The Moving Picture: the APPLE house rules
Posted Jul 1, 2003

Well more than a decade ago, Adobe premiered a new application for editing those then-silly little Apple QuickTime movies. For video professionals, it was easy to dismiss the first versions of Premiere as a desktop novelty with little serious practical application. After all, like printing Snoopy from a dot-matrix printer, editing postage stamp-sized movies was a cool display of technology, but hardly true art. Nonetheless, Apple's AV Mac configurations, with composite and S-Video I/O built-in, provided the platform for early enthusiasts to try their hand at editing personal videos.

But soon, leveraging Apple's robust and open QuickTime architecture, hardware makers like Radius (VideoVision) and SuperMac (Digital Film) offered expansion cards and placed Premiere at the core of a very affordable desktop video-editing studio, given contemporary expectations. With SCSI RAID arrayed hard drives pumping and praying, Premiere edited full-motion, 30 frame/60 field/sec video. Consumers ranged from serious hobbyists to video professionals producing serious work. But, alas, Premiere's 30 frames per second was just that—30, not 29.97—and high-end pros dismissed Premiere again.

It's been several years since Premiere corrected that fatal frame-rate flaw and several, too, since a late-blooming Windows version matched the Mac one in features and functions. Today, the venerable Premiere is a professional video-editing application supported by all classes of I/O hardware, from consumer capture cards to DV camcorders to HD boards. Arguably, Premiere suffers in comparison with products like Apple's Final Cut Pro and Avid's XpressDV more from its reputation of modest beginnings than its current feature set and workflow.

Now, with the new version, dubbed Premiere Pro, Adobe adds native YUV processing, 3-point color correction, hugely improved audio controls, and a further refined user interface to its familiar workflow. Premiere Pro wasn't even in Beta at the time of this writing, so a thorough analysis must wait. But it's clear that between playing a little catch-up and a little feature leapfrog, Premiere Pro is, minimally, still in the game.

Yet there's another feature of Premiere Pro that's more startling, at least for a moment in time. Premiere Pro is built on a brand new code base designed to run on Windows XP. That's right, there's no "and…" There will be no more Mac versions of Premiere.

Objectively, that makes sense for Adobe. Despite its early Mac-only days, Premiere's Windows version now drastically outsells its Mac sibling (Adobe doesn't release statistics, but rumor puts it at something like 10-20 to 1). That's due in large part to Adobe's extremely aggressive and successful bundling of (some version of) Premiere with darn near every video capture card sold. But it's also due to Apple.

Adobe's relationship with Apple goes way back. But the Adobe-Apple connection was more than just video; the Mac used to be the premier platform for nearly all creative professionals, and Adobe's Photoshop and Illustrator were a big part of that. Adobe made a legitimate effort to be cross-platform, but there was a clear reason why Steve Jobs always used cross-platform versions of Photoshop to demonstrate the speed of Apple workstations against Wintel. On the video side, early Premiere Windows versions both suffered and benefitted from Adobe's reliance on QuickTime for Windows rather than Microsoft's native AVI format.

All that has changed. Photoshop sells more Windows versions than Mac, although not by anywhere close to Premiere's margin. More critically for video, Apple now competes with its partners with products like Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, and Shake. Apple needed to do that. A few years ago, Apple's major video editing partners—Avid and Media 100—were increasingly leaning toward Windows NT in a time of confusion for the Mac's future and unambiguous market pressure toward Windows for those companies. It's easy to extrapolate, as Apple did, that without its own tools, Mac digital video editing might disappear altogether.

What about Apple? Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, iDVD, iMovie, and Shake are amazing products that have had a major role in returning the MacOS to creative prominence. They are all killer applications. But there's the rub. As free MacOS giveaways or under-valued professional applications (by cost compared to the competition), they are literally killing any reason for independent software vendors to pursue competitive products on the MacOS. Apple's latest offering, Final Cut Express, the $299 watered-down version of "Pro," seems to take direct aim at Adobe and Premiere and that's a questionable business strategy.

I don't pretend to know what Adobe executives are thinking. But since the decision to drop Premiere for Mac, as well as the decision not to pursue a Mac version of its new Encore DVD authoring application, makes such logical sense, I'll take Adobe at its word that it is a straight business decision.

Yes, there is a middle ground between iMovie and Final Cut Pro. Yes, the ever-advancing feature-set of iMovie already makes third-party software development a tenuous proposition. Nonetheless, it's only been a few years since Steve Jobs and Apple expended great effort wooing software developers back to the MacOS. Rather than continue that and encourage close partners like Adobe to fill in the holes, moves like Final Cut Express slam the door shut.

Does it matter as long as Final Cut Pro and the other apps do the job? Maybe not in the short term. Indeed, Apple spins the everything-tightly-integrated, one stop-shopping theme convincingly these days. But there are lessons from Apple's own rich history with Microsoft that suggest that having choices—both good ones and bad—from competition are what make a platform robust. Surely, Apple doesn't think it was all Microsoft's own rich innovation that gave it a 97.5% market share.