Apple Software Reliability Recap
Apple has had a difficult year in software. In September 2019, iOS 13 was unleashed to the public in a state that pundits believed–yours truly included–was nowhere near ready. I beta tested iOS 13 in the summer of 2019 and knew by the shear number of odd UI bugs and stability issues that most of them were not going to get fixed by the gold master release. It wasn’t until iOS 13.3 in December, three months later, that things started to calm down and mature. For a comprehensive report card on Apple’s software quality of late, I highly recommend reading Jason Snell’s article on Six Colors.
macOS Catalina, also know as version 10.15, was released shortly after iOS 13 in October of last year. It did not have a ton of enticing features, however the underpinnings posed some major changes that would severely impact compatibility and stability with older apps. This is the first version of macOS to completely eliminate support for 32-bit apps. The writing has been on the wall for 32-bit apps for a number of years now (Apple gave ample notice to developers to recompile their apps for 64 bit).
Upgrading a 4,1 or 5,1 Mac Pro
My 2012 cheesegrater Mac Pro seemingly has reached end of life support for newer versions of macOS. Mojave is the last version that Apple supports, however I discovered recently that it’s still possible to upgrade to Catalina, which is why I’m writing this article. If you have an older Mac Pro like I do, the first thing you need to do is consult Apple’s Metal compatible GPU list and upgrade the graphics card on your computer. An AMD Sapphire Radeon RX 580 is what I ended up with and did not need to do any firmware hacks to make it work (the drivers are natively supported in Mojave and above). The second thing you’ll need to do if you have installed Mojave already is grab dosdude’s Catalina patcher utility. Make sure to follow the install instructions of disabling system protection. The patch currently supports 10.15.3 and will allow you to upgrade to Catalina. It also enables support for Night Shift, which does not natively work on older Mac Pros, even though it seems to work just fine with the proper GPU.
Despite all attempts to forcibly retire my Mac Pro, it continues to receive life support. I’m pretty happy with my dual processor 12 core Mac Pro for the primarily audio and occasional video workflows that I use it for. There are many upgrades you can still do to this computer, such as max out the RAM to 128GB, upgrade the CPUs to Xeon 3.4Ghz, and even install an 802.11AC WiFi card with upgraded Bluetooth to unlock Handoff support. YouTuber, Lee Zavitz has a great tutorial on how to upgrade your Mac Pro. The video discusses firmware flashing a 4,1 Mac Pro to 5,1 to enable the Xeon processor upgrade, but for me as I have a 5,1, the upgrade will be even easier.
As a musician, recording engineer, and podcaster, most of my professional workflows involve audio. I’ve been getting involved with video more and more lately, but that for the most part takes a back seat to audio. Avid Pro Tools is what I’ve been using for decades as my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Avid has a reputation for being particularly sensitive to hardware and software synergy, thus why they take considerably longer than the competition to test and certify certain computers and operating systems as stable and compatible.
When it comes to professional audio and video workflows, popular apps such as Avid Pro Tools and Avid Media Composer typically take as long as six to eight months to be certified compatible with a new version of macOS. This time around for Catalina, Avid was forced to update their video engine and proprietary DNxHD and DNxHR codecs to be 64 bit, as well as remove reliance on Quicktime 7 components (also deprecated in Catalina). As of this article’s publishing, Pro Tools 2019.12 only has partial support for Catalina. In particular importing of MOV, MP4, M4V, DV audio / video, M4A, AAC audio import, and MOV audio / video export (“Bounce to QuickTime”) do not work. Avid has indicated a later February release for the 2020 update, so it shouldn’t be too much longer until video workflows are stable again.
Upgrading to Catalina
Preparation is required before upgrading. I had to check and update existing apps to ensure they were 64-but as well as upgrade my Waves 11 support plan to ensure my plugins still worked in Pro Tools (this cost a fair bit of money). After my compatibility checklist was complete, I downloaded and installed the dosdude patcher.
Installing the dosdude patcher was pretty simple, as was the upgrade to 10.15.3. I’ve been on the release for a week now and things seem to be stable, however the extra security enhancements have been driving me nuts. Whilst I do feel safer, having to manually agree to re-authorize all of my apps to send notifications, plus having to authorize access to all of my professional apps that need access to not only the microphone, but accessibility, input monitoring, and a slew of other system access functionality, user experience is hampered and just becomes infuriating.
I’m a seasoned Mac user and technologist, so I can only imagine how normal people feel when they use Catalina and suddenly get bombarded by a slew of dialogue boxes asking them to accept/authorize some kind of permission that doesn’t make sense to them.
Every year we do the same song and dance with any new major operating release. Invariably there are going to be bugs, quirks, annoyances, but this year in particular it seems things have taken a step back with respect to stability and good user experience across many Apple software products.
I never upgrade to a major new operating system right away as that’s foolhardy, and I suggest you don’t either. Waiting at least three major patches is a pragmatic approach–it gives one time to ensure their apps and hardware drivers are supported, but also allows Apple time to shake out the bugs so you don’t have to be subjected to system instability. Considering the poor feedback Catalina initially received, I’m finding it so far to be pretty reliable. Mojave was not without its quirks either, mind you.
Have you upgraded to Catalina yet? If so, what has been your experience thus far? If you’re thinking about taking the plunge, in particular with an older Mac Pro and have questions, I’d love to hear from you.