Sean Sperte

The Rosetta Dilemma

30 May 2006

My first order of business after receiving a MacBook Pro on loan for 4-8 weeks was to install and run Adobe’s Creative Suite 2. What I found in initial testing was what I had feared: Rosetta’s emulation doesn’t cut it for Photoshop. To be fair, Apple’s done a fantastic job at something that’s potentially mind-blowing in terms of software engineering. To the end user, Rosetta is virtually transparent, meaning if you launch an application that’s not compiled to run on the Intel processor then you’ll never notice Rosetta stepping in and claiming juris-my-diction (/end crude Matrix reference). The application’s icon bounces in the dock a few more times, perhaps, but that’s about it.

When you consider what exactly Rosetta is doing then you’ve got to be impressed by it. Every CPU call; every calculation; every process; everything must go through an emulation cycle – potentially doubling the operation’s time and distance. For Rosetta to be as fast as it is shows a lot: Apple did a great job. In fact, that Apple even designed and built Rosetta speaks highly of their dedication to their user base (consumers and developers alike).

My observation is that Rosetta’s speed is comparable to a typical pre-Intel Mac’s. I tested several (read: “2 or 3”) non-universal applications and found that while I noticed a speed difference – the rest of the computer’s processes are incredibly fast – I rarely felt distracted or frustrated by the delays. Ahem. That is, until Photoshop was launched.

I’ve read several op-ed articles (and associating comments, thank you Newsvine) that both defend and blame Adobe for not updating their software to run natively on Macintels. One thing that is consistent throughout is the fact that Adobe had plenty of time to prepare for the switch, whether it was 6 or 9 or 12 months. Even if it had been 2 months, I still feel that such a huge transition in computing should be perceived as priority number one for any company that enjoys such a large user base from Mac owners and patrons. If you ask my opinion, Adobe sat on their huge (and growing), collective butt just to spite Apple … and it may end up biting them in that same butt.

The dilemma Adobe now faces is that they’ve said a universal (Intel-friendly) version of their software will not be available until CS3 is released, sometime in 2007. They said this way back when there were only two Intel Macs on the market and the world was still skeptical about Apple’s move … uh, just a few months ago. But a lot has changed since then. I don’t know the exact numbers, but based on reviews and my incredibly accurate observational skills, Apple’s sales of new Intel-based systems is quite good: Which isn’t so good for Adobe. Here’s what the a recent board meeting at Adobe could look like:

Adobe-Head-Honcho #1: So, my teenage daughter just got herself a Macinbook or whatever.

Honcho #2: Yeah? Black or white?

Geek Advisor: I think they’re called “MacBooks.”

Honcho #1: I think she said white.

Honcho #3: You know they’re charging like 400 bucks more for the black?

Honcho #2: No way!

Honcho #1: Oh yeah, she mentioned that. She asked me for a copy of Photoshop for it.

Honcho #2: I’ve got a copy right here. (Pulls out a 95-pound box from the bookshelf and hands it to Honcho #1.)

Advisor: You might want to hold off on giving her that, sir.

Honcho #1: What? Why?

Honcho #3: Yeah, I heard our software won’t run on those new MacTops.

Honcho #1: What?!

Honcho #2: That’s baloney! It runs just fine –

Advisor: That’s not true, it runs, but –

Honcho #1: Are you saying that my daughter can’t run #@$%ing Photoshop on her #@$%ing Apple?!

Advisor:

Honcho #2:

Honcho #3:

Honcho #1: Crap.

If I were Adobe right now I’d be working my fingers to the bone getting a universal binary out. Why? Because of users like me – users that are about to upgrade their Mac and have only one reason to not do so. Users that are beginning to wonder if that reason is really such a big deal in the first place. Users that are starting to look for other tools that accomplish what Photoshop and Illustrator do (with probably less stress, for less money). Users that are crossing their fingers in hope that Apple will introduce a “Photoshop killer” (or something truly ground-breaking, like a graphic design app that’s actually intuitive!).

I doubt Adobe is working on little more than rearranging their offices to make room for their new Macromedia friends right now, though. I know this must be true because I’ve got this nagging Adobe Updater thing that’s supposed to remind me when a new update is ready, and lately it’s been rather quiet. Whatever they’re working on over there it’s certainly not their current applications.

So in the meantime, what am I to do? I want to upgrade to a Macintel so bad I can taste it … and using the MacBook Pro lately hasn’t helped the situation. Compared to my PowerBook the Intel machine screams. I can only take so much of this speed and torture before I pack up “Caspian II” and post an eBay ad. Again, the only thing stopping me is Adobe.