It was to be expected that when Apple recently announced the end-of-life for several legacy products like Final Cut 7 and Motion and Dropbox dropping support for some legacy operating systems that some people would feel aggrieved.
It's worth pointing out that Final Cut Pro X was released in June 2011, over six years ago - so no one could accuse Apple of not giving users some time to adapt and adopt a new workflow. However so not to get bogged down in the world of Final Cut, my example ends there, this article is about legacy in general.
So we all know what I'm talking about for this article I'm referring to the concept of software that offers compatibility over an extended period.
Back When I Was A Boy
Pro Tools is one such application; it is still possible to save a version of a Pro Tools session in the .pts format that was created on Pro Tools 5.1, which is some 16 years old. That's no mean feat when one considers that some comparable DAWs have undergone changes that offer no such possibility, in fact, one DAW could not open projects made on the newest version with the earlier version 18 months ago. When you open a session it prompts you that should you continue working on the latest version and save as it to the same file then there is no going back. Of course, you can create a copy just in case. However, create anything new, and then there is no legacy support for that file.
Returning to Apple for a moment and Final Cut users have faced the same challenge several times during the lifetime of Final Cut Pro X, with the user prompted that working on older projects means the libraries need to be updated before they can continue.
I make a lot of content for clients, for example, I must have cut over 100 movies in 2017 so far. Many of them include versions of the same advert, all of them have undergone amends during their lifetime. Most of them have complex workflows that include round-trips to Pro Tools, RX and other software used by me on projects.
But if you asked me how many projects I've had to pull from my archives and I can count those on the fingers of one hand. In fact, I can't recall the last time I have been scuppered because of legacy format issues.
In my opinion legacy support is overrated and is more of a theoretical concept we fear, rather than a daily reality.
Let's be clear I'm not talking about archives, such as movies or old albums, in most cases, these are sitting on old film or tape for which there are specialist machines which can still be used to play them back on, should the need arise. I'm talking about getting a phone call from a client who wants to open up a Pro Tools session from 10 years ago and carry on where they left off. Let's be clear; they can right now, they can also open up a session made today on some older version of Pro Tools, should they have an old machine with that software installed. However, the plug-ins may not work on the newer session, for various reasons.
Where Do We Want Resources Focussed?
And here is the question we have to ask - do we want software and hardware developers to support legacy products ad infinitum and take away that resource from future development? Many developers have limited resources, and if they are trying to keep old plug-in formats supported or software running on machines that haven't sold for a decade, then that is the time they could have been investing in R&D, making new products.
Of course, we should be able to open older projects created on software several versions back, with careful saving and backing up that is possible. But on the chance that we might get a call from a client who drives a Delorean asking for a change to a project that was made in 1999, I think we might be asking a little too much from our software developers.
For the rare occasions, this happens there is always a way to get that project opened.
Part of the cost of doing business is updating our hardware and software every few years, generally about every 4-5 years. I don't think the entire industry can be expected to stand still, or have brands like Avid or Apple, or worse the smaller developers because some people want to run computers that are several generations old. Again, I'm not suggesting people run out and buy the latest Windows Surface or Mac Pro the minute they hit the market, but I am suggesting that all businesses have to plan for the updating equipment over the accounting lifecycle.
I also want to be clear that if you run your studio on an old machine and with older software and don't need to update, then that's great - profit is what you don't spend. But I am suggesting that wanting those older products updated and supported forever is somewhat unrealistic.
You can't on the one hand be signing petitions asking brands to keep supporting products made over a decade ago and at the same time be berating them for their lack of new features. They don't have a warehouse somewhere full of software developers just waiting to be put to work on a project - these companies have limited resources and they have to be spent wisely.
Get The Best Of Both Worlds
My advice for the best of both worlds is to keep drives with older versions of the software and operating systems just in case you get a call to open a legacy project. You can always create a drive to boot from for those rare occasions - and what the hell, if you have an old machine you are replacing then keep that too. In accounting terms the equipment owes you nothing on paper and can help get you out of a scrape should you get a call from a client who recorded an album with you in 1850.
Maintaining software legacy is overrated, yes you may get a call from a customer who needs to open some ancient project, but I'd rather have developers working on improving my businesses' future and helping me harness new technologies.