What about Final Cut Studio and Snow Leopard?

In the comments on my article on “Why no ExpressCard 24 slot in the new MacBook Pro” Andreas asked about Final Cut Studio and Snow Leopard and I briefly responded there. Larry Jordan responded on his blog (Andreas asking him the same question) but not in any detail. Neither Larry nor I are programmers, but  I direct programmers every day – both OS X software and Web applications – so I do know a little. Plus I’ve tracked the technology development for FCP from version 1 onward – every change from OS 9 to OS X CFM, to OS X Mach-O to a hybrid application.

So, let’s see if I can manage a little clarity even if it’s only based on observation and deduction. As I said in the brief response, I have no clue what development Apple are doing and whether or not this is at all accurate. No doubt there will be engineers at Apple laughing at my naivety!

Carbon was the technology that Apple developed to let OS 9 applications run on OS X. It’s a set of programming interfaces (APIs) that individual applications call. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Carbon, except that it can’t take advantage of any of the modern features of OS X – particularly those coming in Snow Leopard, nor can it run in 64 bit.

Cocoa is a different set of APIs, heavily drawn from NeXTSTEP – the NeXT operating system (Apple acquired NeXT in 1996). It is the preferred method for programming for OS X. In fact Apple have been pretty clear to its developers that, long term, Carbon will give way to Cocoa. They are encouraging all developers to get their code to “pure cocoa”.

When it looked like Apple were going to continue Carbon development with 64 bit APIs, as announced at the WWDC in 2006, there was really little incentive for Apple to spend the very many millions of dollars it will cost to rewrite FCP’s Carbon parts as Cocoa – to just get to where it is now. 64 bit Carbon was also Adobe’s preferred path for its older applications (Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects). With 64 bit Carbon coming, Adobe could get 64 bit support without a major rewrite.

But when, at WWDC in 2007, Apple changed the rules and said, “No 64 bit Carbon”, any high-performance application had to think seriously about rewriting to Cocoa, at least long term.

We know, from public announcements, that Adobe had to delay 64 bit support for the named applications until CS 5 on OS X because of the time it takes to move applications to Cocoa and therefore 64 bit support.

All new features in FCP, since FCP 5 onward, have been written in Cocoa – HDV Log and Capture, Log and Transfer, Multicam, FXplug (that I know of) are all Cocoa. OS X lets programmers mix and match programming languages with ease. My guess is that Apple, like Adobe, would have continued with a hybrid approach with Final Cut Pro if the 64 bit Carbon APIs were going to be available. When they were not, the Pro Apps team, like Adobe, would have to have started porting their application to Cocoa. CS4 showed none of that progress, being released less than 2 years after the ’07 WWDC announcement.

Most of the FC Studio applications are new enough to have been written in Cocoa – the second revision of DVD Studio Pro (Spruce, not the Astarte-based DVD SP 1); Motion, LiveType, Soundtrack Pro and Compressor are all pure Cocoa applications and can (relatively) easily take advantage of 64 bit and/or Snow Leopard features like Grand Central Dispatch. I say “relatively” because there is still work to be done, that generally can’t start until Snow Leopard’s features are locked (i.e. WWDC 2009).

No responsible programmer is going to attempt to write for a new OS until the OS is locked and finished. So, theoretically, the engineers working on those applications could start NOW to work on Snow Leopard features, ready for a release in a year or two.

I can’t imagine that even the Cocoa-based Studio products will be taking advantage of any Snow Leopard features this time round – the timing is just all wrong. And they’re already Cocoa.

FCP, starting life at Macromedia as a cross-platform OS 9/Windows application, has most of the core written in Carbon. My (educated) guess is that it will take 2-3 years to rewrite all that code to Cocoa. I doubt they started that before WWDC 2007, as until then there was little incentive to invest many millions of dollars in a Cocoa rewrite. (Remember this is before the announcement of Snow Leopard, Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL too.) Those features do provide an additional incentive to get FCP to “pure cocoa” (I estimate $10-15 million will be required to write, test, test, and I hope test what will effectively be v1 code again).

Apple will no doubt do that because the Final Cut Studio is highly profitable for the company from software sales only. (You don’t need to get too much from 1.25 million customers to make a viable business, even without taking into account any hardware sales, which don’t benefit the Pro Apps team at all.)

However, wanting to do it and having the time to do it are different things. They didn’t start (most probably) until after WWDC 2007 when they, and the Adobe teams, learnt that 64 Carbon wasn’t going to happen. Allow two to three  years to finish that job, before they can start to think about Snow-Leopard feature optimizations.

Pretty much every release of FCP requires the latest OS (the exceptions being FCP 3 which was for OS X and OS 9 both, and FCS 2 which is Leopard OSX 10.5 or Tiger OS X 10.4.11) and the latest QuickTime. So, I think that Studio 3 will, on the balance of probability, require Snow Leopard. Snow Leopard has no problem running 32 bit Cocoa applications at the same speed they always ran. As Snow Leopard has no PPC version, it could mean that FCS 3 may be not supported on PPC, we’ll have to wait for Apple to let us know. (FWIW, Adobe’s Production Premium CS4 is Intel only; Avid’s 3.x releases are Intel only, by way of reference.)

However, absolutely do not even think about running FCS 2 on anything newer than Leopard. In fact NEVER run FCP on any version of the OS or QT other than the ones that were directly supported. To do so is going to cause you problems, pain and regret. Old versions are never tested on the new OS and QT so there’s no reasonable expectation that they will run on a newer OS.

So, whether or not FCP 6 will run on Snow Leopard or not is irrelevant. Only an idiot would attempt it, and none of my readers are that stupid, right? Bank on an FCS upgrade to run the studio on Snow Leopard because it’s the only way to guarantee you’ll still be in business with an operating NLE after the upgrade.

Based on all that, the timing of Snow Leopard etc., it’s not really reasonable to expect that there will be Snow Leopard features in the next release, but we won’t know until Apple releases them. Until then, I guess we can all dream! 🙂

18 thoughts on “What about Final Cut Studio and Snow Leopard?”

  1. Thanks for the article. The timing is certainly interesting for FCP given its age and what’s going on with the OS pushing towards 100% Cocoa/Intel/64-bit, and the maturing of Core APIs.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see an interim upgrade (ala 1.25 or 4.5) at NAB 2010.

  2. Hi Philip,
    Thanks for the great info.
    Hopefully, more Snow Leopard tech will be in upcoming FCS3 than predicted…
    Faster performance [64 bit], reliable, new features & interface polish [cocoa].

    1. Like everyone else I don’t know what Apple are doing for the next release of Final Cut Pro. They are always seeking to improve performance and have done so every release. However, on the balance of probability/timelines, it’s unlikely any of the Grand Central or OpenCL features from Snow Leopard will make it to the next release, unless they hold that release off for some significant amount of time. (Like 2010 or 2011.)


  3. Go back through what I wrote in the main article. They probably realized they had to do the work when they learnt at WWDC 2007 that there would be no Carbon 64 bit.

    Add 2-3 years to do the work, then 4-6 months to lock off features and build and test a release. Mid 2007 plus 3 years is mid 2010. All based on my guesswork and experience working with software development.

    I used to think “they” should be a whole lot faster than I later discovered is realistic.

    Look. I could be completely wrong. Apple may have done all the work ahead of time, and we’re just waiting for Snow Leopard for them to dazzle us. I’d like to believe, but I think, on the balance of probability, if they have a release this year, it’s unlikely to be Cocoa pure and able to take advantage of Snow Leopard features.

    Anyone who knows can’t say, anyone who’s saying doesn’t know.


  4. I should add something here… last month I did a bunch of training on a brand new tower 2.93 octo with 16 gigs of RAM.

    This beast was so fast rendering using FCP 6.0.5, It felt twice as fast as my 8 core 3 gig machine aka 2007 (1st gen octo) runs… it’s so fast, just buying the machine will make you feel like you’re running a different app.


  5. So what do you think about the new version?
    Because you manage programmers you know about programming? or because you have learned a little or something from them?

    1. I like the new codecs – that should please those working in high end workflows. iChat theater has it’s uses, but the really big one is that sequence markers now move when clips are deleted or inserted! Yay


  6. And by the way I’m not stupid and I’m running FCP 5 with the latest version of Leopard. Doing occassional stuff of course but I’m not willing to pay for a new version if I don’t do video editing as my main activity…

  7. I switched to mac 18 months ago, I’d never used one before nor edited video – I’ve spent most of my time since then learning FCP and making tea while HD video renders.

    This week I set up a striped Raid0 using 2Nr 1TB drives across the first 2 HD slots of my quad core mac pro (6GB RAM) – with a further 2Nr 1.5TB drives on the other 2 slots for backup and content.

    It took a day or two to load all the apps and updates – I did it more for headroom on disc space than performance, and yes I know to clear down the old render files to trash. The performance improvement is negligible to me so far.

    I shall be taking a similar approach with Snow Lepoard – setting up a dedicated HD to see whether Grand Central Despatch can yield access to the 64 bit mac Pro architecture and RAM for FCP Studio 2: it’s so frustrating that this 64 bit machine processes my work at 32bit and the top guy at the local mac retailer quietly said Snow Leopard will speed up rendering…..

    erm…… Tally-ho…

    1. Snow Leopard won’t, by itself, speed up anything. It has new APIs that are easier to use, but software has to be rewritten to call those new API. So, don’t expect any speed up for FCP in Snow Leopard – rending or anything else. It won’t run any slower though.


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