Ballmer on his way out

AP:

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who succeeded founder Bill Gates as CEO, will retire within the next 12 months.

The world’s biggest software company did not name a successor.

Microsoft Corp.’s stock shot up 9 percent in premarket trading following the news.

It’s telling that Microsoft made this pre-announcement with no replacement CEO on deck.  Microsoft is still wildly profitable thanks to Windows, Office, and Xbox, but they have gained very little traction in the growth market of mobile with the disastrous reception of Windows Phone and the Surface tablet.  They need someone with strong experience and success in devices and services, and the CEO who oversaw the Zune, the Kin, and Windows Phone is not that guy.

Macworld reviews Premiere Pro CC

Alan Stafford gives it a favorable review:

It’s not a ground-up overhaul, and it doesn’t incorporate hot new technologies. But these tweaks indicate that Premiere Pro has taken on some of the characteristics of a cloud application, adding features as they are developed, rather than making customers wait for monolithic annual releases.

I’ll be curious to see how this idea of “cloud applications” shakes out in terms of steady updates.  Premiere (and the rest of the Creative Cloud suite) is not really in the cloud, but rather a standard download and install that logs into Adobe’s servers to make sure your subscription is paid up.  Customers will no longer decide when is the right time to purchase a major upgrade; they’re purchasing it all the time.  Hopefully Adobe will make good on their end of the deal.

Apple’s definition of “Pro”

post by Ken Segall has made the rounds this week, where he describes a moment behind closed doors where Steve Jobs considered abandoning the pro market.

I hope you’re sitting down for this, but Steve Jobs did in fact once consider that very option.

This was back in the days when iMac had established itself as a global bestseller. During one of the agency’s regular meetings with Steve, he shared that he was considering killing the pro products.

His rationale was as you might expect: consumer products have an unlimited upside, while pro products are aimed at a niche market that eats up major resources.

This obviously never came to pass, but some would argue that Apple has strayed too far from what the industry considers “pro” with Final Cut Pro X and the new cylindrical Mac Pro.

Some won’t like it, but basically it’s the difference between Final Cut Pro 7 and Final Cut Pro X.

In FCP7, the controls are rich and deep. As a consequence, getting proficient with the app is a serious undertaking.

FCPX is very powerful, but less daunting and more seductive — streamlining and automating some of its advanced capabilities.

There seems to be a correlation for many where “pro” must equate to “impenetrably difficult for the non-pro.”  Yes, Apple has made the basics of Final Cut Pro approachable for someone new to editing, but that doesn’t automate the process of ideas and creativity.

The real question is whether or not Apple has chosen the right path for the future of its professional products.  They could have moved the feature set of FCP 7 to a modern 64 bit architecture, darkened the color scheme a bit, and called it a day. Pros would have been happy to not re-learn what they already knew, and there would be a bump in performance and better codec support.  This is similar to the course taken with Premiere Pro- evolutionary but not revolutionary.

Instead, Final Cut Pro X is more than a re-write.  It’s an entirely new set of concepts with a lower barrier of entry for the new or intermediate editor.  This is not to say that the “pro” isn’t in Final Cut Pro anymore.  It’s there, just beneath the surface, perhaps most importantly in the new attention to database driven organization.  Anyone working in X who has sifted through footage marking favorites or tagging keywords will attest to the power and flexibility of the software.  The timeline has an index that allows the editor to quickly find or isolate clips based on a host of criteria.  Roles are an easy way to organize files for export to post audio.  The list goes on.

Apple’s definition of “pro” has evolved to allow non-professionals easier access to the basics, while also giving seasoned veterans the speed and tools they need to create great work.  This gives Apple two areas of growth instead of one, and it’s hard to see a downside for anyone in this equation.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to buy The Washington Post

Paul Farhi for The Washington Post:

The Washington Post Co. has agreed to sell its flagship newspaper to Amazon.com founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos, ending the Graham family’s stewardship of one of America’s leading news organizations after four generations.

Apparently this isn’t an Amazon acquisition- Bezos will be the sole owner of the paper and The Post Company will rename itself and continue without The Washington Post under its wing.

Apple’s Newton, 20 years on

Wired’s Matt Honan takes an interesting look back at the first PDA:

Newton was conceived on an airplane. That’s where Michael Tchao pitched the idea to Apple’s CEO, John Sculley, in early 1991. The company would announce it the following year, and the first product in the Newton Line, the MessagePad went on sale twenty years ago this week in August of 1993. It was Apple’s handheld PDA–a term Apple coined to describe it. By modern standards, it was pretty basic. It could take notes, store contacts, and manage calendars. You could use it to send a fax. It had a stylus, and could even translate handwriting into text. Well, sort of. At the time, this was highly ambitious. Handheld computers were still largely the stuff of science fiction.

It’s fascinating that Apple (and later Palm) thought that handwriting recognition should be the default method of input instead of an onscreen keyboard, even though people had been using keyboards for decades to write words faster.  Palm’s Graffiti shorthand language went so far as to make you learn a whole new way to handwrite letters.  Crazy.

FCP X: the turning point

Two years ago I wrote a piece called FCP X: the missed opportunity.  At the time I wasn’t bashing the program, but rather Apple’s seemingly clumsy approach to the transition, and today I can still smell the lingering smoke from those burned bridges.  Reading it today, I stand most of my original assertions: FCP X 10.0 was essentially beta software, but not bad software.  Apple dropped the ball by not providing a clearer roadmap for deeply invested customers who had used previous versions for over a decade, an error they eventually tried to reverse by being very un-Apple like and pre-announcing features the pros were looking for.  Adobe and Avid smelled blood in the water, and fought hard to pick up those dismayed FCP 7 expatriates.

By the fall of 2011 I had downloaded first the trial and then the full version of Final Cut Pro, but didn’t spend much time with it.  I felt like it was too limiting and that it was trying to somehow save me from myself.  After all, I had spent almost 20 years meticulously building timelines without clips “magnetically” sticking together.  Nonlinear editing systems from their inception in the 80s built their workflows and terminology upon concepts established a century earlier with cutting film.  “Clips” represented snippets of film hanging in “bins” that allowed editors to quickly organize and “splice” them together.  Final Cut Pro X was scrubbed almost entirely of this language, and it felt somewhat arbitrary.

In 2012 I started to spend more time with FCP X and tried to really understand it.  Dismissing it before ever really using it just didn’t feel right.  I eventually chose the “trial by fire” approach: I had a willing client with some patience to spare, and we jumped in.  The first day was frustrating for me, but the second was much better, and by day three I was fairly confident that I knew what I was doing.  Since then I’ve only edited projects in FCP X unless I had to go another way (the lack of tape support still sends me to FCP 7 to master to HDCAM).  I truly enjoy the non-destructive nature of the timeline, and the database driven organizational tools are amazingly flexible.  The software (usually) feels fast and responsive, and the modern architecture with AV Foundation allows me to mix and match formats and framerates quite fluidly.

In the months and years since its launch, Final Cut Pro X has evolved into a different animal than it was on release day.  Apple’s steady drumbeat of software updates (9 by the most recent count) introduced new features and stability.  Sales of FCP X have already exceeded those of the previous version.  The third party plugin market is flourishing.

Many people forget that it took years for FCP “classic” to break through.  Pros largely dismissed the first several versions.  How could a sub-$1000 application compete with systems like Avid’s Media Composer with its proprietary hardware, market dominance, and high price tag?  Some (myself included) experimented with it on personal systems and started to realize the potential.  By 2001 (two years into FCP’s life) I was using it as my main editing tool, and although it was exciting to be trying something new after 6 years of Avid, I wouldn’t wish that experience on the faint of heart.  Mac hardware and software in those days was downright anemic compared to today- we were still using Mac OS 9 and all the system crashes that came with it.  Third party support was sketchy and workarounds were plentiful.

FCP’s turning point was seen by many as what became known as its “Cold Mountain moment.”  In 2003, esteemed editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient) decided to cut his latest project with Final Cut Pro, and the professional world took notice.  The rest of the decade saw FCP eating market share away from the competitors, and eventually dominating that market by a wide margin.

The release of version 10 basically reset the clock in 2011, and pros largely dismissed the first several versions.  How could a sub-$300 application compete with Final Cut Studio and its mature suite of applications, comprehensive features, and market dominance?  As I mentioned earlier, it’s widely believed that X sales have surpassed those of FCP 7’s entire installed base, so that could be seen as a success.

But when was FCP X’s turning point?  For me, it occurred earlier this week.  After spending a few months editing in X, I had several jobs that sent me back to FCP 7 and Premiere Pro CS6.  I immediately noticed how the user experience felt like a trip into the past.  Not bad, necessarily.  Premiere Pro is a really well-built application, and I can still work tremendously fast in FCP 7 thanks to a dozen years’ worth of muscle memory, but I was feeling strangely confined by the workflow.  I missed features that I had grown accustomed to.  The legacy feel of timeline navigation in 7 and CS6 was cumbersome.

2013 isn’t like 2003.  There won’t be another Cold Mountain moment, because our tools have been democratized to the point that any pro level Mac can have FCP 7, Premiere Pro, FCP X, and Avid Media Composer installed simultaneously.  We can no longer master one editing solution and forget the rest.  Final Cut Pro X provides an extremely compelling alternative to the status quo, and many people will experience their own turning points as they discover its value.