn’t be surprised to see a dual quad core machine near the high-end…


  2. doc says:

    I am not waiting for the speed increase- i am waiting for (1) the cost of the memory to decrease (as is happening each week), (2) the cost of big drives to decrease (as is happening each week), and (3) for Leopard to be the shipping OS (as will happen probably in March???)

    So there is, I believe, a pent up demand awaiting the Mac Pro but for me it is NOT dependent on Adobe or M$ but on the other things needed to make the system as useful as my current G5 desktop.

  3. Jack says:

    Following up on Doc’s comments, and as someone who’s involved in deadline graphics work for a living, there are a number of other variables involved here for some of us. There’s too many things that can go wrong in a graphics/publishing workflow composed of multiple mutually dependent tasks to take a machine/software migration like this one lightly. Ordinary garden-variety office users have no idea of how tightly interdependent every step in a graphics/publishing workflow is and has to be, and how much mayhem can ensue to the whole chain if even one or two things start to go wrong.

    In graphics/publishing, every time you upgrade your hardware, OS, or any one of the myriad pieces of software in your arsenal required to perform deadline work, you can count, and I mean 100% count on something going awry. Anyone who hasn’t worked in the deadline-centered world of advertising or graphics has no idea the level of stress that can ensue from angry bosses, clients, and co-workers when you fail to meet your deadlines.

    Those of us in publishing do not take upgrades lightly. We, or at least I, want to have a planned period of downtime or at least extended slowtime without pressing deadlines, where we can troubleshoot all the ugly incompatibilities that inevitabily rear their heads. For example, when your font manager won’t work properly on the new machine or OS, completely hamstringing your ability to work in any of your graphics applications. Or it plays nice with one but not all. Or maybe your printers suddenly stop working, or the color-matching gets all screwed up. Whatever. You start tearing your hair out trying to fix all the Pandora’s box of problems that ensue when you have a dozen or more key pieces of software that absolutely *must* function together flawlessly in order to meet your deadlines.

    You also want to make the most of the planned period of downtime, and hopefully do not just one but a series of upgrades at the same time so you can get all the pain and thuffering over with at the same time. My plan is to simply wait till it’s possible to simultaneously upgrade to Leopard, a new Mac Pro, universal Adobe CS 3 Suite, universal MS Office, relatively bugfree Macintel font manager, and universal versions of all the other support apps I need at the same time, so I only have one period of downtime fighting all the inevitable problems.

    Then once the good ship lollypop has safely navigated that particularly storm, it will be smooth sailing for a good long while before another major potential capsizing event is required. Again, graphics/publishing is a lot different animal and generally much more intense than most other kinds of computing work in its complexity. And that’s why so many publishing professionals are waiting–till they can get it all over with at once instead of go through multiple episodes.

  4. Following up on Doc’s comments, and as someone who’s involved in deadline graphics work for a living, there are a number of other variables involved here for some of us. There’s too many things that can go wrong in a graphics/publishing workflow composed of multiple mutually dependent tasks to take a machine/software migration like this one lightly. Ordinary garden-variety office users have no idea of how tightly interdependent every step in a graphics/publishing workflow is and has to be, and how much mayhem can ensue to the whole chain if even one or two things start to go wrong.

    Doing all the upgrades you mention is a costly, lengthy process to make sure your workflow is good. On the other hand, if you pay close attention to any possible compatibility issues, upgrading first to the Mac Pro — and certainly if you want to consider a possible quad-core version that will probably be available in the very near future — might be a good idea.

    Buying a Mac Pro with Leopard and all the software upgrades in one step is going to be daunting and expensive. So long as Rosetta emulation will work with your legacy software — again with attention to anything that doesn’t work — you should be doing OK with the machine as the first step.

    Remember, the current versions of those font managers, if you have them, are already Universal.


  5. Jack says:


    It may be that doing a more staged upgrade process like you say might work better this time around with Leopard and Macintel, if approached properly. Still somewhat gunshy, though. The transition that threw me personally for the biggest loop was the OS9 to OSX migration. Admittedly a larger can of worms than Leopard/Macintel will probably be.

    But I can still remember back when I bought a new G4 Mac that would run OSX and upgraded all my apps to run on it. It was about one entire month of 10 to 12-hour days of pure hell getting everything to mesh properly to where I had a functioning workflow back in place. Some apps that I’d been used to using simply didn’t work very well in the new OSX world and had to be abandoned for others that would. But even though I had a workflow back after a month, it was about six months before the last nail had been put into place and efficiency was back to 100%.

    Now I don’t claim to be any genius or anything, but with one exception I’m the most tech-savvy of those in my own network of colleagues, and I normally look forward to playing with new software and upgrades and putting them through their paces. But the OS9 to OSX transition cost me enough in gray hairs that I started to rethink my till-then eagerness to upgrade fairly early in a product cycle. (Not that I was ever a bleeding-edge guy, though.)

    If I were to do the Leopard/Macintel transition in a staged fashion, I may decide to do the Leopard transition first (after it hits 10.5.2 or 10.5.3 and some semblance of stability is assured, not before) along with some other universal apps. Then once that’s smoothed over, jump into a Pro. Reason being, if I were to go quad-core, the initial wave I’d think will be likely to have too much of a price premium given past Mac pricing history. Or do you think maybe that might not be so much the case this time around? Guess we’ll soon see perhaps in January.

  6. Dana Sutton says:

    Gene is absolutely right. I moved from an early 2004 2gb x 2 G.5 to a 2.66 Mac Pro, and although I haven’t run any speed tests, the subjective “feel” of the speed for the apps. I still have to run via Rosetta (Dreamweaver, Word, Excel) is pretty much identical, regarding both launch time and using them to get work done. This, mind you, is with 3 Gb of RAM memory in my Mac, I probably wouldn’t get such happy results with the out-of-box 1 Gb. In its current form Rosetta is pretty good and, who knows?, maybe it will be even better in OS 10.4.9 and Leopard. And try this interesting little experiment: launch Activity Monitor and bring up the screen for CPUs. Then launch a Rosetta app. and work with a little. Notice that all four processors are working away? Hmmm. (I suspect Rosetta would get a lot more respect in the Mac community if somebody would do an in-depth study of how it actually works). Bottom line: if you pick up a MacPro today and beef up its memory your workflow probably won’t miss a beat.

  7. woz says:

    I agree with the fact that something always goes wrong somewhere if you’re a professional user. If you own an Intel Mac and updated to 10.4.8 you get a crash if you use Adobe Illustrator CS2. Turns out it’s the ‘transform’ palette. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Not a word from Adobe about them fixing the problem too. Well that’s just dandy. This is exactly the reason why I’m glad I wait with updating.

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