The Final Cut Pro X Controversy: Too Much Emotion?

July 1st, 2011

Back when Apple released iMovie ’08, iLife customers freaked. Apple changed things drastically, particularly such traditional movie editing features as the timeline. Some things were dropped, thus resulting in an app that many perceived as being less usable than the previous version, iMovie HD.

Well, Apple explained, at the time, that building a new consumer editing app was a work in progress, that many lost features would be restored and new capabilities added over time. However, they made available iMovie HD for those who didn’t want to upgrade.

Well, with iMovie ’11, you don’t hear many of those complaints anymore about what went before. Many people simply became accustomed to the new app, which has had a growing set of new features for each and every version. But iMovie HD never stopped working for those who still want to use it.

Segue to 2011 and the arrival of a major overhaul of Apple’s professional video editing app, Final Cut Pro, dubbed Final Cut X. In keeping with Apple’s philosophy of making apps cheaper, it weighs in as a downloadable version only, requiring 10.6.8 as the minimum OS, and costs just 299.99. Add two integrated apps, Compressor and Motion, and you have a well-stocked movie editing studio for $400. How can you beat that?

In its favor, FCPX, the common acronym, takes advantage of full 64-bit support, and all the great performance enhancements Apple incorporated in Mac OS 10.6. What this means is that you can get your work done faster, and not sit back waiting precious minutes for footage to be rendered. Well that’s unless you prefer to have that extra time to take a breather before beginning your next task.

Well, if you are a regular user of Final Cut Pro 7, the previous version, there’s plenty to howl about. Because FCPX is a wholesale rewrite, a brand new app, features video editors took for granted have changed, or are gone. You cannot even import projects from FCP7 because the architecture is too different to allow for proper translation. Or at least that’s what lead developer Randy Ubillos claims.

Even where critical features were retained, in some cases the interfaces have changed so much users have to relearn some skills.

Now Apple has issued an FAQ explaining what was changed, what’s returning, and what won’t return. While I don’t pretend to have any great amount of video editing expertise — my field is radio broadcasting and I edit interviews, not music or movies — it does seem to me that, over time, the tools that pros need to edit movies and videos will probably be restored; if not now, soon. In an email to one customer, Ubillos said that people who create a project in one version of FCP shouldn’t ordinarily need to convert the project to a new and different version.

That answer really offers a healthy dose of common sense. As a commenter wrote the other day in response to one of my articles, it’s not as if FCP7 suddenly stopped working on the day its successor arrived. What’s more, nobody is forced to upgrade until such time as the new version meets their requirements. If it doesn’t suit their needs, they can stick with the older version, or consider another platform, such as Adobe Premiere, available on both the Mac and Windows, or perhaps an Avid system. In other words, they haven’t been abandoned, or left without the critical tools they need to get work done.

But Apple isn’t the innocent party here. They had the hubris to release FCPX without carefully explaining to existing users about the changes, the improvements and the limitations. More to the point, FCP7 was discontinued then and there. Unless someone has some old stock around, you can’t buy a copy. To Apple it’s history, and that was one huge mistake.

This doesn’t mean they can’t and shouldn’t make major changes to apps, pro and otherwise. Certainly the move from the classic or original Mac OS to Mac OS X, beginning in 2001, was difficult to some Mac users. The first versions of Apple’s industrial-strength operating system were missing key features. You couldn’t even play a CD on the first version, 10.0. Worse, performance was sluggish. It took time for Apple to optimize the code, and to harness the power of faster processors and graphics chips to deliver an appropriately responsive OS.

Today, with the arrival of Lion perhaps days, or at most a few weeks away, you don’t hear complaints about the performance of the latest and greatest versions of Mac OS X. Of course, Macs these days are far more powerful than the ones around in the days of 10.0, and part of that is due to the switch to Intel Inside.

It’s clear Apple’s missteps with FCPX will result in some lost customers. Others will, perhaps while holding their noses, try to make FCPX function within their workflow, or they’ll learn to adapt. Over time, as more features are added and improved, it’ll be very clear whether Apple’s bet on the future was the right one, or whether they should simply have given a shave and haircut to the original FCP.

Now since Apple is reportedly granting refunds to disappointed customers, perhaps they could take one sensible step more, and make FCP7 available again. They should also put it in maintenance mode, so critical bug fixes will continue to be released. It doesn’t have to be forever either. Maybe six months or a year would be sufficient to clean up FCPX.

And perhaps a year from now, the great FCPX controversy will be gone and forgotten. That is, if Apple made the right move with their new video editing architecture.

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29 Responses to “The Final Cut Pro X Controversy: Too Much Emotion?”

  1. DaveD says:

    I cannot believe that Apple having done a good job in handling the announcement of new or upcoming products is so poor at taking control of potential public relations fiasco.

    There is nothing wrong with making drastic changes as long as you have contingencies.

    Apple have in the past provided a transitional period from the old to the new.

    1) Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X

    When the first feature-less, slow Mac OS X 10.0 was launched, Mac OS 9 was still the default OS. After many more months and a number of major improvements, Mac OS X was finally upgraded to the point when it could take over OS 9 job.

    2) QuickTime 7 to QuickTime X

    QuickTime 7 is called upon for the tasks that the work-in-progress QuickTime X cannot handle.

    If Final Cut X is so different, how come there were no information before the launch and no transitional period allowance with Final Cut Pro? Who were the beta testers on Final Cut X?

    No lessons learned.

    The iMovie ’08 misstep. When Apple went into silent mode on the iPhones, the outcomes were the “death grip” and “location-gate” spinning out of control.

    Apple needs to quickly acknowledge a potential “bad” situation ASAP and announce that it is under review with a statement forthcoming.

    • @DaveD, The started with the FAQ. A good follow up would be to announce that the previous version of Final Cut Pro will remain on sale, and that it will be updated with critical fixes whenever necessary. This will afford time for FCPX to be updated to fix some of the worst ills, and for video editors to adapt.

      At the same time, Adobe is offering a 50% discount for switchers. Then again, unless Premiere can import FCP projects, does that make sense?


  2. Ken Heins says:

    I don’t do much video editing either, but is it possible to keep the old app on a separate drive?

  3. Joseph Futral says:

    I think there are two issues. First there are the people who built their business model around FCP, particularly FCP7. Sorry, but unless you are prepared to change as FCP changes then you are doomed for obsolescence. I think a lot for people confused being an editing pro with being a FCP7 pro. Easy mistake to make. People in all industries make similar mistakes.

    The other issue is how Apple did and could have handled the transition. I don’t know why Apple felt such urgency to make a clean, cold turkey transition to FCPX. I can’t believe they are as stupid to ignore the lessons learned in the past from less successful transitions. They have handled other more important transitions successfully before. So they have two sets of experiences to draw from. Why wouldn’t they?

    Let’s assume they aren’t stupid or blind and that this cut and dried transition was deliberate. Probably necessary. What would make such an extreme changeover, almost premature, necessary? I think there are two imminent major changes that affect this. First is the announced Lion OS. I can’t help but wonder if Lion is going to have a major impact on FCP7, as in it probably won’t run under Lion. And probably a lot of third party plug-ins are going to fail, too.

    And on top of that, if I were a betting man, I would say that the next round of Mac Pros that come with Lion pre-installed will not be downgradeable. So there is a chance that the next gen Mac Pros will be announced soon, too.

    That’s two things that would cause Apple to push out FCPX in this manner. I am sure they would not have done so if they thought FCPX wasn’t ready. But since it is, it needed to be released sooner rather than later.

    Now, I don’t think this necessarily addresses why it was necessary to completely EOL FCP7. Why not even give FCP7 users a better heads up and allow maybe even a 6 month transition as you offered at the end of your article?

    I think Apple DID learn an important lesson in previous transitions. Third party developers, especially those who deal with “pros”, have an inescapable tendency to drag their feet on upgrades and supporting new platforms. Adobe Flash is a prime example, but not the worst, believe it or not. I think this transition is as much about third party developers as anyone. If FCP7 continued to be offered and supported by Apple, as long as that was occurring, there is no urgency on third part developers’ part.

    I think Apple underestimated the backlash from end users in this process, I really think they thought that energy would have been directed more toward those developers to get up to speed rather than Apple for changing things up to begin with.

    I agree that Apple is not innocent in this. But I don’t know how else they could have kept the transition from dragging out too long if there is something more important coming up sooner rather than later. No outside, urgent influence, I think, we would have seen a much more measured transition than what we are seeing now.


  4. Joseph Futral says:

    Thanks. Missed that. Then I am completely baffled as to how Apple handled this roll out. I was just trying to give them the benefit of the doubt.


  5. Erik Lundmark says:

    Yeah the absolute biggest and unacceptable stink in all this is that we ARE forced to side/down/weird-grade to FCP-X. I do work in production and there new seats being added all the time. If we can’t even buy FCP7 we can’t integrate new editors into existing workflows.
    To release this without a transition period is so idiotic. Why in the world would you want to alienate a portion of your customer base like this?
    Of course there will be a lot of emotions, we feel totally betrayed, slapped in the face.

  6. Patrick says:

    The move to iMovie ’08 completely destroyed my interest in throwing together some video for family and friends.

    I had been using the previous version to create some family reunion DVDs and clips of my kids’ high school graduations. I had gone through a few earlier iMovie upgrades and so installed iMovie ’08 and fired it up.

    Six months later, after hurling a stream of vile, hate-filled invective at iMovie ’08 for 4,320 continuous hours, I walked away from video editing and haven’t been back.

  7. Joseph Futral says:

    Ok, wait, wait. How about this. iCloud is about to be introduced. What if there were strong iCloud/FCPX integration! Talk about sharing FCP work files! Real time collaboration via “the iCloud”. That could be a reason to cold-turkey FCPX.

    I’m really trying here.


  8. Lachlan says:

    I wouldn’t imagine you’d have much of a time sharing projects with iCloud. Final Cut X supports 4k resolution – those files are seriously large.

    I think Apple knew what it was doing with this transition. 100,000 pro editors or 10,000,000 home users. Why else include Night Vision Goggle effects to Final Cut or dumb the interface to the point of insult?

    The only thing that doesn’t work is the price point. I’d think $49 would be closer to the mark, not $299, but I expect to see that change soon enough.

  9. Chuck Rost says:

    For those of you who think ‘cuts only’ with a little audio fade up/down while a title moves across the screen . . . that’s NOT editing. That’s PRETENDING. That’s what you do in iMovie.

    Final Cut Pro is a PRO application. Often users (like myself) will search through a previous project to copy/paste a previous title movement, color grade, audio effects, etc., etc. This is a TREMENDOUS time saver . . . NO MORE!

    We have all sorts of templates that we have created over the years that we use as ‘starting’ points for different types of presentations . . . NO MORE!

    We have created networks of associates who work with us collaboratively on a project . . . NO MORE!

    We have bought countless ‘plug-ins’ that we depend upon to get the look we need for certain projects . . . NO MORE!

    And we spent an initial @ $1200-$1400 and then $500-$600 every two years or so buying Apple upgrades, all the while playing the role of ‘evangelist’ getting our associates to buy this stuff as well . . . NO MORE!

    So please, if you don’t do this for a LIVING, then keep your comments about this to yourself, because you have NO CLUE as to the problems it will cause us! (Search the www and read from professionals how this is essentially an unsurmountable problem and will cause us to go back to Avid or Premiere . . . because they are a HELL OF A LOT closer to Final Cut . . . than the new ‘Final Cut’ is.

    It is tantamount to someone talking away your ‘Mac’ one day and telling you from now on you will be on a PC running ‘Windows’ . . . and it won’t even be in ‘English’!

    That’s a better comparison.

    • @Chuck Rost, I understand your pain. I have friends who do video editing. But don’t forget that FCP7 still works. If Apple doesn’t fix what ails, just use what you’re using. It didn’t stop working, and will still, according to Apple, work with Lion. Now finish your work and go out and enjoy the holiday weekend. 🙂


  10. gjs says:

    I have read enough comments to know that if you don’t earn your living as an editor, most people can’t grasp why this new software is such a problem.

    If you aren’t a professional, you certainly don’t need to care about those who do. However, when that group overwhelming states that “just wait for features” or “use what you got, no one’s taking it from you” are not viable options, you need to believe that’s the truth for them.

    Good for Apple that the software is selling. Good for the people who are happy using it.

    However, the professional community has spoken and FCPX is not pro grade and likely will never be.

  11. javaholic says:

    Final Cut X looks like a good product a few years from now. For today’s integrated FC workflow this rollout really makes Apple look like a 3 ring circus. Whats the next ‘jaw dropper’, Logic Pro? I know if Adobe pulled a comparable stunt like this with InDesign CS6 because they felt print was dead, they’d be lynched. We’re talking about people that have literally invested in Apples pro ecosystem over the years that have suddenly had the rug pulled from beneath them so yes, they’re emotional. The principal is the same as the jumbled iMovie transition except theres much more at stake here. A more cynical view could be Apple are enjoying the spoils of everything ‘i’ so much that perhaps ‘pro’ is now a dirty word. When antennae-gate struck, Steve felt the need to call a press conference and we heard about how much Apple love their customers. Of course that was the iPhone.

  12. Da fu says:

    My new grandson cannot play ball, run, talk, etc. Like my 10 yo grandson. How dare my daughter give such a featureless child! Get an imagination whiners. Nothing is born fully featured. It grows and blossoms.

  13. bmaur says:

    you guys are looking at this all wrong. the mac is heading towards touchscreen base. I ordered fcpx to what all the crying was about. I have fcpstudio 3 by the way. as soon as I opened the new project and imported a video, to my surprise, if you put the mouse pointer on the thum of the import file and move left or right, your scrubbing thru it’s own timeline! much easter that way with YOUR finger than trying to scrub the actual position mark. for those who edit on fcp will know. the future of the mac is touchcreen. just like the wacom LCD tablet that first came out 7 years ago. I wrote this comment on my iPad by the way.

    • Lachlan says:


      Your “touchscreen” hypothesis doesn’t explain why they left out 80% of the features necessary for a professional workflow.

      @ Gene

      At S4 they have editing software that would blow your mind.

  14. bmaur says:

    every company tests the waters to see what works and what doesn’t. do you remember macos x 10.0?
    apple pulled the finder, and everyone was crying. somethings work while others don’t. you might not agree with my opinion, but the future is touch base. we will see it next year with a 21 in. iMac.

  15. John says:

    Too much emotion when talking about Apple products? Say it ain’t so! Having said that it’s very sad to see the demise of Apple in the professional world, at least for the next few years.

  16. Vince says:

    Why the outrage and anger? Here’s why! For the past ten years Apple has made a big push to get themselves insinuated into professional editing rooms. By professionals, I mean people who make their living as producers, editors, directors. It was a battle for many of us to convince company owners and production companies to abandon their trusty Avids (And Avids were always a very stable and trusty tool) in favor of the upstart we all loved so much. Many of those production companies over time invested serious money, thousands, often hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions to convert their facilities to Final Cut facilities. Hardware, software, plug-ins, training, all with Apple leading the charge. The problem with the new Final Cut isn’t that it isn’t innovative. Or exciting. Or just simply new. And the gripes aren’t about change or the inability to cope with innovation. We’re professional movie makers. We live or die by our ability to innovate. The outcry is because of this. First for the past three years we’ve been working with an aging platform as the digital world changed rapidly around us and Apple kept promising the next, new thing that would help us leap forward. We were craving for, not hiding from innovation. But what Apple delivered was new software that was not just lacking features we’d come to know and love. Or packed with features we’d have to adapt to, again, we are the adaptors. They delivered a tool that simply doesn’t work in a professional environment. As a professional, someone who is responsible for delivering to an ad agency or production company or in my case to major television networks, and is such a capacity has to meet stringent broadcast and delivery requirements like foreign versions of mixes or delivery on different tape formats its shocking to find the ability to do perform these absolutely necessary tasks. If we can’t deliver, we can’t work. And the people who work for us can’t work. Can’t feed their families. Can’t stay in their homes. It’s as if you were a start up car company and Toyota had convinced you to build your vehicles around a radical new engine, and then after you’ve invested time, massive amounts of money and a career around a car built entirely around that engine, announced on a whim that they’d stopped making it. And what you were left with was the factories and a bunch of auto carcasses. We’re mad because we’re faced with the choice of starting over from the ground up with Avid or trying to struggle along with a rapidly aging software platform while the rest of the world who was smart enough to not buy Apple’s line and stick with Avid all along blows by us. What Apple did may be forward thinking and innovative. But its also amazingly irresponsible to a working constituency that they knowingly cultivated. If you don’t make your living as a filmmaker I understand why this doesn’t matter to you. Just try and be open minded enough to understand why it matters so much to us.

    • @Vince, I understand your pain. But if FCPX isn’t your cup of tea, stick with what you have. If your workflow is efficient, and you’re making a living, why change? It also appears that Apple is relenting and will begin to again offer FCP7 licenses, and continue to improve the new version. Maybe they’ll make it work the way you require for your work flow. Maybe not, but at least you’ll have a perfectly useful tool that will, evidently, continue to be supported.


  17. Vince says:

    Gene, I appreciate your reply. And sure, the series we’re working on now we’re cutting on Final Cut 7. While other production companies are cutting on say 64 bit Premiere. But in an environment where everyone is fighting for the competitive edge but also looking for ways to push the language forward, I need the latest tools not just to compete and keep up but also to grow creatively. Which I’ll continue to do obviously, but now with a 3 year old platform that grows older by the second. Like a lot of people that are working right now, 5 days a week, week to week, I’ll have to jump to the best 64 bit program that lets me to continue to meet the network requirements we continually face. And maybe, after what looks like a few years down the road when Apple Final Cut X finally becomes a professional platform, (if it ever does) they might lure me back. But after reinvesting in all the things that change requires that’s going to be a hard sell not just for me but for everyone who is working professionally now. And you know just as an afterthought, I’ve worked with so many young editors who got their break because they’d bought and taught themselves to use Final Cut. But when a kid looks to what the pros are using and wants to buy that as a way to worm their way into a tough business, that audience too is going to start having second thoughts about investing in and learning a program that won’t be of much use on a resume. I hope as much as you do that Apple sees the light and soon so that change won’t need to be made. But their responses so far haven’t been very reassuring.

  18. Kearon says:

    @ Vince: I’m glad you guys are bringing a proper pro media producers issues to light. Reading all the ‘I’m not an editor but..’ comments at the top was getting me down.

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