There is a reason that the criticism of Final Cut has caught fire. The story plays into one of the oldest criticisms of Apple as a company; that it doesn’t make products suitable for ‘serious professionals’. Apple adresses that charge in this television commercial, which predates the release of FCP X by a few years:
Well, in the case of the newly released Final Cut Pro X, the young employee in this ad wouldn’t be able to do anything with that disk.
Yes, with FCP X, Apple has released a product that lacks many of the capabilities that existed in the previous version. However, there is more to the story than missing features. In order to understand the very heated emotions behind many of the bad reviews in the App Store, a bit of backstory is helpful.
In 1999, when Final Cut Pro was first released, it was in the same sub-$1,000 price class as Adobe Premiere, but it its cumulative feature set made it competitive with Avid’s Media Composer which, at the time, cost over $100,000. That same year, Avid announced that they were abandoning the Mac platform. It probably had little to do with Final Cut. Primarily they were angry about the newly released ‘Blue and White’ G3. You see, they needed six PCI slots to accommodate the abundance of hardware that the Avid software required. Apple had released a desktop box with only three slots and indicated that was the standard going forward.¹ Avid owners would now have to buy PCI Expansion chassis, adding yet another costly element of potential incompatibility to their already sprawling hardware. The were referred to in certain circles as ‘slot hogs’.
Avid was the Microsoft of the editing world.
Sure, Apple was now selling a surprisingly powerful editing product that worked seamlessly with the newly integrated firewire port, but it’s likely that Avid was like the old man in the commercial. They looked at Final Cut as something for amateurs, not a threat.
Ultimately, Avid relented, and they continued to support the Mac platform. However, they struggled for a decade as Final Cut chipped away at the lower end of the editing software market. Their workhorse product, Media Composer, which sold for $100,000+ in 1999 is now less than $3,000 (and requires no PCI slots at all).
Avid still dominates in Hollywood which is a tiny market compared to the overall user base of editing professionals. Around town, there are many facilities using Final Cut, but on the twenty or so TV series I have edited on, only three used Final Cut, and only one of them was a lager scale show. Personally, I like cutting on Avid and Final Cut in different situations. I liked Premiere the last time I used it as well. But I definitely have an emotional investment in Final Cut unlike the others.
Final Cut empowered many of us who could not otherwise afford to access the pricey Avid systems. We felt like rebels and renegades, sticking it to ‘The Man.’ Often times we had to justify or defend our choice of Final Cut to clients or Producers. They wanted to edit on a real machine, an Avid. But Final Cut could do the work. Sure, it didn’t initially have things like multicam, and real-time rendering, but it was worth the extra effort to make it work. Over time, Apple filled in many of these features.
I can reasonably say that many of us became emotionally invested in the outcome of the competition between these two products. It impacted our aspiring careers and our livelihoods, To this day there is a global community of Final Cut Pro users who are passionate about the product. if you are not familiar with these groups, think of them as the Mac fan base at the height (or depth) of the PC wars. It’s a proud community of FCP evangelists who feel that, in partnership with Apple, they toppled the monopolistic Avid regime.
So Final Cut Pro users were part of two successful insurgent technology movements. Apple, as an operating system, and Final Cut Pro, as an editing platform, had each, in their own way, outperformed powerful rivals over the past decade and were comfortably basking in their success. Microsoft and Avid, while still powerful, do not enjoy the monopolistic market share (and mind share) they did in the late nineties.
Then along comes FCP X. Now, the rebels and renegades are established editors and business owners and post production facilities. Apple has surprised their supporters the way they surprised Avid more than a decade earlier. The reactions of the Final Cut community are, by now, well known. There are definitely practical implications for people who’ve built a business around Final Cut. But there is also a feeling of betrayal that is fueling some of the most heated criticism. I think some of that has to do with how Final Cut developed into something much larger than a software product. For many people, Final Cut Pro is part of their creative and professional identity. And, for now, they are not sure who they are, or who they will be a year from now.
I am currently exploring the software and will write about my impressions soon.
¹ The 3 PCI slot standard coincided with the end of the ‘cloned’ Mac era. This turned the Mac 9600 into a collectors item for years to come because it was the last, most powerful Mac able to support the PCI demands of the AVID hardware.