Brandon Perlow: Apple's Influence on Visual Arts is Rotting to the Core

Once the preferred platform of visual arts production and digital content creation, the Macintosh's market share has eroded.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Once the preferred platform of visual arts production and digital content creation, the Macintosh's market share has eroded due to its inability to pace with advances in PC hardware and commodity system pricing.

In a previous piece I proposed a scenario by which Adobe Systems might divorce itself from Apple and cease all product development on the Macintosh. Predictably, the responses to this article were heated, and I got my share of angry e-mails from readers who suggested that such a proposition might indicate that I may be:

A) Mentally Deficient or require the consultation of a mental health care professional.

B) Inclusive of item A and also being paid by a large software company in Redmond to come up with such ludicrous propositions.

C) Completely detached from the community of Mac users who are content creation professionals and could not possibly understand their needs.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

While I won't discount scenario A as a possibility, I have to completely throw out scenario B. I'm awfully sorry to disappoint, but I just dream these things up myself, no bribery is required.

However in regard to scenario C, I am again going to have to disappoint you. As it turns out, one of those end-users is my own little brother, Brandon, who has been working as a mixed media and computer graphics professional for over 10 years.

If you've been following my column since I started Tech Broiler two years ago, no doubt you've seen provocative article artwork credited to SpiderMonkey. That's the company name Brandon uses when he does contract and freelance work.I haven't expressed my professional respect and admiration for my little brother in print until now.  Brandon, I love you and I think you're one hell of an artist.

When Brandon creates his artwork for my articles and for his other 2D painting projects, he uses Adobe Photoshop and also Pixologic ZBrush, which is now becoming more popular with graphics art professionals. He also is a user of a number of 3D software packages such as Autodesk's Maya 3D and Mudbox which he uses for his professional modeling projects.

His preferred platform? The PC and Microsoft Windows 7 64-Bit. I could go on in describing the situation that the Macintosh currently faces in his industry, but instead, I asked Brandon to summarize it for me, since he uses the tools and I do not. Take it away, Brandon.

Macs vs. PCs in the Professional Graphics Industry -- By Brandon Perlow

Macs are more expensive.  You can configure a comparable PC for 25 to 30 percent less. Macs can't take the latest and greatest graphics cards. They are at least a generation behind. I can build a great machine now for $2,500-$3,000 that anyone in my industry would consider a beast.

I'm talking about a system with 12 to 16GB of RAM, and a 2GB RAM professional equivalent level NVIDIA card ($400-$500 range street price). If you max the system cost out to around $4000 and don't care about brand names you can get a box like this with 24GB of RAM. Try assembling that on a Mac. Bear in mind I'm talking about a monstrous workstation for significant Hollywood and Advertising projects. A $1200-$1500 dollar machine will run Maya and Adobe products for typical usage scenarios just great.

I can't speak for other graphics pros but I personally hate the Mac interface. In my honest opinion Windows is just a far easier interface to work with. It's a lot easier to organize my files. What the hell is a "chooser" or a "finder" anyway?

I would rather go Linux if possible, but you have to be pretty knowledgeable on what distributions/packages/upgrades to download and work with your software. However, Linux is great once it's set up perfectly with just Maya/Renderman, if your work is limited to those software packages.

Still, only recently has Mudbox been ported to Linux. Honestly, most developers drag their feet to make a Linux version. But It takes a while to get a Apple version, let alone a Linux one. Right now I don't see Linux making a immediate charge in the professional 3D and 2D graphics industry, at least not on workstations. There's also too many variants of Linux.

Windows keeps it simple. I can run Zbrush, Maya, Photoshop, Mudbox and any other new app or plug-in very easily. While Linux versions of all these apps would help Linux gain serious momentum in both the 2D and 3D community, I can say from personal experience working on large digital effects and graphics arts projects that Apple and Mac no longer has the power or name cache to be the "SGI" of the 21st century.

The fact is that there are considerably less apps for the Mac now. Yes Maya does run on the Mac, but "runs" is about all I'll give it credit for. It doesn't work optimally.  Maya runs better on the PC. The performance for Maya on Linux is best, but the graphics horsepower tends to be better on a Windows machine, as the drivers are still behind in Linux, so right now it's a wash as to which of those two OSes are better for the balance of the work that I do.

There's no real 64-bit apps for Mac yet, and Maya runs way faster in native 64-bit. There's no point of a graphics professional going with Windows XP 32-bit anymore because our demands are so much greater now. So any comparisons from Mac to XP are meaningless, as XP is completely outdated. Only in my school where I teach kids how to use these software packages do they still run it on older computers.

Adobe products such as After Effects run better on the PC, and usually are installed on the same workstations as Maya/3D Studio Max, so it doesn't make sense for your typical graphics professional to own two platforms or dual boot on a x86 Mac. Another thing -- Macs cannot currently use Corel Painter properly. You have to use a PC with it now if you like that product. This is due to screwed-up Wacom support and a few other things that make it undesirable for use with a Mac.

I've only worked at 2 places that used Apples for production stations. I still see a lot of graphic design and motion graphic houses still using them in niche roles, but only because they like to use Final Cut Pro.  One of the few places where they have a niche is in audio production and video editing. Macs also excel at DVD authoring output.

Apple will keep that niche, but that's about it. But most shops I've worked at use primarily PC. Macs are certainly great for people who don't want more than Adobe stuff or Final Cut on their laptops. They are good laptop for that if your work is limited to that kind of stuff, but in my opinion are way overpriced.

Now, if you want a really serious portable graphics station, go to Dell, and you can make a fierce laptop for $1,600 that's a i7 quad core, with a good ATI card. If you really want to go crazy, you can spend about $2,200 on a Sager laptop, and with that you're looking at a desktop replacement with 12GB of RAM and a top of the line Intel i7.

One other thing which I think is a very important consideration, particularly if you are just getting into the industry or if you are trying to learn the software suites, is you can get a cheap PC and run all the apps if you look for the "student" versions. All of these are easy to find online.

On the other hand, the Macs have less selection in "student" versions and are harder to get running.  There are so many people learning the software with PCs, that they won't even consider switching to Mac.

With all of this in mind, Apple has no real future in the digital FX industry.

Apple needs to really make big leaps in technology on the hardware end to be a significant threat to PCs in the graphics and visual arts professions. Honestly I don't see Apple doing much more than iMacs and pretty laptops for the coming years. Their "Pro" desktops aren't well regarded in our business.

Apple should stick to overpriced electronic devices and their non-professional computers, where it looks like they are now making most of their money.

Is Brandon on the money with Apple's diminishing influence on the graphic and visual arts industry, or is he "clueless" like his big brother? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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