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Was FCP X designed from the start to run on the New Mac Pro?

3 minute read

AppleMac Pro

We're wondering whether FCP X was always designed with the New Mac Pro in mind - years before either was launched

 RedShark's K. Stewart made a fascinating point in his excellent run-down of the Apple Fall press conference. Here's what he said:

"The most interesting proof point of this long term strategic approach is the pro line-up. Was the decision to radically rework Final Cut Pro, so intensely annoying to FCP7 users, made as the first step in a strategy to deliver a robust NLE partner for the Mac Pro precisely timed to the moment when 4K started to become a practical reality?"

If this were true, it would be intriguing because it not only shows how long Apple product development cycles are, but also that this Mac Pro has been in the wings, waiting for its time, for, probably, over three years. We're not saying here that it's been physically finished for that long, but that a radical new design might have been on the cards since then.

Looking Generations Ahead

We already know that the iPhone was several years in development, and that when work on it started, it would have been impossible to build. But, watching (and even anticipating) the trends as well as Apple does, when it was released in 2007, it was just on the boundary of possibility. Looking back at it, the first iPhone was pretty underpowered - even more so in perspective with the iPhone 5s, which isn't just five times more powerful; it's 56 times faster. In six years!

But that's not the point. The point is that the first iPhone was years ahead of anything else, and it didn't just work, it worked well enough to give people a great experience. (And anyone - including me - who still has an iPad One, will know how much of an antique it feels like. Seriously - it's too old to upgrade to the newer versions of iOS, and absolutely struggles with any number of common websites.) So when Apple starts to develop new products, they're not just looking at the next Apple "event"; they're looking multiple generations - probably three or four - ahead.

In need of an Upgrade

The Mac Pro was very badly in need of an upgrade, and yet it wasn't broken; just a bit neglected. It was a classic design and there was no real reason to change it, because its very nature as an upgradable computer meant that it could easily be brought bang up to date.

Except that it couldn't be. Because it was too big, too noisy, consumed too much electricity, and was simply the wrong shape and form to be brought into the new era of desktop computing.

The Desktop-less era

What characterises this era is that desktop computing is looking more and more irrelevant. So as a manufacturer you've either got to say that All-In-Ones like the iMac and the HP Z1 are the way forward, or perhaps high powered laptops like the Dell Precision M800, or even the (local) cloud, like NVidia's Visual Computing Appliance. No-one, it seems, wants computers under their desk any more.

So if you're going to stay with the workstation category, at the very least you have to redefine it.

And no-one can argue with Apple when they claim that that's just what they've done.

Redefining the Workstation Category

The new Mac Pro takes "radical" as a starting point. Just look at the shape! And it's that shape for a reason. It's about cooling. The Mac Pro is as quiet as a Mac Mini, and that doesn't make any noise at all (unless you're comparing it with silence).

In the new age of workstations, you don't have spinning disks, because they slow things down. You don't have expansion cards because they're too big, and they get hot. Instead, you have six Thunderbolt 2.0 ports, whose bandwidth you can concatenate, to give you speeds equivalent to an internal bus. And you cram as much onboard GPU strength as you possibly can into the device, but give it Open CL hooks so that the widest range of software can run on it without questions about compatibility (Apart from questions like "my software needs CUDA. Will it run in a Mac Pro?").

Finally, you embrace the new world of higher than high definition, and you don't just cater for dual monitors, but three at 4K or six at more conventional resolutions.

The Transition from FCP 7

Neither FCP 7, nor any of its direct decedents, had they been written, were ever going to run optimally on the new architecture. As an FCP 7 user, you may not have liked the look and functionality of FCP X when it arrived in 2011, but I have yet to meet anyone who thinks that the bowl of spaghetti that was FCP 7 was a good starting point for a brand new version. (I'm not singling out FCP 7 for this: most software that's based on old code needs a complete rework at least every decade).

The problem was that in throwing away all the bad stuff, in the perception of a very significant - and very vocal - core of users, the developers and product managers for FCP had thrown away the good stuff as well. It looked very much like Apple's own New Coke moment, except that Apple didn't back down, but forged ahead, gradually adding back the old features (where relevant in the new age of file-based workflows) and emphasising the new, 64-bit architecture of the software, and the new editing paradigm.

No, it wasn't FCP 7, but it wasn't bad, either.

And with the new Mac Pro to run on, there may be some some Mac Pro-specific "secret sauce" for FCP as well. The combination, as we suspect it was always meant to be from however many years have elapsed since this project was started, will be real-time NLE performance that may never have been seen before.

Tags: Technology