The Coming 64-bit Wall

While this article deals with Macintosh, Windows users can expect similar issues in the future. Tech is a shark, it has to keep moving to live.

In June 2019 Apple will introduce the next version of the macOS at their developer conference. While the clock has been ticking for a couple of years now, the countdown to 64-bit actually starts with the beta release to developers (and early adopters) of the next macOS.

Simply put, 32-bit apps and code, including hidden frameworks and codecs you might not see will simply not work on the next macOS. For photographers and videographers, the next macOS is a giant wall. You can play on either side of it, but not both sides.

Specifically, Adobe Creative Suite 3, 4, 5, and 6 users have 32-bit code (and some Java stubs, too). These applications have continued to work for many, but won't in the future if you upgrade your macOS. For those of you who said you didn't want to pay Adobe to keep their apps up-to-date via Creative Cloud, you're about to find out why that was a bad thing. (I'll repeat what I've written in the past: it's not the CC pricing that's the issue, it's the fact that if you get off the cloud you lose function in the apps.)

Apple Aperture also breaks (it's been creaky with the last couple of macOS updates, but still running). Apple iPhoto also lives on the 32-bit side of the wall. Oh, and do you have any JPEG 2000 images? Nope, not 64-bit safe.

Meanwhile, videographers aren't immune. QuickTime is going away, and with it, a number of video codecs that rely on 32-bit code. That last one is a real hidden problem. You might have videos with old codecs embedded in files (e.g. a video in a Keynote presentation). The problem is that while the application you're using might get across the wall—as Keynote certainly is already—the files you open in it might not! 

Note that some of Apple's own apps and frameworks are currently 32-bit and almost certain to move to 64-bit when the wall gets built. The problem is that some of those—Apple's video apps come to mind—won't be able to help you get your files to 64-bit once you jump the wall. In other words, you have to do something now, before the wall goes up.

Want to know just how bad a shape you might be in? You can run a utility, like 32-bitCheck.

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Eek! Adobe and Nikon! (And Fontographer, one of my favorite apps. While the utility found Photo Mechanic 5.0, I just updated to 6.0 but left the 5.0 version around just in case.) 

So how do you deal with the wall that is being built?

  1. Go with Apple and commit to 64-bit. That means finding 64-bit apps for everything you do, and it also means updating some of your video clips and moving JPEG 2000 files to another format. That potentially means a fair amount of work for some, particularly to make sure all your files are still usable once you're on the other side of the wall.
  2. Virtualize a second system. Use something like VMware or Parallels to build an older, 32-bit capable version of macOS that you can boot into when you need those apps and files. This takes software, time to build, and can chew up a fair amount of storage. 
  3. Live on the side of the wall you're already on. The problem with this is updates and compatibility. Initially, you probably won't have issues. But security updates become a real problem after a while. I've basically removed my older macOS system from the Internet now because of that. Camera updates for raw converters become an issue for some.
  4. Straddle the wall. Keep your 32-bit capable machine and software, but buy a new machine and make it 64-bit only. An expensive choice, but if you're due to upgrade your computer, one that you should probably consider.

Macintosh users have to make this decision soon. You can't go blindly into the macOS future without thinking about the wall and what it means. 

Update: Some Apple hardware doesn't make the 64-bit only cut, too, but mostly due to things like GPU support for the newest Apple technologies, such as Metal. 

Also, someone suggested that in #2 you might be able to virtualize the new OS, instead of the old one.

text and images © 2019 Thom Hogan
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