The lack of third-party AAX plug-ins for Pro Tools 11 at launch is a problem for users wanting to make the switch, but make no mistake about it, it’s a problem for Avid too. With many users delaying buying Pro Tools 11 until their workflow is unaffected, vital revenue streams will be lost in this quarter and may extend into the next two quarters too. Our survey shows at least 25% of users won’t upgrade for this reason.
So the question many are asking is: why the delay? We’ve been talking to a lot of developers, many of them off the record, to understand the issues and here are the most common reasons given to us for the delay.
At the heart of AAX development is the SDK (software development kit) which plug-in developers use to create or port their plug-ins. It’s not uncommon for an SDK to be amended over time, but many developers have told us that as different versions were issued by Avid, those new SDK versions caused their plug-ins to develop issues. This delayed and set back their development work and release of AAX plug-ins.
Behind the scenes PACE security is now integral to AAX plug-ins; all AAX plug-ins require what is known as “digital signing” so that they work in Pro Tools 11. The effect of the iLok server issues has backed up the workload at PACE and therefore delayed some plug-in manufacturers delivering in the time they hoped.
AAX Is Not A Developer’s Only Priority
Developers create plug-ins for many different DAW platforms, including different operating systems and different formats such as AAX, RTAS, VST, AU - to name just four. Whilst AAX may be top of Avid’s list and many of those wanting to move to Pro Tools 11, it is not always at the top of a third party developer’s list. Therefore, AAX simply may be somewhere down the queue.
When additional issues such as the SDK and PACE hit, a developer may have to move their resources to another project so that they don’t lose productivity and revenue. Like it or not, Pro Tools is not the only DAW out there and it won’t always be top of the list for a developer; their first priority is to their business and then to their industry partners. Whilst these are not mutually exclusive, they may not always be inclusive either.
Whilst we are happy to defend Avid when we think they get things right, we don’t think the communication from Avid on AAX has always been as clear as it could be. Many users are still unclear that there are two AAX plug-in formats - a 32- AND a 64-bit version (just because you have a folder full of AAX plug-ins for PT 10, doesn’t mean they will all load in Pro Tools 11). Having vendors create and ship 32-bit AAX plug-ins to work in Pro Tools 10 may well have added to the general confusion.
On a personal level, a lot of friends of the blog work at Avid and the staff cuts in the last couple of years have meant less people to do the same, if not more, work. Getting Pro Tools 11 out the door was a monumental feat given the pressure on the teams and this should not be underestimated.
So - is this an outcome of poor concept, design and management? Or is it too easy to start attributing blame? There’s plenty of haters, and many of these are like people on a coconut shy, throwing rocks at something they have no interest in owning in the first place. This article isn’t trying to add to that hate, but to try and help genuinely concerned users understand the issues. For this reason, we went further than just asking developers “why the delay” and asked them some other questions too.
The first we asked wasm would it not have been simpler to just use VST or AU? One developer replied, “AAX is a good platform and setting aside these issues was the right thing to do.” They added, “Creating a new format is an incredibly difficult task, Avid would not have undertaken this lightly.”
We also asked what other factors were involved in this transition. Another developer said, “I don’t think that customer expectations are always realistic. Customers want things quickly but they also want them bug-free. With the finite resources any developer has this is impossible. I could release a copy of an AAX plug-in today but my QA team would be unhappy and so would the customers. We’re not prepared to annoy customers and compromise our reputation.” He went on to say, “I think Avid could have managed those expectations better by giving users a realistic timeline, such as saying that when Pro Tools 11 launches expect about 25% of the plug-ins to be ready, then in three months about 50%, etc.”
On the subject of expectation, another developer wrote back, “People forget that during these huge transitions, there is pain - when Apple went to Intel chips there was a lot of software that didn’t work, some audio plug-ins were broken for over a year.” Another said, “It’s easy for people to go into forums and claim they would have done it better and Avid have screwed up, or to claim they have some inside knowledge because a friend works at Avid. To be honest, the kind of people who make these claims display an astounding level of ignorance to product development, management and process and should not be taken seriously. If they were as smart as they claim to be, then they would be working in one of these companies not spending all day in forums.”
What is also becoming clear is some developers see a new plug-in format as an opportunity to re-evaluate their plug-in designs. Some are actually using the advent of AAX to improve their whole plug-in development process. This was echoed by Dave Tremblay in his response a few days ago on this site; if you are spending the time changing stuff then take the opportunity to do it right (paraphrased). This could be a very good thing — in the future.
So, talking to developers has revealed a mixed range of views, which is to be expected. Most think the delays are an inevitable part of such a huge undertaking, but at the same time some think certain aspects could have been handled a little better. What it does tell us is that Avid and third-party developers are working hard to deliver as soon as they can without compromising quality. It may not be as soon as we would like, but as noted at the start of this article, Avid knows that it is in its best interest to make it sooner rather than later.