Why Music Producers and Engineers Shouldn’t Upgrade to Mac OS 10.15 “Catalina” Immediately

Why Music Producers and Engineers Shouldn't Upgrade to Mac OS 10.15 "Catalina" Immediately

Those of us who are working full time as music producers or audio engineers typically don't upgrade our operating system the minute a new release or update comes out. Many of us have learned the hard way over time. No matter how much "Apple" beta tests there will always be some compatibility issues with software or hardware when a new Operating System (OS) release or update comes out. (This also applies to the latest update of a plugin or application as well). All it takes is one minor thing that some developer didn't take into account (or wasn't aware of) and we could be dead in the water; causing us to miss deadlines, having to recreate parts, or worse yet, entire sessions!

With "Digital Audio Workstations" ("DAW") upgrades we are cautious, knowing that, most likely, there will be hardware and/or software (plugin) incompatibilities with a new release.

Some engineers and producers NEVER upgrade their OS preferring to keep it "frozen" where it is because everything works. That isn't a bad practice, however, I use some software that requires a relatively current OS version to continue working. ("Logic Pro X" and "Final Cut Pro" for example) I take the middle ground when it comes to upgrading an OS. I usually wait for a minimum of 6 months before upgrading and in the case of ("High Sierra"), I waited a full year (My iMac and MacBook Pro are too old to upgrade beyond that).

Before upgrading I check to ensure that all my programs and plugins, as well as hardware, will work before I perform the update (there is a workflow that I have developed before upgrading the OS but I'll save that for a future post) The new OS coming out from Apple "Mac OS 10.15" ("Catalina") is different. It may create huge issues if installed (at least in the near future and beyond).

"Mojave" is the last Mac OS release that will support 32-bit applications!

Application Not Optimized Message

[Application Not Optimized Message]

Remember seeing the warnings, "This application isn't optimized for your Mac and needs to be updated". when launching some programs? This means that all or parts of the application are 32-bit. The Mac OS has been 64-bit for some time. But "Mac OS 10.13"," High Sierra" release was the first time that Apple starting warning you that some applications (or parts of them) were 32-bit (though the message doesn't indicate that this is the reason).

Since January of 2018, all apps submitted to the "Apple App Store" had to be fully 64 bit. Some developers have chosen not to distribute through the "App Store" so really didn't have to meet this deadline. Most of our DAW software and Plugins are acquired through third-party sites or directly from the manufacturer so they didn't have to meet this deadline. They weren't forced to comply and we had no easy way of knowing which applications were compliant until the "High Sierra" warning messages appeared.

Any App That Is 32-Bit Will NOT Run In "Catalina"

In "Catalina," Any app that is 32-bit will NOT run. (I haven't confirmed this, but it is questionable if an app that contains a 32-bit component will run. We know it is likely that if it does run it won't be without issues.

While we can be fairly certain that developers will make their applications compatible in time, many will not be ready on the day of the release of "Mac OS 10.15 ". In fact, you have probably received email notifications from most major vendors (I have from at least 20 vendors) advising you NOT to upgrade at this point in time.

The biggest long-term problem will be with older programs and plugins that you may be using ("Office Mac 2011", "Pro Tools 10", "Ozone 5" or "Alloy 2", for example) These, of course, will not be updated as they have either been replaced by newer revisions or discontinued. I didn't think this would be much of an issue until I found the program "GO64" and discovered how many of my applications will no longer run post "Catalina".

What Is "GO64"?

"GO64" is a free application from St Claire Software (download here) that will scan your computer to find 32-bit apps as well as drill deeper and find apps that are 64-bit compliant on the surface but still use some 32-bit components underneath.

When you first load "GO64"you will see a welcome message

Welcome To Go64

[Welcome To Go64]

Click OK and it will start scanning your boot drive. When it is complete you will see a screen listing all the applications scanned. If the app is full-on 64-bit you will see (YES) if it is not 64-bit (NO) or the app contains parts or components that are not 64-bit (YELLOW WARNING SIGN).

Scanned Application List

[Scanned Application List]

By clicking on the Yellow Warning Sign "Go64" will display information about the incompatibility at the bottom of the app.

Incompatibility Information Summary

[Incompatibility Information Summary]

Clicking on the "More Info" button will open up an additional window detailing specifics on which parts of the components are not 64-bit compatible.

Incompatibility Information Detail

[Incompatibility Information Detail]

In the example above, the information tells us that in "Ableton Live 10" it is the "Quick Time Export" component that is not 64-bit.

Other Useful Functions of "Go64":

  1. You can filter the display of apps at the top to 32-bit-only, 64-bit-only or ALL.
  2. You can filter by Applications or All Executables.
  3. You can scan other drives besides your main hard drive. This is really useful if you have external drives that you store large applications on; instruments with large libraries for example.
  4. The Set button may be a useful feature to some. Clicking SET opens up a dialogue box where you can enter the cost of an upgrade for that application. If you do this for all of the applications that will require a paid upgrade you can estimate your total cost before installing "Catalina"

A Longer Wait Than Usual Before Upgrading May Be Ahead Thanks To New Security Measures

Separate from the blocking of 32-bit apps from running is a new security implementation in Mac OS 10.15 "Catalina". Without getting too much into the technical detail here are the basics. Each of the last few OS releases has increasingly tightened security. As hackers find new ways to infiltrate computers Apple has been implementing new security measures. With each change in security, developers have to make changes to their code.

There are two important changes in "Catalina", the first being what is known as "notarization"- a change to any executable code like applications, plugins, and drivers. Apple issues a notarization certificate for developers to attach to their code. When the OS scans this executable and sees the certificate it allows the application, plugin or driver to run. The second issue is what is known as "hardened runtime" - a set of security requirements controlling how software on "Catalina" is granted access to your computer. A developer sets flags to tell the Mac OS what services it needs access to. But if an application steps out of line the OS will overrule the request.

So ANY application, driver or plugin installed on "Catalina" MUST have this certificate from Apple or it WILL NOT RUN! (NOTE: Currently it appears you can still right-click or Control-Click and bypass the security block on installers). Most developers will not update older versions of their programs. They will update the current release. Programs from vendors that are out of business are toast. This is one of the reasons why you should know which programs will and which will not run on "Catalina" before proceeding with the upgrade.

DAWs Are Especially Problematic

When you consider the myriad of things a DAW is doing in the foreground (and many more in the background like accessing files, folders, plugins, libraries, etc.) it is easy to see how this can create a headache for the developer. Each of these functions requires authorization or permission from the OS. There are LOADS of things the developer must anticipate and handle in the DAW ecosystem. One misstep could mean incredible frustration for the end-user not to mention a program instability, increased crashes etc.

The Plugins themselves will need to ensure these checks are in place and devices like "iLOKS" will also have to be coded to not only work with the DAW but the OS itself. Even if a DAW is fully 64-bit it will most likely have to be updated to work flawlessly with "Catalina".

Another critical issue is that the DAW must be coded so that it includes all the permissions/entitlements for EVERY "ILOK" protected plugin! That is going to take quite a bit of time and there will always be those few that are missed in the first few rounds.

Drivers Could Face Bigger Problems (And This Means Hardware May Stop Working)!

Drivers in "Catalina" will have no "by-pass" option. If the driver isn't verified by "Apple" it will not work. If you have older hardware (scanners, printers, interfaces, synths, etc.) that require a driver to run they may no longer work. If you are faced with issues like these you now have a bigger and more expensive problem on your hands!

With practically every software and hardware vendor recommending that you do not install "Mac OS 10.15" at this time, upgrading to "Catalina" isn't a good idea, in fact, it shouldn't even be considered. Until you are absolutely sure that your applications, hardware, and plugins are fully compatible with this release it is best to wait. Patience may save you many wasted hours troubleshooting problems, patching software and dealing with malfunctioning plugins and those hours are better spent on making music.

Author, Scott Sturgis

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