We return to our normal, non-Snow Leopard-specific coverage next week. You can continue to follow http://createdigitalmusic.com/snowleopard for updates. In the meantime, I offer this editorial. I’m going to make this as straightforward as possible: I recommend running the current Mac OS X 10.5 over other versions of the operating system, including 10.6 launched today. The experience of an operating system is the sum total of performance, compatibility, and reliability. The best way for Mac users to guarantee that is to stick with Mac OS X 10.5.

Snow Leopard looks like a promising upgrade for Mac users. Most importantly for music users, 10.6 is the first operating system with what looks like a mature foundation for 64-bit support in the future. Previous versions of the Mac operating system had begun this transition, but Snow Leopard is the first to have a proper 64-bit kernel mode. Also, some Mac developers are likely to be able to take advantage of new multithreading capabilities provided by OS APIs. (Others, particularly those targeting more than one OS, will continue to provide multithreading and multi-core support via their own mechanisms.)

However, there are very few scenarios that are likely to benefit from upgrading today. Nearly all software developers (Propellerhead, Avid, Ableton, Plogue, and Native Instruments) advise waiting as support stabilizes. A number of hardware issues (Digidesign, M-Audio, Tascam, PreSonus) are known to exist, and many more likely simply haven’t responded this week to our call for information. Other hardware and software issues are likely to be uncovered now that the final OS build is available for widespread testing by end users.

Also, while Apple’s own software (Finder, Mail, and other apps) appear to get performance improvements, and startup/shutdown is better, the advantages of new OS services aren’t likely to be realized immediately. In fact, even measuring what the difference will be may take additional time.

Compatibility issues should be resolved fairly quickly – which is even more reason to wait. PACE Anti-Piracy, for instance, works now, as does software and hardware for MOTU. Other updates should be available in a few weeks with enhanced compatibility, making that a better time to upgrade.

If you’re looking to reclaim hard drive space with a smaller OS, I recommend Monolingual. By removing PowerPC-native code from Intel systems that don’t need it (or visa versa), it offers the same significant disk space improvement available in Snow Leopard. (Clarification: It should achieve similar net results, though Snow Leopard nips and tucks in a different way – cutting PowerPC but adding 64-bit, while reducing elsewhere – see David Pogue in The New York Times. But that’s academic – if you need extra gigs, you can get it both ways, and I expect we’ll eventually see Monolingual on Snow Leopard, too.) It also removes extra languages you don’t need to save space – something even Snow Leopard doesn’t do. I was able to nearly halve the size of my OS install using the tool, the same gain claimed by Snow Leopard. And it’s free.

http://monolingual.sourceforge.net/

This advice doesn’t mean that Snow Leopard is a “bad” operating system – just that the OS is currently ahead of the other pieces you need to make it useful for music. Developers are largely talking about new updates in “weeks,” not months.

Another way to look at it: Snow Leopard might run just fine for you today. But it’s almost certain that it will run better – and fully supported – in a few weeks. Stay tuned.

That said, just as 10.6 is coming out, 10.5 is maturing. Ableton notes that the latest version of 10.5 is recommended for maximum graphics performance. Native Instruments now considers 10.5 its officially supported operating system. As you’ll recall, early builds of 10.5 offered a very rough road for audio, as it contained more significant under-the-hood changes than 10.6 does today. Audio and music applications simply acheive their best results on fully-mature operating systems, and they tend to require more extensive testing and tweaks by both the operating system vendor and third parties.

If you do like being on the bleeding edge, more power to you. If you encounter issues, let us know about them, and that may help get them resolved more quickly.

So… relax. And enjoy your weekend.

While you wait for full compatibility, remember you can watch updates at:

http://createdigitalmusic.com/snowleopard

  • http://www.twitter.com/jnnx J

    There are a bunch of new Quartz Composer features added, unadvertised by apple and unnoticed by the above reviews (or at least in the excerpts).

    And what if you have already used Monolingual? Do you still get the same savings in space?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @J: We'll be covering Quartz Composer on Create Digital Motion; I am excited about them, but they're not as relevant here. These aren't simply unnoticed – we were, until today, forbidden from talking about them, Apple PR doesn't comment on developer issues, and Apple demonstrated today to The Register that it considers any discussion of the contents its OS before a release date a violation of its trade secrets. You probably don't want to get me started on how I feel about that policy. It *is* unusual in the industry – Microsoft, not exactly a company people consider progressive, has relatively open discussion of its OS and developer tools, even before release.

    If you've run Monolingual on 10.5 or earlier, running it again won't result in significant safe savings — but neither will upgrade to 10.6, as it's clearing out PowerPC code that makes the big difference, at least that's my understanding.

  • aaron m

    For everyone that complained about WinXX 64.., welcome to the driver/compatiblity issue infected world that is 64 bit operating systems!

  • gwenhwyfaer

    Hmm. Not that I in any way begrudge Mac coverage, given how common and favoured the platform is in the artistic community – but don't we have more or less exactly this run of stories every time a new 10.x(.0) release of OS X comes out? Can we just take it as an accepted principle that if you switch to a 10.x before 10.x.1 comes out, everything will go horribly wrong and you will have nobody to blame but yourself? ;)

    But I guess if we ever get to 11.0, I should expect mass self-immolations in Apple stores across the planet…

  • kipplekeeper

    @aaron m, actually the 64-bit aspect doesn't have that much to do with it. it's more the system APIs, etc. snow leopard does a great job of managing both 32 bit and 64 bit applications at the same time. unlike windoze.

    it's up to the developers if they want to get their apps or drivers running in 64-bit mode. until they do, snow leopard's 64 bit compatibility doesn't really have much to do with it.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @gwenhwyfaer: No, I hear you. Of course, that makes it all more the mystifying to me that we seem to HAVE to repeat it – like some people don't get the memo. Maybe I should create a template? Or perhaps write a Python script that does this for me? ;)

    @aaron: True, although now having had several years to get its act together, the 64-bit Windows picture is looking a lot better. Now that hosts are adding cross-compatibility with 32-bit plug-ins on Windows, I'm actually considering going 64-bit with Windows 7.

    @kipplekeeper: Actually, I think that's an unfair criticism of Windows, unless I'm misunderstanding you. The Mac still has to switch kernel modes, just like Windows, for 64-bit support. What the Mac *does* do exceptionally well is to allow 32-bit applications to have their own memory space, rather than cramming everyone (and the system allocation) into a 32-bit space as 32-bit Windows does. Ironically, that may slow down the transition to 64-bit on Mac OS, because the need is nowhere near as great.

    But Windows and Mac OS, while they do have various differences, both require 64-bit drivers and rewrites of applications and plug-ins for 64-bit support. What I'm interested to see is if and when 64-bit hosts can support 32-bit plug-ins on the Mac — see SONAR on Windows.

    But yes, maybe misunderstanding you – there are indeed some differences in how the 32-bit/64-bit divide is handled.

  • aaron m

    kipple: 64bit has everything to do with it. driver and application support is still poor. developers are unabashedly slow at playing catchup, that _was_ the point of my post. driver support is what everyone whines about the most and osx just pulled up a chair to that obnoxious party. windows 64 (almost surprisingly) has the head start in this game. for the rest of the points, see peter's post.

    fortunately, now that both major os's for studios and home use are further commiting to 64 bit.. it'll hopefully speed things up on the vendor side as demand increases.

  • http://www.patternmusic.com RichardL

    Fact is Snow Leopard runs a 32-bit kernel and drivers on most Macs. (The only Macs that run a 64-bit Snow Leopard kernel by default are the recent XServes.) Many Macs (minis and Macbooks and perhaps iMacs) are apparently not going to get the option to run the 64-bit kernel with Snow Leopard even if they have a 64-bit capable Core 2 Duo CPU. So 64-bit drivers are pretty much a non-issue for non-server Macs.

    It will be interesting to see if there are any issues that drive the adoption of the 64-bit kernel and drivers on future non-server Macs.

  • http://www.patternmusic.com RichardL

    The other fact is that a 32-bit kernel and drivers with 64-bit full Cocoa application support has been in Leopard for several years now. And support for 64-bit processes with a 32-bit UI was in Tiger before that.

    So the bottom line is that there's really no change in 64-bit bit support for Mac applications with Snow Leopard.

    There are some powerful new OS extensions in Snow Leopard such as OpenCL and GCD that may facilitate powerful new music and audio applications.

    The other fact is that almost all the pro apps on the Mac including those from Adobe and Apple's own Logic Studio and Final Cut Studio are 32-bit.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Richard, that's true, but that only goes to demonstrate that the practical reality must be more complex. I think there are additional ongoing APIs and frameworks that have slowly made the move to 64-bit. So, while technically "Cocoa" was ready, that doesn't necessarily mean a specific API call on which a whole chunk of your app depends has an equivalent in 64-bit Cocoa that works. You see the issue. I believe some of this has evolved in Snow Leopard and will continue to evolve. But I don't know for sure, because a) these have been under NDA until *today* (again, unique to Apple's way of doing things), but also b) it's tough to get people to talk about them, c) they're complex and particular to what you're doing and hard to explain period and d) I'm not a Mac developer. ;)

    That said – it sounds to me as though technical particulars and not just lack of demand have held up 64-bit support for audio.

    GCD isn't likely to facilitate anything new, but it could be a convenient API for multithreading and multicore *if* you're developing Mac-only.

    OpenCL, ironically, will work best if it works not only on the Mac but everywhere. And I haven't seen a single workable *real-time* audio application yet, though there are other interesting application.

    But yes, right now we're still in a 32-bit world on the Mac. I think it's more that Apple is gradually building a firmer foundation for future development work, and that's a good thing. It just may appeal more to developers than end users. But watch for some good news on the visual side – we have that coming to Create Digital Motion this weekend, including Quartz Composer, which effectively allows anyone to be a developer of these technologies if they like!

  • http://www.sonicdeviant.com Shane

    64-bit addressing on the Mac–especially with regard to audio–has more to do with the future rather than the present. I think we can agree on that. That 'feature' is the least compelling for me to upgrade…just waiting to see what happens with the 3rd party hardware and software I use with Logic. And maybe a few other 'must haves' that I rely on, like Growl support, etc.

  • kobe

    my apogee ensemble still works! very glad they'll still be putting out new drivers for it next week though. maybe it'll actually be stable and useable.

    installed Snow Leopard off a usb stick… as painless as it gets.

    my machine had about 8 gb free space before the install & right now it has 20 gb free. sure seems like a lot.. but i'm sure not going to complain. :)

  • kobe

    oh, no wonder the jump seems so high…. apple has also changed the way it looks at what the definition of a Gigabyte is.

    http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/09/08/29/13212

    seems a little disingenuous there.

    so now my flash drive says it has 7.99 gb capacity instead of the 7.93 or whatever, and my 320 gb hard drive says it has 319.73 gb capacity instead of 3.12 or whatever it said it had before.

    so i didn't truly gain 12 gb by installing snow leopard.

  • http://chromedecay.org Joshua Schnable

    To be honest, I only *just* upgraded to 10.5 at the start of the summer. And, only *just* upgraded to Ableton Live 7 from 6 just prior to the release of 8 this year. On top of that, Steinberg/Yamaha only *just* released Leopard drivers for my aging (but awesome) MI4 interface.

    I'm actually quite happy that what I have is all working right now, and would hate to upgrade any of these things to sacrifice stability and productivity.

  • http://chromedecay.org Joshua Schnable

    Meant to add this – if saving drive space is fueling a desire to upgrade quickly, I would consider upgrading the hard drive first. I put at 240GB drive in my Macbook for less than $100, tripling the space over what I had in the original drive (if I remember correctly).

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I should correct/clarify the earlier statement. Apple says that the reduction of PowerPC code is only a part of the savings, because they're adding in 64-bit code. (Now, that to me seems a little misleading — not everything has a 64-bit fat binary, I don't think, whereas losing roughly half the size by eliminating PowerPC IS a big chunk to slice out there, whatever they may have added in.

    But there are different sources of the trim-down on 10.6, including reduction of printer drivers and savings throughout the system.

    Now, you do *still* get something similar in actual disk space with 10.5 + Monolingual. So what could be interesting is to get Monolingual running on 10.6. For instance, I have a 32-bit MacBook on which those 64-bit binaries are useless. I should be able to make Snow Leopard even more compact.

  • http://jordanbalagot.com Jordan314

    Upgraded today and am pretty happy with it. Logic 9, Vienna instruments, and East West Play all work fine. I like the 10 gigs it frees. I may be getting more audio dropouts, but I think bouncing is going faster. Menumeters and growl aren't working but will be recompiled soon.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Wait, backup with the review, there, Jordan — you're getting more audio dropouts? Which audio interface?

  • kobe

    my Virus isn't Snow Leopard compatible. whoops.

  • kobe

    scratch that. the virus is working just fine for me. :)

    funny, since the newest update from access last week says it's not 10.6 compatible.

  • RayFlower

    Just tried monolingual on leopard, saved me 5gb by removing arm and everything ppc related, however this app slims EVERYTHING, rendering some apps useless(temperature monitor) so i wouldn't recommend using this unless you have a backup(i did) ready incase you manage to break your system.

    One thing I noticed after booting into my main drive again is how much slower leopard, i didn't think of it as slow up until now.

    However migrating to snow leopard on my mail will have to wait until every software works on it.

  • Martin

    hey there, i made the transition to snowleo and so far the apps i need do work fine, that is Live 8, motu drivers and CS 3. Can´t say much about plug ins since i don´t use any, the one in live seems to work though. Same for the Monome stuff and max msp apps.

    Aside that i can´t feel a big difference compared to leopard, maybe the finder´s a bit snappier and apple´s own apps seem to start a little bit faster.

    cheers, Martin

  • kobe

    it definitely starts up & shuts down quicker.

  • LutherB

    beware using monolingual if you have and use guitar rig 3 – it makes it think it is an unauthorised copy.

  • LutherB

    re: my post above – see this link:

  • LutherB
  • bernie

    i've loaded 10.6 on to my mac and have discovered that my access virus TI isn't supported…

    i wish i'd read this article first.. – i don't think access are that fast at updates – but hope to be proved wrong!

  • bernie

    <blockquote cite="i’ve loaded 10.6 on to my mac and have discovered that my access virus TI isn’t supported…

    i wish i’d read this article first.. – i don’t think access are that fast at updates – but hope to be proved wrong!">

    if anyone is experiencing the same problem – a workaround that seems to work:

    - Upgrade to the Access Virus OS 3.1 (though the Access site says this is not not OS X 10.6 compatible)

    - Re-start

    THEREAFTER

    - Make sure your virus is on when you power up your mac so it is recognized

    - Start up Logic or whatever DAW you are using & let it scan the virus (can take a while in Logic)

    The virus should now be usable as a plug-in in your DAW

    BERNIE