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Apples And Lemons

It seems ironic that last month I dedicated my leader column to the down-side of progress, when out of the blue we're hit with an 'extinction event' chunk of progress that threatens to wipe out around half of the musical life in its geographical area. I'm talking of course about Apple's buyout of German developers Emagic, and despite rumours that Apple was on the lookout for a major audio company, the official announcement took us all by surprise. By itself, this would have been 'interesting', but the confirmation that all PC-related development would cease at the end of September elevated the word interesting to truly Chinese proportions.

Paul White c.2003Understandably, PC Logic users are extremely unhappy about this state of affairs (as I would be if they'd just announced the end of Mac support) and, to rub salt into the wounds, many of these people have just gone out and bought Logic Control units in the assumption that their software would continue to evolve and be updated indefinitely. As one very upset SOS reader put it, Apple is trying to win the game by buying the ball, and many of you point out that while Emagic are offering an apparently attractive free cross-grade to Logic Mac, a lot of people rely on other PC software and hardware, so switching horses mid-stream isn't that simple. Besides, you get comfortable with the computer platform you're using, so there's more to switching than simply signing a cheque. I know that if the situation had been reversed and the Mac version was being phased out, I'd be looking for another sequencer, not another computer!

The implications don't just end at the bad news for PC Logic users though, since Apple are sure to want Logic running on Mac OS X as soon as possible and current VST plug-ins won't work on OS X without being recompiled. However, Apple's Core Audio technology has its own plug-in format, with the obvious advantage that all the technical information will be available directly to Emagic. If Emagic drops support for VST plug-ins, it's apparently not difficult for manufacturers to recompile existing VST plug-ins to work under OS X using Apple's Audio Units. But any move away from VST plug-ins by such a major player as Emagic is bound to weaken VST plug-ins as a standard — and many of us agree that having a more-or-less standard plug-in format has been one of the better moves in recent years.

Looking further, there's also the possibility that Apple will want to protect its own sequencer to the extent of making life harder than necessary for anyone else writing for the Mac platform. My own view is that this would make no commercial sense as Apple are in business to sell Macs and Emagic can only be a tiny part of their plan, but then how many times in the past has Apple made what seems like a totally illogical decision?

The press releases suggest that Emagic will remain reasonably autonomous, being free to develop bigger and better things, but some people have expressed concern that Apple may decide to refocus Emagic's technology on a more consumer audio application for inclusion in future versions of OS X. After all, they've already made a play for the consumer video market with iMovie, so an audio equivalent would make sense.

There's also the possibility that the parent company might one day sideline Emagic, which is what's happened to Opcode since its buyout by Gibson. There's absolutely no evidence to support any of these concerns, but when a big company buys a little company, things occasionally happen for political rather than 'common sense' reasons. So my advice to the directors of Emagic (who have no doubt done very well out of the sale of their company) is to put at least half of their gains into a high interest bank account just in case they get the opportunity to buy back their company at a knock down price a few years down the line!

Paul White Editor In Chief