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Apple Needs to Change for Creative Pros

This complaint is aimed squarely at Apple. It needs to evolve as a company or risk losing its most loyal base: creative professionals.

Apple must realize that power users, that small number of us willing to pay for any creative edge, cannot be surprised by the "Next Big Thing" at the end of the annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). We need a clear roadmap. No, we're not why Apple earns billions of dollars, but we influence other users. Our decisions lead others to embrace or reject technologies.

I teach in the School of Communications and Information Systems at a university. Our school includes everything from "Media Arts" to "Computer Forensics" — it is an eclectic school, with a strong emphasis on rhetoric, communications, and technology. We train graphic designers, computer programmers, and English teachers. It's that eclectic.

Our students will learn specific programs on a mix of Apple and Dell systems. Then, they will go off and influence buying choices.

As a university, we have to plan ahead. We have to purchase hardware and software just as any corporation or large organization must: with an eye towards the future. Many of us are Mac users. Many are Windows users. Some use Linux. We use the tools that best meet our needs, but that's hard when the tools might not be around in a year or two.

Although I love writing, I am also a programmer, a designer, a typophile, and a Mac enthusiast. While I'm also a Windows and Linux user, and each of the operating systems have their place, Apple's place is in the creative arts — unless Apple messes things up even more than they have in the last few years.

Consider Apple Advanced Typography (AAT). Test it by using Zapfino in TextEdit and watch the magic. From an early embrace of SCSI for high-end scanners, PostScript printers (I miss the LaserWriter), FireWire (great for audio and video), Apple has recognized that "creatives" need some tools that are specialized.

Yes, the technology sometimes cost more. But, it served a purpose. Apple wasn't the best business computer for business. As a programmer, I've always found the DOS and Windows tools easier to use. Sorry, but Apple never did have something equal to TurboPascal, Delphi, or even Visual Studio 6. (Blasphemy, I realize, but I did like Visual Studio 6 a lot.)

Apple had HyperCard… and killed it. Apple had Objective Pascal… and killed it. Recently, Apple managed to mangle the Final Cut Pro upgrade. It is as if there's a self-destructive edge to Apple, not merely of the "creative destruction" sort.

I understand that things must change. Apple's move from System 9 to OS X was essential to the company's success. Apple's move from PowerPC to Intel was essential to maintain supplies, though in theory the PowerPC design could have evolved. (Ironically, it is the A4 and A5 chip designs powering Apple's growth today, not Intel chips. The Arm designs are more like the PowerPC than Intel designs.) FireWire is now being replaced by Thunderbolt. DVI video has evolved to HDMI and DisplayPort. Things do have to change.

But the Final Cut Pro fiasco? Dumping the Xserve? Just plain stupid. Yes, Apple can be stupid.
Apple, we need a vision. We need a roadmap.

Is there going to be a Mac Pro for five or ten more years? Will there be a commitment to design, audio, and video technologies? We have to know or we'll shift towards non-Apple products.

With a new CEO, shifts in the board, and other changes, now is a great time to start being a bit more open. Yes, you can keep surprising us with good ideas, but we don't want surprises at the high end. Creative pros need predictability.

Tell me I am right to wait for the next MacBook Pro and Mac Pro tower. Reassure me, and others, who have to think years ahead to make purchasing recommendations today.

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