Something much bigger than a software program died last week when Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) announced that it was ending development of the old version of Final Cut Pro and replacing it with the totally redesigned Final Cut Pro X. Apple also killed some of that intangible and priceless thing called trust.
Professional video editors had been eagerly anticipating a vastly improved and updated Final Cut Pro from the Wizard of Cupertino. What they got instead was a lump of coal from the Wicked Witch, delivered by flying monkeys. It was, in essence, a product that seemed to be designed to drive editors right into the loony bin. It certainly caused its share of apoplexy.
Longtime Final Cut Pro trainer Larry Jordan, lamenting the heavy-handed way that Apple handled the introduction, said on his blog: "Apple did not just blow this launch, they went out of their way to alienate their key customer base."
David Pogue, writing an online follow-up to his mostly favorable New York Times review of Final Cut Pro X, commented on the anger professional video editors have expressed at the program's release: "In 10 years of writing Times columns, I've never encountered anything quite like this."
FCPX left out many important features that FCP had, even losing the ability to open projects edited in the older program. This was disappointing enough, but video editor Jeffery Harrell was particularly taken aback by the program's completely new, unwieldy, and unyielding project organization system: "apocalyptically bad … maliciously designed" is how he described it between his less printable critiques of the program.
The negative reaction to the program has reached such a crescendo that a petition was started on Apple's own support forum requesting that it bring back the old Final Cut. If Apple isn't willing to do that, the petitioners requested that the company sell the program to a third-party developer. That petition has jumped to No. 1 on PetitionOnline.com, with more than 4,700 signatures as of June 29.
To the casual follower of this program's release, it might seem like just a lot of whining by a small group of malcontents who would complain about any change from the status quo. There would be a sliver of truth to that charge if, as the petition points out, this didn't affect the livelihoods of those whose businesses directly support the Final Cut Pro workflow:
Many have invested hundreds of thousands (some even millions) of dollars in creating Final Cut Pro based companies. These are now threatened by a "prosumer-grade" product upgrade of Final Cut Pro 7 titled "Final Cut Pro X," and will likely put several of these companies out of business.
Comparing apples to kumquats
Some have compared this uproar over the introduction of FCPX to what occurred when Apple's classic OS 9 operating system was replaced by the Unix-based OS X -- basically, a short-lived brouhaha that will blow over once customers realize the change was for the better. A major difference here is that Apple continued OS 9 for years so that legacy programs could still be run. In this case, however, the older FCP and its companion programs were summarily terminated.
That Apple commercial that introduced the Macintosh computer during the 1984 Super Bowl may come to mind about now. That's the one with a great hall filled with worker drones listening to a large-screen televised image of an omnipotent leader who proclaims: "Our enemies shall talk themselves to death and we will bury them with their own confusion … We shall prevail!" A young woman runs into the hall, destroying the screen with a sledgehammer.
Apple's intention, I believe, was to imply that its revolutionary computer would free workers from the yoke of top-down-imposed technical dogma. Hmmm … some might see the face of Apple up there on that screen after this recent example of a top-down-imposed way of doing things.
Polishing the apple
Apple may be attempting to do a little damage control by giving refunds to some dissatisfied FCPX purchasers. This is notable, as the company's terms and conditions declare that "all sales are final." But restoring the trust that video and film professionals once had in Apple will require a lot more than crediting some customers' credit card accounts. It would require bringing back to life the old Final Cut Pro and making the needed improvements to that program.
Failing that, I'm sure Avid (Nasdaq: AVID), Adobe (Nasdaq: ADBE), and Sony (NYSE: SNE), with their respective Media Composer, Premiere, and Vegas editing systems, would gladly pick up the slack.
If you have any thoughts on the matter, let me know in the comments section below.
Fool contributor Dan Radovsky has no financial interest in the companies mentioned.
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