Minor releases and bugfixes don’t generally make CDM news, but this is a special occasion. Ableton founder and CEO Gerhard Behles got everyone’s attention this week by making the rare public announcement that Ableton’s development team was temporarily halting work on new features to focus on fixing bugs. That has prompted some seriously impassioned discussion, on the Ableton forum but also here on CDM. Look past some of the hyperbola and name-calling, and you’ll see some insightful comments on both sides. In fact, the whole affair reveals a lot about how music software customers view bugs, updates, support, release cycles, and pricing – developers, take note. Naturally, some of the disagreement comes from whether or not users are experiencing bugs: those that aren’t, as always, are happier. But there’s some common ground, too.

Also sobering: read further into comments, and you’ll see who can really lose out in credibility when stuff doesn’t work the way people expect, even more than a developer – music tech journalists (so, um, yes, folks like me). Not to apologize for myself or my colleagues, but one challenge has long been that it’s difficult for one user to find reliability issues. As the comment thread itself demonstrates, some people are blissfully happy whilst others are in absolute agony; look through the specifics of the changelog, and you’ll see why. One person, based on their behavior in the software, could see dramatic, regular crashes, while another sees nothing at all. Now, CDM has an advantage there – we can operate 24/7/365, we don’t have a weeks-long delay waiting for print, and we have a complete feedback loop with you. If you’re finding issues, I want to hear about them.

New release: Late yesterday, the 8.1.1 release moved from beta to final release, meaning you can go grab it now from the latest releases download section. Synthtopia has posted the full changelog.

Some highlights:

  • Fixes various problems with the integration of Novation’s Launchpad
  • Fixes a number of somewhat specific but showstopper crashes, like “Loading a Max device would crash if Pluggo was already active. I count fifteen instances of the word “crash,” which is a serious issue.
  • Begins to address some reliability/performance issues with Drum Racks; specifically, “Having a Live set with particular Drum Racks could increase the CPU usage of the main thread, which would result in very slow graphical updates.” Because of our fondness for Drum Racks, both Dave Dri and I have run into performance problems that would lead us not to use this feature onstage.

I think it’s difficult to make a sweeping statement about something as relative as the reliability of the software. What you can say is that Ableton themselves have acknowledged this set of releases isn’t up to their own expectations, they’re committed to working on improving the situation in exclusion of other factors, and bug fixes are now coming in a steady stream.

In fact, “beatsme” in comments counts up the fixes since the Live 8 release on April 2 of this year, marking 42 improvements (0.16/day) and some 261 bug fixes (nearly one per day). You can read into that whatever you like, but the bottom line is, those issues are now fixed.

8.1.1 is apparently not the release to which Gerhard was referring when he talked about halting forward development; we expect fixes to continue to appear over the coming weeks.

Of course, all of Ableton’s DAW competitors release similar point updates, so any question about the relative reliability of Live should also be asked of other software, as well.

I do have one concern, too: with so many fixes relating to the integration of Ableton’s Launchpad and APC40, why not focus controller features on tools that will work with any hardware? And why not allow users to customize scripts? Many in the Ableton forum are capable of devising their own solutions and providing their own support for those solutions. I don’t think that’s unreasonable to ask, because many applications have focused hardware controller support on generic solutions in this way. I don’t believe there’s a “right answer” to that question – Ableton has made a decision they think makes sense, and that allows them to devote resources to supporting certain hardware units above and beyond what they previously had basic MIDI controllers. But I would still like to see controller support in Live in general mature beyond where it is today.

About those new features… Many readers have asked whether the emphasis on bug fixes will have any bearing on announcements at the NAMM conference in January. I haven’t heard any indication of that; Ableton is planning a party with Serato, and I still expect we’ll see an Ableton-Serato announcement on Thursday, January 14. I’ll be meeting with Ableton at the show to talk about that and any other news.

Other releases: We’ll keep an eye out for other releases, and will check in with Ableton for a big picture of the situation in a couple of months after some of the development dust settles.

Your mileage may vary: Please, if you’re testing new Live versions, let us know your experience. Be specific. And be sure to follow up with whether a thread tracking this bug is open on the Ableton forums.

  • http://www.myspace.com/k1ru six.fingered.chyld

    ……growing pains….

    still think they should make m4l compatible with older versions of live. yeah, i want my stable version to become unstable that bad.

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

    @six.fingered.chyld: I don't think it's that simple. They built hooks into Live 8.1 that allow Max for Live to work, and part of what they're doing is working out some of the issues with the integration of Max for Live. (Check out the number of M4L-related bug fixes.) So back-porting would make more work, but I don't know that it'd make anything work any better.

  • http://www.myspace.com/k1ru six.fingered.chyld

    @ peter kirn

    thank you for the reply!!

    i think they should have just kept the pluggo and pluggo runtime projects alive…maybe that could've been a solution for porting m4l plugins onto older versions or live?

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

    Well, Pluggo can safely be pronounced dead at this point. I think that's the window for people to have a community effort, maybe one that isn't necessarily even exclusively tied to Live. That is, we should start to see things built with Pd, and really see them as an alternative – not a competitor – to Max for Live, whatever form that might take.

  • salamanderanagram

    wow, and to think i've been craving live 8 all year. this whole dust up makes me glad i'm still on 7. i was waiting for pricing on max for live before upgrading, glad i did, because $300 is more than i want to spend, especially after a $200 upgrade. too bad really.

    then the beta wouldn't even authorize and nobody from ableton answered my question on the forum and the beta period ended. after that experience, there's no way i'm investing in max for live for a good long time.

  • http://cooptrol.com cooptrol

    NRPN managment please!!!!!

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

    @cooptrol: NRPNs, really? I'd be pleased just to be able to finally enter CC's manually!

  • http://www.plughugger.com Carl Lofgren

    As Peter already mentioned a couple of times, I think this move is damn bold and damn right too. The world of software is not what it was during the Atari or even ten years ago. Software development is hell – I was hired to take the load off the support@verywellknowncompany.se and it was amazing/tragic what kind of issues users run into.

    I can only speak for my own experiences. But I feel close contact with the users are becoming more and more important. Look at Steinberg and Cubase for example. Cubase.net is – IMO – one of the most negative blast-holes on the web. When Steinberg announces public betas – the fanboys and the doom&gloomers finally unite: hurray! We-have-established-connection-with-the-mother-ship sort of.

    I think that in a move like this you bring the users closer to the company – which is exactly what many users want.

    Weirdly enough, version 8 have been working total solid on all computers I've worked through this year: Dell, MSI, Macbook and even one of those rubbish Asus Eee 900 horrorboxes. Never got as far as 8.1 though. v8.08 works fine with me and although I can't wait to buy M4L – I've learned my lesson.

    -Never upgrade anything (os/software/hardware) in the middle of a project

    -Is it new? Wait at least until the x.1 version.

    /Carl

  • Torrey McMahon

    @Carl – You know that many companies just rev the version numbers to x.1 as quickly as possible just to get folks like you to think the product is stable, right? :)

  • http://www.jonathanleonard.com Jonathan Adams Leona

    After 50 comments, its time to get a moderation and ranking system. ;)

    The announcement good and bad, good; Very cool and shows ableton has integrity and wants to make a good product. Then again its their only product so this is actually saying; we need to fix our company. Which is an even better idea.

    The bad; what happened to the public beta? Everyone and their mother participated and the weird kind of inconsistent bugs Peter mentions – the public beta is intended to capture that diversity. On one hand its great that Ableton will change direction and re-write the release schedule, but on the other hand its glaring evidence that Ableton is still advertizing instead of delivering. The public beta then, based on this announcement was a failure. Or is it the failure of the users? The people who have been so vocal about broken features, did they express these faults properly during the public beta? I guess they didn't. Did Ableton not address the faults in the public beta and instead kept putting on icing?

    Overall I think its a good thing they will fix the bugs and make a better 8 and restore confidence in the 'product' and ehem, the company. It was a good intention to begin with.

    You have to wonder what a public beta really produces if it is not built and managed properly. If you let anyone in, its a complete waste and only advertizing. There is no way a small company can read through the dyslexic half edited crap Live users would submit. Casting a wide net to catch problems makes no sense if the reporters are not high quality, cannot write unambiguous sentences, cannot stay focused, and remain available to track and confirm a fix. Its hard enough in more formal testing programs let alone trying to engage, and excuse me for saying this; the most urbane of user in the music tech space.

    I needed another authorization having retired a previous build. I submitted an additional authorization request. I was dismayed that I only ever received a robot confirmation that the request will be reviewed. Weeks passed and I tried authorizing again – and it worked! Never informed me that an auth was granted and I can't tell if a person was actually involved. Thats a sign.

    The whole rockstar thing of making software and product for millions of people by mechanically reproducing the product has some risks for the provider and client. I don't think Ableton can review authorization requests or track public bugs. But they are still vain enough to worry about their peeps and their image. One thing is for sure – if the public reacts positively to this announcement, Ableton will take longer and they will do it again. If the public reacts with criticism and shows a lack of confidence, things might get fixed.

    They opened 8 to a public beta, sold the software for a tall price, collected reports and then didn't fix the issues. And its mere weeks before NAMM.

  • http://www.jonathanleonard.com Jonathan Adams Leona

    On the plus side, livehostmatrix.xls is almost updated and complete including cantabile, liveprofessor and others. Stay tuned.

  • brandonjp

    thanks for the update…

    I've just simply quit trying lately… I was running Live 6&7 with my Presonus Firepod on a 32-bit Windows 7 beta computer all summer without one single problem. Last month I bought the upgrade to Live Suite 8 and put it on my brand new install of 64-bit Win 7 Ultimate… DISASTER! I've yet to have a single session without a host of crashes.

    PS: my Mac system still runs flawlessly, fyi

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

    @brandonjp: Did you try Live 8 on the Mac? And have you tried installing 8.1.1? If you look at the changelog, there are lots and lots of potential sources of crashes, none of them having anything to do with which operating system you're on. For instance, I was able to replicate the Drum Rack performance issues (which, despite the way they're described in the changelog, for me caused audio dropouts as well as UI slowdown) on both Mac and Windows.

  • WHIV

    How is 8.1.1 working for everyone so far? I'm on 8.0.8 right now, and have been sticking with because all of the of horror stories associated with 8.1.

    Plus, you know. 808.

  • http://www.plughugger.com Carl Lofgren

    @ Torrey McMahon: I'm not worried about that yet. When companies starts their releases with x.1 – then I'll revise my strategy :)

  • vinayk

    This is all quite encouraging. I will have to look through the changlog. I get crashes often when I drop plugins while tracks are running. And i'm talking about native instruments or spectrasonics stuff. And max4live patches are horrible for this. Version 7 had few of these issues! Then again I didn't own these plugs then.

    Now if only governments suspended new policies until old ones were fixed – then we'd get somewhere!

  • http://www.e-lectronica.com/luthierlab/ Mudo

    Let's see some facts:

    Ableton is a bit overpriced compared with itself and thinking in an interesting combo like Live8 suite+controller or Live8+mfl or Live8+mfl+nonlive controller…

    I could do the same that I expect from Serato&Ableton Partnership with Flyloops (www.flyloops.com)

    Beatbox Live looping and Scratching osc/midi free control for 120$.

    Mudo as a reviewer: It crash? Of course because it is small development but Ableton crash more and it still can't offer the same!

    For me the option is clear.

    Another Fact:

    Ableton is growing up so much that they could manage. In example? Support.

    My own experience is that support is not listening users trying to advice/help. I can't give you details, sorry.

    Then again I prefer look at other side…

    and so on… but

    What we could do to help everybody in this trouble? At last we are trying to do music or not?

    Maybe all of us are forgetting this north path too…

  • Captain Howdy

    Huh?

  • amoeba

    just DL'd the 8.1.1 update, but reading the horror stories on the u-he forum…. yikes! sorry to post second-hand info, but i've read enough to make me want to not even try this one.

  • booji

    I am happy that Ableton came out with the "we're concentrating on bug fixes" announcement, though primarily because it has caused some interesting debate. As far as Gerhard's announcement, the proof of course will be in the pudding, I certainly hope 8.11 is part of a trend. It has been mentioned before, but Live+ (suite, M4L, etc) cost a pretty penny, so… if you wanna be top-shelf, I expect a better product than some OSC/Looper/Time stretch thing that you can get for 1/10 the cost…

    I have several thoughts I'd like to share with regards to Ableton Live and music software in general.

    - I own Ableton Live Suite, and Max 4 Live. Generally I have been happy with these products, and I use Ableton Live in a live setting. I use it for performing publicly on a regular basis. When I heard about Ableton's "Share" feature and Max4Live, I was excited as a geek and music tech lover. As a live performer, these features made me cringe. First and foremost in a live setting, I want it to be bug-free and solid. If you were to ask me whether I wished to have these ambitious new features or the most stable live performance application I could possibly have, I would pick the latter in a heartbeat. When I have recently watched the Ableton user forums and watched the betas, I have noticed a ton of bugs come in, many in these new features, but some have not been in these new features. My thought here is simply to resonate with Gerhard's statement – I think there has been a lack of commitment to the level of quality needed for an application whose primary focus is live performance. Live performance should be Ableton's sweet spot, and it is the reason I bought it. If I feel that long-term they care less about Live performance, I will surely use something else. I sincerely wish that Ableton will always remember that Live is for "live"

    - I have used and own several other DAWs, including Pro Tools, Logic and Reason/Record. On a pure DAW level (and not live-performance level), I feel as if Ableton has been more of a failure recently than even the live performance bit (where I think it's more of a smoke/fire thing). Look at the 8.11 fixes. Most other apps would get just hammered for some of the things that Ableton had sitting around. Let's just say that if Live weren't such a sexy application and if all the bloggers weren't so in love with it, Live would be suffering a huge hit on its reputation. I think Peter has alluded to this here or elsewhere.

    - As a person in the software development industry, let me just say that I find Ableton's candor refreshing, though the fact that it got to this point and the leadership remains the same is a concern. Typically quality issues such as this are systemic and without an extreme process overhaul these situations return at a later date when management returns their attention to ambitious projects.

  • Wulliamz

    I don't think Ableton had any choice but to make an announcement, it's better to make a good P.R. story than have it leak out that they had to make this decision. I think Live is definitely where the most innovation is happening in DAW-land right now, so I can only wish them the best for getting everything sorted. I use Live 7 but won't upgrade because they really hiked the (already high) prices. If they do have to charge so much, the software should have been almost bulletproof from first release – as all the previous versions were, funnily enough.

  • ed

    too bad my apc 40 is still buggy with live 8

  • poopoo

    The "developers take note" bit kinda shits me. The developers in anything but the smallest companies have little input on updates, support, release cycles and pricing.

    If a released software product is buggy then it is a failure in the companies management process. Unreasonable deadlines, lack of resources, poorly implemented quality control and testing procedures are all issues for management not the developers.

    I suggest, since reliable DAW software is critical for our industry, that users start demanding CMM certification (or similar) from the companies that develop the DAWs.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capability_Maturity_

  • http://www.figby.com/ Michael Moncur

    I"ve had no particular problems with Live 8 myself – 8.11 installed fine and works fine too – but I realize others have had trouble. I'm glad they're working on it.

    This kind of openness is refreshing in this industry, to say the least. All I want for New Years' is for Steinberg and Native Instruments to have the same epiphany…

  • Neil Bufkin

    I am one of those Suite8+M4L users that has not really had many crashes. Until….8.1.1 I made the mistake of "updating" right before I had a few people over to see what I had been working on. Unfortunatly things got a little crash happy and I got nowhere. I should have known better though. Since I had guests over I did not spend much time looking under the hood, so I do not have any specifics I can report.

  • jonah

    I suppose this might be a good time to ask. Whenever I install the new version of Live it installs side by side w/ the old version. How do I stop this? I want it to install on top. I am scared to uninstall because it might take my projects away!

  • Angstrom

    Jonah, you can uninstall your old copies of Live. Nothing will be harmed.

  • wa

    @jonah

    has always been like this… new versions of live install side by side with old ones. as angstrom said, uninstall old ones and nothing will be harmed.

    @jonathan adams leonard

    had similar thoughts. shouldn't a beta help to build a better final release?

    two things are true:

    - badly reported bugs cannot be filed as bugs

    - if not gone public, the number of eligible/skillful users for M4L beta would have surely been too small.

    I've often avoided, or used alternative machines, for betas… waiting for the final release for production/live machines. This time ableton screwed up.

    @peter and @cooptrol

    If only they could make the effort of giving open access and debugging tools to the python scripting engine… I personally think a lot of people would come up with powerful, official ways of managing everything from CC to sysex, without having to buy something like M4L. I bought M4L and I love it, still I think that it's really disappointing for some controller stuff. Sort of hacks to receive and send on multiple channels, similar hacks to have hybrid midi/audio tracks, no documentation for 'official supported' control surfaces, clips don't work like buffer/chucker objects… don't want to seem whiny but WTF! Sure for other things Max and M4L can't come out from python scripts, but still…

    It's funny how ableton developers said tat it'll be to hard to decide what could have been best for all users… and with a powerful but still limited M4L we have already seen some simple concepts that could very well be 'for all users'… like the simple concept of having the macro controls act on parameters on different tracks… and it's not the only example, some even a baby can think of.

    Yes this is a rant

    and it couldn't be anything else.

    Also about the 'we will stop the development to fix the bugs' announcement… sure I appreciate that they seem to acknowledge that they have screwed up. But in the end I think they were just obliged to do so. They have already lost faith of a lot of customers, me among them, and every day more and more are escaping 'the cult'. I'm really afraid, having spent a discrete amount of money lately, that the announcement is probably more damage-control than acknowledgement. Let's hope not.

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

    @wa: I couldn't agree more as far as differentiating M4L from what gets implemented in the core program, particularly in regards to controllers. I've actually been making the same argument since before Max for Live came out.

    Let's put it as simply as possible: you should never have to build a Max application just to make your controller work with the software. Indeed, even scripting aside, the more that can be built directly into the application, the better. I'd love to see OSC support, but there are some basic MIDI control functions that still need work, like the fact that you can't manually input MIDI control change numbers.

    Anyway, as far as I know, Ableton is aware of these issues. If they're not, they'll continue to hear about them from me until it gets fixed. I will say, I've always found them to be responsive; they do make an effort to listen.

    The reality is, if you develop an application long enough, you make some mistakes now and again, you even lose some customers; it happens. (Oddly, I had that conversation with Greg from Cakewalk — it gets tougher, the longer you develop an app. And he's been doing it since he was his only employee in the 80s.) Likewise, if anyone views Ableton as their only choice, that's not healthy for anyone.

    I think the best we can ask for is that developers do listen and work to respond. Users can be a cranky bunch, but they're also out there using these tools to make music; they have a relationship with the tools that's likely deeper than anything else they own. That means they have something to offer. And I've never gotten the indication that Ableton has lost sight of that, even if they sometimes do things we aren't in love with.

  • griotspeak

    i second wa's request for more python scripting support.

    it is pretty silly that i can see that there is a WAY to implement certain things with my bcf, but i don't get access or choice on how the implementation goes.

  • http://thomaspiperjr.com Tom Piper

    i have major issues with 8.1.1 crashing while exporting not good :(

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

    Actually, it goes without saying that if 8.1 is working well for you and you haven't experienced the listed issues, you may want to hold off on upgrading!

  • wa

    I'm glad to see I'm not the only one seeing that better midi support inside Live itself is one important milestone. What I really, but really don't get it's why it isn't already out?

    You are saying that ableton is aware of the issues, but it doesn't seem so. Python scripting it's there, they use it internally to create the officially supported control surfaces scripts. Is it really that difficult to partially expose what they are using internally? Sincerely I found it really hard to believe.

    About CCs, sysex, NRPNs, etc

    Aren't most of the necessary (read 'basic' here) midi functions/objects inside there already? they are just inaccessible. (for instance some control surfaces clearly use sysex…).

  • http://soundcloud.com/quoth pat swanson

    I'm still making music with their older release.

    Version 5.2.2 is stable IMO and can do what I want it to.

    As for Version 8.x.x, I am way too poor to upgrade.

    It would be nice to have the latest release, but I find that there is still a lot of sonic potential / uncharted territory yet for me to discover using version 5.

  • jun

    @ booji

    I think you hit the nail on the head, live at it's core should be stable in a live setting. Ambitious features should not interfere with the primary purpose/function of the tool that is live. Maybe it's time to divide live into user types, beat makers, DJ's, film scores, instrumentalists, and so on. I don't envy their task at hand.

    As for price, if you buy live suite you should get all of live's products for that version including m4l. Isn't that what suite means? everything?

    happy new years

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  • bimmel

    Since a few month my ultralite regulary looses sync when runnign with live (on a macbook) sometimes it even looses sync up to 25 times a hour. ableton blames motu and motu does nothing except for asking me the same stupid questions over and over again.

    I´m happy that ableton tries to fix their software, with a bit of luck they might fix ma problem too, not that i have much hope though …

  • http://none beats me

    Bimmel,

    can you give some details as to what exactly Ableton said Motu were doing wrong ?

  • bimmel

    beats me,

    the guy at ableton who i had contact with said he has the same problem with his motu traveller. it seems that it happens when different apps are using the motu with different samplefrequencies (like 44khz or 48 khz.

    However, my motu freaks out in a lot of situations, it can happen when i drag a drumrack on a channel, if i start or close safari, endelss posibilites for loosing sync vit none which works every time. sometimes it works good for hours, sometimes i can´t work at all because it looses sync like every minute.

    i also reinstalled the system from scratch but it didn´t help at all.

  • esol esek

    I am so glad I don't have to be a developer and deal with the black hole that is the PC and its foibles. I'm running Reason, Live, After Effects, Arkaos, Pshop, and Final Cut yadda, yadda on a small mini with maxed ram. I had an old 533 G4 and am still waiting to get a new tower. I may just get another mini. I've had no issues whatsoever other than Adobe Premier CS4 sucks on the mac. Computing is enough of a waste of time without constantly massaging some garbage hardware for Dunt Ballmer's edification.

    I'm not a mac psycho and they've made a ton of mistakes, but don't torture yourselves.

    Apparently I'm glad I didnt get Ableton 8 and that I'm cheap. All I want is a better loop workshop and of course, any sound improvements available.

  • Jeduhu

    Ok…. So I use Live to score films and Omnisphere along with Zebra is one of my BIGGEST softsynths…. well, I can open all of the other VST aka AU and I have no problems, but omnisphere… Just updated? Hmmmm…. willl not. I can close live, make a new temp project….opens like a charm but on my older projects no. And there are other bugs, Groups aren't working the same, projects are acting fuzzy…. It's driving kind of bonkers…. I hate wasting time trying to fix something. Ergggg….

    Downloading 8.1.3

    I also use automap… downloaded 3.4.1 but everytime I install… It's still 3.0, my system is not happy….

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