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macOS Updates and Music Software – An Angry Rant



C’mon guys, stop breaking our computers every year!

Apple released Sonoma, their latest macOS version, in September 2023. It’s now five months later, and some music software companies are still advising their users not to update until they announce compatibility. Will the next update lap the current one?

macOS updates have been coming out about once a year, and they break something almost every time. That’s especially likely to affect musicians, because we use lots of instrument and processing plug-ins from multiple companies.

There are people around here who consider this situation untenable!

Now, we’re not pointing fingers, because we have no idea if there’s even anyone to blame. Most likely it’s not that simple anyway. Perhaps Apple’s engineers would say they improved the way something works, and music software developers might tell us that Apple did something requiring a major rewrite.

There’s also the argument that Apple releases beta versions of their latest macOSes months before they’re released. One can only assume that updating software to work isn’t a trivial matter.

The point is that for us musicians, none of that makes any difference – nor should it.

Consider Native Instruments – not to single them out, they’re just an example of a major music software developer. How many sample library developers license their Kontakt sampler? Well, as of this writing it’s not supported on macOS Sonoma.

Software that isn’t officially supported will often work in spite of that (or until you encounter the one thing that causes it not to work). Many users say they’re using Kontakt 7 on Sonoma with no problems. But do you want to take the risk?

Companies may also just be issuing CYA statements (CYA = Cover Your Rear End). Viewed in a positive light, they’re often just being conservative – “We’ve tested our products and know they work with the following configurations, so they’re what you should use.” That was the situation with Pro Tools in the early years when it was a Digidesign product, and it still is now that Avid bought the company.

Leaving Pro Tools aside, since it’s always been a special case – what if you buy a new Mac that has Sonoma installed? Furthermore, Macs using a previous version show a little red dot alert, recommending that you update to Sonoma. It’s asking too much of users to know not to take the plunge.

There have even been reports on the Internet of a bug causing some Macs to update to Sonoma even with Automatic Updates turned off – which by the way is not the default setting, and it should be. But that’s a bug, not central to this rant.

The solutions for musicians

1. Keep backups of your system in a working condition (to recover from OS updates gone wrong, as well as many other reasons). Apple’s included Time Machine software does a very good job of creating hourly incremental backups to hard drives, and it’s a good idea to have off-site backups as well.

Or maybe we should say it’s a bad idea not to have off-site backups as well. The conventional wisdom is to keep at least three copies of everything – the working one on your computer drive, a local one (such as Time Machine), and an off-site one.

These days cloud backup services are affordable and – because of broadband – feasible for the large amount of data storage we need.

2. Check that the software you use – not just music software – is compatible before jumping on the latest release. Duh.

3. Only update when there are features you want, or when you need to – for example if software you use requires the latest version. Duh again, but the point is not to do it on a lark.

4. Sometimes you can get good information about compatibility online. Unfortunately that’s not always the case, which segues to the next section.

The solutions for developers and Apple

1. Apple should maintain a central compatibility database for all official developers! Developers would be responsible for keeping it up to date.

Yes that puts Apple in a somewhat awkward position (it’s in their interest to paint a sunny picture), but more than one retailer has tried to do this on their sites, and the information is never current. Never.

2. Every Mac software developer also needs to have current compatibility information on their website, and you need to be able to find it easily when you visit. This seems like an easier lift than #1.

3. Apple and macOS developers need to work harder to make this a priority!

We’re not developers and we don’t work for Apple, so we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes already. Furthermore, I’ve heard developers say “Sure this would be easy if we had nothing else to do.” 

And this is a very vague demand! But the situation is untenable.

Okay, we feel better now.

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