So Barbara and I have iPhones (and her iPad) that are fully compatible with the latest operating systems from Apple. They may not be new enough to take advantage of all of the spiffy new features, but they run just fine. There are no issues that I can see; apps launch fast, that things that we do (mostly email, Safari and a handful of other apps) work just fine.
My iMac, however, is a Late 2014 model, the first with the 5K Retina Display. But the latest macOS, Monterey, cannot be installed on it. Yes, I know there are unofficial ways to make it so, but I also have to run a business, and I cannot risk running into unexpected problems that might sacrifice reliability and security. So I live with Big Sur.
Except for Safari, since Apple has released the Monterey version, with most of the new features, for older operating systems that include Big Sir and Catalina.
Now I do admit it’s not something I’d take in stride. From the very earliest days when I first began using Macs at home, I always looked for the latest and greatest. I was, after all, writing about technology for major publications. But this meant running into unexpected system crashes from time to time, and maybe encountering the inability to run an app with full performance.
I recall, for example, trying out a beta of Mac OS System 7 over 30 years ago, in 1991. When I ran into bugs and reported them to Apple, I was put in touch with an Apple software engineer, with whom I exchanged information and got to see my worst problems fixed.
In 1994, when I bought one of the first Power Macs, the 8100, it shipped with a System 7.5.x variant that was literally crash city. Fortunately, Apple got a fix out within days — or at least something that fixed most of the problems. So I continued to tolerate my new hardware, but the expectation of improved performance wasn’t realized right away. All of my apps had to run in emulation (68030 emulation, taking it back two processor generations), so apps were somewhat more sluggish than usual until the native PowerPC versions were out.
Mac OS X realized the hope of a Unix-based operating system, but it was lacking critical features in its early versions. Printing was flaky, most apps had to run in “Classic” mode, in a separate window and thus not inheriting the new Aqua interface. Apple supposedly made the tools to upgrade to the new OS relatively simple, using a feature known as Carbon to make it easy to transfer critical features and reduce the workload on developers.
Some software publishers used the transition as a scheme to get you to buy a new version at the standard upgrade price. Microsoft and Quark come to mind. But new features were spare; it was mostly about releasing a native version, and I was no happier than others. But the secret is that I was a beta tester of both Office and XPress, so I didn’t have to shell out hundreds to upgrade.
The migration from PowerPC to Intel starting in 2006 was less troublesome.
Apple’s emulation scheme, Rosetta, was mostly seamless in handling legacy apps. The speedier performance of the new Intel silicon made up for the performance loss for the most part.
So when I bought my first Intel-based Macs, I didn’t suffer much waiting for software to make the transition. Well, until Apple opted to ditch Rosetta beginning with macOS Lion in 2011. Well, it was a five-year run, although some of you might have objected to Apple’s decision, though it certainly caused some people to look for new apps to replace the ones left behind. By that time, however, I had already upgraded or replaced most of the apps I required.
With the move to Apple Silicon, I expect a similar situation. Rosetta 2 emulation works well according to the reviews, with Intel apps working near as fast on the new hardware. No doubt Apple will give developers a few years to get with the program; let’s assume five years as before.
For now, this is not something I have to deal with. Again, my iMac is stuck with Big Sur. I also have a 17-inch MacBook Pro from 2010 that was abandoned by Apple after macOS High Sierra, which was released in 2017. That was a good run, and I was surprised to see it work well when it last had heavy use in late 2019. That’s when the iMac’s Fusion Drive failed, and it made two visits to Apple for service. Yes two visits, because Apple failed to diagnose the failure of the SSD during the initial repair session; they only replaced the hard drive.
In any case, the MacBook Pro was able to run all of my work apps of the time. So the latest or recent versions of such audio production apps as Audio Hijack, Amadeus Pro and Sound Studio performed pretty well. So did Microsoft Office and the handful of other apps I required. Indeed, I could attribute the relatively speedy launches and save operations to my decision to replace the stock drive with an SSD some years back.
Today? Well, the latest Audio Hijack, 3.8.9, requires macOS Mojave 10.14.4, meaning the MacBook Pro is stuck with an older version, but that shouldn’t hurt functionality. None of the changes in later versions of the app, other than the ones fixing performance and stability, matter much to me. I’m mostly focused on capturing audio from Skype and my mic mixer.
So where does that leave me? Well, unless my iMac fails again, I can probably live with it for another year or two without suffering, unless my workflow changes and requires something that I cannot install. I suppose I can manage the MacBook Pro as well, and both are tributes to building reliable hardware.
Any serious breakdown, however, would mean I’d have to make some fast decisions.
But I am no longer in a position to just buy new Macs every year or so. Life has also become more complicated in recent months, as most of you know. Barbara has had two serious eye surgeries, and I am scheduled for two heart procedures in the next few weeks; they installed a stent in my heart last month. So our health, and the costs of copays and meds, has to take precedence over buying new tech gear.
If I was in a position to get a new Mac now, I’d choose the 2021 24-inch iMac. Based on published benchmarks, it runs at least twice as fast as my old iMac, and losing three inches in screen real estate is not a critical problem for editing mostly audio waveforms. While the rumor mills mention an iMac Pro, with a 27-inch or larger display, for next year, that may be overkill.
In the meantime, I’m just playing the great game of survival.
THE FINAL WORD
Gene Steinberg’s Mac Radio Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.
Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
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