1.0: What Can We Reasonably Expect?

By • August 30, 2013

We spend a lot of time with our Digital Audio Workstations. We spend a lot of time learning them. We spend a lot of time developing a workflow around them. And every time a competitor comes out with either a cool new feature or reminds us of a feature it has long had that ours does not, we want it NOW!!! But, and it is a BIG but, we don’t want it to screw up our workflow.

So we want our update to be different, yet the same. Or do we? For every user who hated the older GUI and applauds the changes in the new version, there is someone who loved the old GUI and hates the new one. Also, someone who is working virtually every month for different clients may have a very different set of priorities than someone who only really has him or herself for a client.

Now add to that the fact that in the case of Logic Pro, its developers may have direct instructions from Apple as to changes it wants to be made for consistency with other Apple software, and perhaps Pro Tools developers with Avid as well, I think we all would concede that coming up with anew version that meets the company’s needs and the user’s perceived needs is probably a daunting task.

Change, but stay the same. Innovate, but don’t mess with my workflow. Make it take advantage of the increased speed and power of new hardware and new OS but don’t make me spend money upgrading my older hardware or OS until I am ready to.

It is simply not possible to achieve all those objectives to everybody’s satisfaction. In my opinion, we professionals DO have to be prepared to reinvent our workflow periodically to incorporate new features and wean ourselves from some workflow features that may have been taken away.

And yes, if we are going to upgrade the DAW version, there will be times, usually about every four to five years, when we are going to have to spend some money to upgrade our hardware or continue to use the software versions we have been using. It is part of the cost of being a professional. If we are not earning enough money to do so, then we cannot have it. We are not entitled to it.

I realize this flies in the face of the prevailing cultural ethos, but it has always been true and previous generations understood this and accepted it. Younger folks are going to have to as well.

So what can we reasonably expect, regardless of our income and gear?

I think almost everybody would agree that when it is released, presumably after rigorous beta testing, for the majority of users it should largely be free of bugs, at least show-stopping ones.

And yet, every single release of a major update to a DAW, whether it be Logic Pro X, Digital Performer 8, Cubase 7, Pro Tools 11 is greeted with tons of posts on forums and social networking sites ranging from “pretty stable here” to “crashing constantly” to “love it” to “they have ruined it.”

Are we all supposed to be beta testers for released 1.0 versions?

I am afraid the answer is “yes.” When people ask why a release is buggy, they tend to blame with the following:

1.The company is callous and doesn’t care that they are releasing a product that is not ready for prime time.

2.The developers and beta testers do not do this stuff daily so they do not understand what happens in the real working world with it.

3.The beta testers are idiots.

The degree to which these presumptions are or are not true may vary from company to company and release to release but in my many years of beta testing for companies, my experience has been:

1.No one intentionally releases a product with show-stopping bugs. They will generally be aware that there are issues that some testers are seeing that others are not that they think will eventually be proven reproducible and therefore will need to be fixed, but they are not bad enough to be worth holding up the release of the software.

2.The beta testers are not idiots or uncaring usually but they range from those who are working pros to those who are more educators. They tend to be diverse with some mostly doing traditional audio recording while others mostly do MIDI compositions, while others mostly are engineers/mixers, and so they all tend to test what it is they want to do. Some read music, some do not. Some love film music, some love Dubstep.

When you add into that the mind blowing myriad of available OS, computer configurations, audio interfaces with their drivers, possible combinations of third party plug-ins that few if any of the testers are using, and different workflows, is it any wonder that things fall through the cracks? I think not.

If a DAW has been around a lot of years it has thousands of lines of code and every change to the code to add a new feature or update an existing one has the potential of screwing up something in a way that is not anticipated or caught by the developers or the beta testers. We are no longer in the era where apps like Pro Tools and Cool Edit Pro only dealt with audio while Logic and Cubase only dealt with MIDI. All of them are trying to do hundreds of tasks that users want them to do. It’s complicated.

So yes, when you buy a DAW’s new 1.0 release, you are in fact a beta tester and if you are wise, you will use it to learn its new capabilities and features but not for paying work until you are confident you can do so at least as well as you can in the earlier version.

Back in the days when Digidesign developed Pro Tools, you had to use its proprietary hardware and they kept a tight rein on developers who developed plug-ins for it. They would rigidly test it only with established OS releases and then “qualify” it essentially saying: If you run our software/hardware tandems with only the recommended computer configurations, OS, drives, connections, etc., and adjust its setting to our recommended settings, we warranty that your rig will be stable, barring hardware malfunction or software corruption, and if there are issues, we will move heaven and earth to get to the bottom of it. If you vary from any of our recommendations, well, we cannot make those same assurances.

Now you paid a lot of money for that Pro Tools rig and you probably were not on the cutting edge of new features, but you had a bulletproof system that rarely interfered with getting paying work done, which is why working pros shelled out the big bucks. Once Avid took PT “native”, lo and behold, users started to experience the same range of experiences that users of other DAWS did.

If I were appointed the Czar of DAW software, I would take a page from the old Digidesign playbook and institute the following:

1.The best and most experienced of my testers would be given 1 or 2 audio interfaces to work with, ones that had really solid drivers.

2.They would all use the same OS on a relatively new and powerful machine and be instructed to test for a month only what comes with the software.

3.I would then order the software released with a read me file that promised users that if they followed the recommendations, they would have a smooth ride with 1.0.

4.I would encourage them to test with other components and report in what they found and gradually extend that stamp of approval as merited.

The chances of this happening are none, nada, zippo. Why? Because the companies understand that everyone out there thinks, “well it should work fine no matter which audio hardware I use, which combo of plug-ins, which OS, etc. and if it doesn’t I am going to accuse them of not caring or being inept.”

They live with that reality every day and so they know that when they release a 1.0 update with new features, they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

The bottom line is that if you live on the cutting edge, you bleed. With a 1.0 release, yes, you are a beta tester.

Comments

By P.Schwartz on August 31st, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Jay, just two things… I don’t think there is such a thing as “a majority of users”. The overall design of Logic doesn’t lend itself any better to film scoring than it does EDM. And if there is a majority demographic, I’d suggest that it only lives in some marketing person’s imagination because after all, how can you quantify the needs of musicians, producers, composers, and mix engineers working on 100 different styles of music into a “majority”?

The other thing has to do with beta testers. Based on past experience, bug reports get prioritized and ultimately someone makes a decision about which ones to tackle first. Considering the length of my current Logic punch list, and where we’re at with the third maintenance release, it’s really hard to fathom where their priorities lie. Meanwhile, there’s always Logic 9 and very little that it can’t do to meet my needs as compared to X. When X is ready, I’ll move it out of the sandbox and into the schoolyard. But they have a loooooong way to go.

By Jay Asher on September 3rd, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Peter, this column is for Film Music Magazine so when I say “a majority of users” I am addressing that user base because that is who reads this column.

I too agree it makes sense to stick with LP 9 for paying work until this 1.0 DAW is more mature, which is why i wrote: ” if you are wise, you will use it to learn its new capabilities and features but not for paying work until you are confident you can do so at least as well as you can in the earlier version.”

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