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  • 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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