The Final Cut Pro X Debacle: A Lesson Learned 15 Years Ago by a former “Fan Boy”
By Marc Franklin
The current sobbing that I hear from my FCP using friends since Apple's release of FCPX a couple weeks ago brings up similar memories of mine from about 16 years ago. When I started my production company in 1991, the “desk top video revolution” as it was called at the time, was being lead by Amiga / Commodore (Business Machines) and New Tek, who introduced the Video Toaster. My father, (may he rest in peace) was concerned about, using a non Windows system, but after comparing Windows, Mac and Commodore / Amiga, the latter offered far more bang for the buck, and jumped in with both feet.
Aside from the Video Toaster, the other main component of the system, was the Ami-Link A/B roll deck control hardware (V-LAN cars made by Videomedia) and software for running on the Amiga by RGB. This combo with the Video Toaster allowed you to make EDLs (edit decision lists), after which you could put your tapes in the players and recorder, hit execute. You could walk away and come back when the project was done (so long as you programed it correctly). The Amilink software automated the decks, the Video Toaster, calling up transitions, still stores, graphics, etc. I loved it. Dad was also some what comfortable knowing that RGB's $5000 Amilink, could also work in a PC / Windows box if Commodore ever disappeared.
Shortly after I started using the Toaster / Amilink combo, I became a beta-tester for the software, and then the company based in Ft. Lauterdale, Florida, started recommending me to other users as a trainer and installer if needed. Not just “mom and pop” shops, but the Veterans Administration Hospitals, and Los Angeles Unified School district. Things were good - for 4 years. I was doing as much training and installs as my own production work. I would occasionally even get calls from RGB asking me for tech support.
Then things started to crumble. Commodore was starting to go down the tubes. I began to re-think my Amiga fan boy attitude of,“You can pry my Amiga from my cold dead hands.” New Tek had released version 4.0 of the Video Toaster, but RGB hadn't released new Amilink software to work with it. Normally I would have had the beta version by then. After a number of phone calls to my contact there, I finally got a call back. The phone call went something like this:
RGB: I have some news for you on AmiLink, but you're not going to like it.
Marc: No slo-mo deck control?
RGB: More drastic than that. The board of directors had a meeting yesterday, and
decided to take the company in a different direction.
Marc: You are going to leave Amiga for Windows, Sun, and Mac? I can live with that
RGB: Uh, no. Gun locks.
Marc: Gun locks? What does that have to do with RGB Computer and Video? What
about all of the users?
RGB: The board met, and saw that the deck control market is going to drop off with
the coming of non-linear editing. They hired some consultants to look into
where the company would stand to bring in better profits. He determined it was
gun locks. All computer and video related products will be discontinued, and
“non gun” operations will cease as RGB at the end of the month.
Marc: But, my business and other peoples businesses are run with the software.
RGB: It will still work. Just don't upgrade past Toaster 3.5 and you'll be OK. There will
just be no more support from us.
Marc: Gun locks? Really.
RGB: Do you own a gun? If you want I can sent you a lock.
Marc: No, I don't.
RGB: For old times, I'll send you the only copy of unreleased last version, but that is it.
Software guys were let go this morning.
Marc: Thanks. Keep in touch. Although, I'm not sure why we need to now...
While FCPX's introduction and missing pro features may seem less drastic, than if Apple went into the gun lock business, it can have severe repercussions if your editing solution doesn't have a “plan B.”
It was at this time that I decided to jump into non-linear editing. This was before Firewire cards were introduced. After going through the horror of Commodore and RGB going out of business, I decided my next system had to have flexibility. Even though at the time Apple was “only a computer company” I found that Windows based systems offered more options and a lower price. The software and hardware were available from multiple different companies, and I know longer was at the whim of one company.
My first NLE was a Pentium Pro 200 MHz with 128 MB of RAM. The Miro (later bought by Pinnacle Systems) DC-30 capture card, came with Adobe Premiere. Both, if I decided, could be moved to a Mac, should the PC world collapse. Fortunately, even though we saw things like Windows ME and Vista, we lived through it. Windows lost a few people in those years, but as Microsoft's main business is software, they had to give their base what they wanted, better software.
Adobe also listened to users, when they ditched Premiere for the much overhauled Premiere Pro in 2003. In 2010 Adobe went further by going to 64-bit with Premiere Pro, After Effects and Photoshop, in CS5. Did it cause people who wanted to upgrade to the 64-bit performance to possibly need a new OS? Yes, but if you were still using CS4 and happy, there was still support. You could also import CS4's 32-bit projects into to 64-bit CS5 without issue. Adobe is a software company that takes care of its customers on Windows and Mac, as software is all they currently do and do well.
Apple, while it was founded as a computer company, has diversified over the last 10 years into a “gadget, entertainment, and computer company.” With its stock going up and up, the company has to make sure that it keeps going that way, by producing products that the consumer masses want, i-Phones, i-Pods, i-Pads, i-Macs, i-Tunes and Mac Books, and cutting down on things that the masses don't want such as professional editing applications, that don't make Apple money. It makes good business sense. If you follow business outside the “business” you shouldn't be surprised.
What can professionals read into the latest FCP-X release? I see a few things, outside the obvious. Apple said that it is impossible to make FCP 7 projects compatible with FCP-X. If that is so, why can Adobe Premiere Pro 5 and up, import and export FCP XML files? It may not be as exact as bringing in a project from previous version of Premiere, but all of the clips wind up where they belong. I've used this feature in Premiere Pro with great success. Having a competitor more compatible with your product line, than your own new product, is a serious issue. Apple obviously didn't want to spend the man hours on compatibility.
Next, without the support for third party I/O cards such as AJA, Black Magic Design and Matrox, I can only wonder how long Apple will continue to produce the Mac Pros. If Apple says you no longer need these cards, you must no longer need the big bulky Mac Pros to put them in. Could Mac Pros be on the chopping block? (Wrote this in July) If FCP-X doesn't get compatible with third party cards, I predict the Mac Pros will be phased out in favor of some higher end I-Macs Time will tell.
In talking to several of my Mac based friends, about a half dozen dumped FCP since May. For the most part, hey are staying on the Mac but, going to the Adobe Creative Suite. One who added a second system, is going for an HP z600 workstation instead of a Mac. So far, they all have been very happy.
What should you do? If you want the advantages 64-bit OS, and a similar feel to FCP, I would definitely choose Premiere Pro over Avid. Avid has a totally different feel to it. In the brief 18 months or so that I had a Mac Pro / FCP test system, I found FCP easy to pick up coming from Premiere Pro. It took a few hours. It can easily work in reverse. You can even set the keyboard shortcuts, to use the same keystrokes as FCP.
FCP and Apple Pro products had a nice cruise, for a dozen years. But even on the nicest cruise, if the captain steers the ship into an iceberg, you either suffer the discomfort of switching to a new boat, or stay in your stateroom while the boat slips into the depths of the ocean. If makes you feel better about switching, Apple bought FCP from Macromedia in 1998. Adobe bought Macromedia in 2005. I guess that Makes FCP and Premiere Pro distant cousins.