Actually, okay, just backup before you install and maybe wait a couple of point releases and everything will be fine. Photo (CC-BY) Ingrid Taylar.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion is out this week. And it’s a great time to point out that Lion, 10.7, is a terrific upgrade for anyone with a recent Apple machine and 8 GB of RAM (which is what I’d recommend anyway). No, that’s not a misprint – sometimes, it seems, Apple upgrades are just about perfect and fully compatible with all your stuff round about the time the next new thing is out.

Here’s the deal: even tiny changes in an operating system can have a big impact on sound. The reality is, even a simple setup for music making can involve a lot of components – software, plug-ins, installers, hardware, drivers, all extremely sensitive to low-level compatibility issues and tiny performance tolerances. Your ears are extremely delicate pieces of equipment, and they know when tools aren’t performing. (It sounds something like this – ahem – uuurrrgccch rgggh rccch rccch rccch. Or some variation.)

So, there are a few things to look out for on Mountain Lion. I expect that, as with Lion, it’ll eventually be a good upgrade; I quietly upgraded to Lion early this year and didn’t look back. For all the hair pulling about Apple turning Macs into iPads, I adjusted a couple of mouse settings I didn’t like and I’m really happy. I think the same will be true of 10.8 — just not yet.

I could almost just write a Perl script that posts a blog entry, timed to Apple’s OS releases, and says “don’t upgrade,” then waits a couple of point releases and says “okay, fine, now, if you must.”

But if you are thinking of upgrading, here’s what you’ll want to know:

Backup first. I love Carbon Copy Cloner. Get a cheap external drive, duplicate your primary drive, and you’ll easily be able to revert to the old OS. (You’ll also have a bootable rescue drive. And it’s Mountain Lion ready. It’s useful for all backups, but especially so when you’re upgrading the OS.) There is no reason, ever, to upgrade any OS without easy ability to revert.

Turn off Gatekeeper. For now, most music software isn’t yet signed to work with Apple’s new application security model, Gatekeeper. There’s no reason to freak about this or have an existential crisis about the future of the Mac; signing apps is a well-known technique on other platforms (Linux, in particular). Nor is Apple forcing anyone to use their App Store – a good thing, too, as almost no pro audio developers have embraced that platform and it seems to be incompatible with the plug-in development model. But Gatekeeper will break most installers for now, so until more developers sign their software, it’s easier to just turn the thing off, restoring the way installation works on 10.7. Steinberg, for instance, has produced a step-by-step guide to disabling Gatekeeper, even as they promise updated installers soon.

Some installers may still have issues. Apple has deprecated some legacy technologies for installation, and I’m already hearing reports some installers aren’t working. (William Light here in Berlin is updating libmonome, so, please, don’t do a clean install before your monome gig, okay? Leave him alone and let him fix that terrific open source library and report back to us on how this stuff is working.)

USB audio devices may not function. Here’s the potential deal-breaker. We’ve already seen statements from Roland and Native Instruments reporting performance issues with their audio interfaces on USB – even including connections to USB2 ports. Readers have found issues with other makers, too. So far, I’ve only seen Native Instruments release updated drivers, which means if you only have NI gear, you might be okay. But if you’re using products from other vendors, now’s a good time to do an inventory and check support forums before you upgrade – or risk problems afterward. It also appears that the incompatibility results from a change Apple made in the OS. That is, Apple was involved, and you shouldn’t only blame your device vendor. Instead, you should breathe deeply, stay on 10.7, and wait for an update. (We might even see an update on the Apple side, not just from third parties; we’ll be watching.)

Don’t be surprised if everything does work. Hey, okay, we all feel like we’re in the center of our own computing universe. When stuff breaks, it feels catastrophic. When stuff works, we wonder what the fuss is all about. So do read Chris Randall’s take on Mountain Lion. Chris is hardly a Mac fanboy – that is, he speaks in frank terms and expletives about what he doesn’t like. And he likes the new OS, and reports back on some stuff that does work.

I’d still wait. But, back to that backup idea – whatever OS you’re using, if you can make regular backups, you can rest easier in any configuration. So, whatever you’re running – backup.

It might leave you with a few hours with no computing to do. Might I, again, suggest the lake or beach?

CDM out.

  • Leon Trimble

    so it is safe to upgrade to lion now mountain lion is out? might try that, then.

    • Leon Trimble

      i can go straight to m. lion (from s. leopard) for cheaper then lion was. f**k it, i might just do it…

  • Gordon C

    It’s difficult to upgrade to Lion now. . . . It’s no longer available in the Mac app store.

    • Peter Kirn

      Right, good point – now, I archived the thing from the App Store when I got it months ago, which you can do. But I guess it’s not archived officially anywhere? (well, unless you have a dev account?)

    • Vitormcjesus

       Option click on the “purchases” tab. It will show Lion. (read it on the web)

  • thie1210

    About Gatekeeper, the work around is to right-click the installer package and choose Open, then click Open again in the dialog.

  • dyscode

    I had  a horrific time upgrading from Snow Leopard to Lion this year. At some point Lion somehow even shot my 10.6 Backup on an external HD an made it unbootable and then the internal HD when I tired to migrate my user from the 10.6 backup. I had to completely security wipe my internal drive (7hrs formating) to even get Lion installed again.

    So I am not that eager to change to 10.8 before I have to.

    This was this first time since 10.1 though. Never had ANY comparable troubles before.

  • Oivind

    I’d say the lovely Mr. Randall’s summary is equal parts scary and positive, not least because it confirms the pretty scary trend of Apple sandboxing. How many more incarnations of the OS before they sandbox it completely? When are my AU plug-ins useless, because Apple won’t allow them in the App Store? When will Max and Reaktor disappear because Apple won’t allow them? The day I have to jailbreak my Mac is the day I become a Windows user, even after investing 23 years of my life into this platform.

    And WHEN will Apple do anything about the Finder?! Tools like Path Finder, Totalfinder etc. show what’s possible – I can’t live without them these days.

    Oh, and anyone if RME soundcards (Babyface) will work with Mountain Lion?

    • Peter Kirn

      I don’t think this is the first step on a path to sandboxing everything. I think this represents Apple’s view of how sandboxing should work. Right now, the trend for some developers is out of the App Store, because they’re having difficulty complying with the current sandboxing regime. I hope that they make those adjustments.

      The fact that Apple gives you the set of choices here that they do – the fact that the App Store requirement isn’t turned on by default, which it could have been – seems to represent and acknowledgment by Apple of the reality of their users and developers, the folks who make the Mac ecosystem work.

      It’s clear in myriad ways that Apple understands that iOS and OS X are not the same platform; it’s been one of their strengths.

    • Oivind

      I hope you are right, of course. It still seems like the option to turn things off (and the fact that you, the user, have to run terminal commands to enable the Users/Library folder in Lion) is just a warm-up procedure before the complete turnaround happens two, three, four years ahead. We’ll see.

    • foldy

       I agree, it seems like they’re slowly trying to close the gap between iOS and OS X… but i really hope that’s not the case

    • Peter Kirn

      I don’t know how much clearer Apple could get on this. They’ve been absolutely explicit about the ways in which they see iOS and OS X as distinct, in terms of hardware and software. They introduced the App Store, but frankly, that was a no-brainer. 

      Apple is a company known for putting out right away what they believe is the right path, not engaging in some sort of gradual transition. It tends to be what *annoys* people about them in some instances.

      You don’t have to project years into the future; you can deal with the reality as it now stands.

      Apple is tying some key APIs – like iCloud – to App Store distribution. That’s their wedge. And in return, they’ve made some sandboxing rules that not everyone can comply with. So, right now, that’s the major conflict.

      It’s a non-issue for audio, though. The only requirement is signing applications.

      The App Store and sandboxing stuff is frustrating to developers, and you can bet developers are giving Apple feedback on that. I think if there’s a change, it’s most likely to be Apple responding to that feedback and going to a bit more flexibility. The trend on the iOS App Store, even, has across the board been toward more flexibility, not less. It’s not always as much as we might like, but it hasn’t been getting more closed.

      But the idea of requiring elevation to access system folders or distinguishing between trusted applications that are signed and those that are not is not a new thing. *NIX has been doing this for years.

      Yes, if Apple were to suddenly require the App Store as the only means of distribution – if they were even to make that the default – there would be an outcry, rightfully. But the appropriate phrase here is “let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.”

    • Peter Kirn

      Anyway, why are we still stressing out about some hypothetical that hasn’t happened yet? 

      I’m more concerned about the bit that breaks your USB audio interface right now, today. 😉

    • Oivind

      I hate that you can’t reply for more than a couple of threads! So I can’t reply to your posts below your posts, Peter …

      Anyways, this article certainly underlines why it is not a pointless exercise to worry a bit:

    • Peter Kirn

      I never said I liked Apple’s approach to sandboxing. 

      But sandboxing is restricted to App Store purchases.And as you say, music devs are staying out of the App Store anyway.And the App Store isn’t the only distribution outlet – not by a longshot. You can disable *signing requirements*. And you can *sign* software without doing sandboxing.

  • Jonathan Graves

    ha! that image is genius.

  • Pat

    Does anyone else besides me, feel that some previous operating systems released by OS X are still superior?

    For instance; 10.5.9 or 10.3.9 for the sheer compatibility with OLDER PCB’s found…. audio over IEEE1394 400 OR 800 work like a champ.

    USB also works…. yeah yeah, I can’t transfer at ridiculous amounts like with USB3 but do I need to? NO.

    I could care less about some of the bloatware or other features that get shoved into the releases. I just want to make music. 

    I’m still using a PBG417″ with Live 5. And fucking loving life.

    Some of the Apple developers and 3rd part application developers and driver developers should look to the past and realize, somethings are better left untouched.

    Ok, sorry for ranting. You’ll probably think this is a dumb counterpoint.

  • Graham

    I agree…A+ on the image!

  • Random Chance

    As with every update so far I will hold out for a few months and maybe upgrade at the end of this year or next year. I had some issues with Lion, some of which are still not resolved (still have no idea how to best convert Audio Unit projects from the old XCode version and AU API to the new ones — that Apple is not afraid to change things is mostly a good thing but they have a tendency to remove functionality and leave the user without any compatibility options, that’s a bit too harsh for my taste taking into account that time is limited and I can only spend so much of it on constantly re-learning Apple’s stuff). 

  • j j

    I keep going on about it, but using three finger drag introduced in Lion for tweaking settings feels so good. All apple needs to do is allow two inputs at once so I can use a second track pad! Most of the time MIDI hardware boxes don’t do anything to make software feel like hardware because of their generic nature, but this feels really good to me.

    Also, if you have a lot of items in your reading list safari 6 is choking like crazy. I hope once it completes it’s background jobs things go back to normal.

  • Timofey Tavlinsev

    glad to hear that u writing Perl)) is CDM on it?

  • Raymond Jensen

    Upgraded a few days ago, hardware wise my m-audio firewire solo works using the lion driver. The os it self seems faster than lion, but slower than snow leopard. Since I’m on a santa rosa 4gb mbp3,1 c2d 2,2 ghz, doing a dirty downgrade(rm -rf everything but /Applications /Users /Library, install snow leopard and genteelly reattach everything with some dscl unix magic.) back to snow leopard is still a option i consider doing if this os doesn’t deliver on this hardware.

  • Cristiano

    i haven’t upgraded yet and was wondering if now is the time to.. 😉