What does the end of 32-bit Mac apps mean for photographers?

I’m writing this article because I expect I’ll start getting questions next week about whether my software (Lumenzia and my free panel) will continue to work when Apple finally kills 32-bit apps this fall. The short answer is yes (with the caveat that I’m not clear on whether you could ever reinstall Photoshop CS6 if needed after migrating to OSX 10.15). And of course Windows users are unaffected by this. Read on for full details about the various ways this substantial update may affect Mac users. And check back here in a few months for more info, I plan to update this article as I learn more…

 

Update May29, 2019: I received some good feedback that OSX’s 32-bit report that I reference below is not as robust as it should be. If you’d like to dive deeper, please see this article for more info.

 

Apple is expected to release details on the next version of the OSX Mac operating system at next week’s WWDC19. There are many rumors as to what we’ll see, but Apple has already announced that the next version (OSX 10.15, which follows the current OSX 10.14 “Mojave”) is making one huge change that may impact photographers. It will no longer support “32-bit” apps. There is a good chance that of the applications and drivers on your computer will stop working if they are not updated as well.

Why is Apple doing this? We’ve had access to 64-bit for a very long time now, and Apple has decided it is now time to pull the plug on supporting very old standards. 64-bit hardware and software allows faster performance and access to more memory. For example, 64-bit support is what gave Photoshop the ability to use more than 4GB of RAM a long time ago. So 64-bit performance across the board is great, but a lot of apps are still only available in 32-bit versions. Those apps will either need an update or will stop working in the near future.

 

Which applications may stop working under OSX 10.15?

Apple wants to make sure users know what’s coming and nudge reluctant developers to upgrade their apps to 64-bit, so you may have already seen the following warning for some of your software:

If you have seen that warning, the software named in the alert is 32-bit and will not run on OSX 10.15 (at least without an upgrade to a 64-bit version of the app). While that’s helpful, you may not remember all of these warnings and almost certainly have not seen a full list of warnings for all of your software. So it is a good idea to manually run a check. Here’s the best way to get a comprehensive list of all 32-bit apps on your computer:

  • Click the Apple menu / About This Mac and then click the System Report button.
  • In the system report, scroll down to Software section and click Applications.Give it a few minutes for the screen to update.
  • Scroll to the right side of the report to find the column labeled “64-bit (Intel)”. Any item labeled “No” is a 32-bit app which will not run under OSX 10.15.
  • You can click on the “64-bit (Intel)” header twice to sort all of the “No” items to the top of the list.
  • Review the details pane at the bottom for anything ambiguous. For example, I see three 32-bit applications which have a meaningless string of letters and numbers showing as the name. But in the details, I can see that the application lives under /Library/Application Support/Adobe/Uninstall/… and is clearly an uninstaller. Clicking to run it (and then cancelling), I see that these are uninstallers for old Adobe programs like Photoshop CS6.

Per the May 29, 2019 update noted above, a more robust test is to actually boot your computer in 64-bit only mode. Anything that runs is ok in 64-bit, but you’ll need to actually open each app if you want to confirm this way. And be aware that you need to fully test all the code (for example, Adobe’s installer is a separate program from Photoshop itself – so confirming that Photoshop works does not tell you if you could actually reinstall Photoshop). See that article for more details.

 

I see several of the current versions of my applications are affected, including:

  • Various Photoshop-related services. The Photoshop app itself  has been 64-bit compatible for OSX since CS5. However, some of its bundled applications are still 32-bit and the ramifications of this are not immediately clear to me for Photoshop CS5 and CS6 users (if you are using CS4 or older, it will not work on OSX 10.15):
    • CS6ServiceManager. This application is loaded whenever Photoshop CS6 is run. But to the best of my knowledge, CS6ServiceManager not important to proper functioning of CS6 or any of my extension panels. I have tested by disabling this process on Mojave (by going to /Library⁩/Application Support⁩/⁨Adobe⁩/CS6ServiceManager⁩ and renaming the application so that it does not load with CS6). So far, Photoshop CS6 and extension panels (such as  Lumenzia) still seem to run fine without it. CS6ServiceManager would be required for some Adobe panels like Kuler and Mini Bridge, but those panels already died more than a year ago when compatibility with Adobe Air ended with OSX High Sierra.
    • Setup and installer applications from Adobe. Those related to Creative Cloud will surely be updated on time. Until we get some run time on OSX 10.15, I would be cautious about updating OSX if are using legacy versions of Photoshop. I expect CS5 and CS6 will run if installed (CS5 introduced 64-bit code for OSX). But I’m not clear if the CS5-CS6 installer (which is separate code from Photoshop itself) will work if you ever need to reinstall (and cannot test it as I have CS6 through the CC subscription). My assumption is that new installation or re-installation will probably not work, as the uninstaller is marked as 32-bit code. Keep an eye on Adobe’s post about 64-bit compatibility. It is  incomplete at this time, but we’ll surely hear more as we get closer to OSX 10.15 launch. Ultimately, there’s a good chance you may need to upgrade to Photoshop CC or migrate to Affinity if your existing installation gets corrupted (CS6 is more than 7 years old already, so don’t expect any updates).
    • Photoshop Droplets, which I use for some automated processes (such as sharpening) during Lightroom exports. Any Droplet Created with Photoshop CC 2018 or earlier is 32-bit and needs to be rebuilt as a 64-bit droplet using Photoshop CC 2019+. This is easy to do if you still have the original action used to create the droplet. And since old actions will continue to work, you can safely rebuild these Droplets even after updating to OSX 10.15. See System Report / Applications per above to identify any old Droplets if you want to start migrating now.
  • Epson printer/scanner drivers. Epson tells me they plan to update to 64-bit (they suggested around the time of OSX 10.15 launch, but did not specify a target launch date).
  • PocketWizard Utility for updating the firmware and settings on PocketWizard radio flash triggers. PocketWizard plans to update “before the fall”.
  • SpyderUtility calibration software for the Spyder colorimeter. Datacolor plans to update to 64-bit support before Apple launches macOS 10.15.
  • Eizo ColorNavigator calibration software for Eizo monitors. Eizo has told me they are planning a 64-bit update.
  • An FTP app that the developer has told me may or may not be updated. I have already replaced it with a different 64-bit FTP app.
  • And a few other applications I use to develop software. This creates a few headaches for me, but doesn’t appear to create any critical challenges.
  • And while I’m not personally affected, Final Cut Pro X users should be aware that some older video file types will lose support when the legacy 32-bit QuickTime 7 codecs go away. By identifying these ahead of time, you can convert these files to 64-bit compatible formats so that you can continue to use them. It’s worth updating FCPX and opening old projects to see if you are warned about legacy file types (this warning is a new feature in the latest version of FCPX).

Note if you use my Lumenzia or my free luminosity masking panel, it is compatible (it just needs Photoshop to run). Photoshop CC is good to go. However, while Photoshop CS6 runs fine in 64-bit, I am unclear if it can be re-installed if needed after upgrading OSX (the uninstaller is 32-bit, and I do not have access to the standalone CS6 installer to test it). All my CS6 customers have access to the CC versions of my panels, so you can always update to Photoshop CC (which I consider a good value: modestly spec’d Macbook Pro costs about the same as 25 years of Photoshop and Lightroom CC).

 

How should you upgrade to OSX 10.15?

There are many ways you can approach this change to avoid pain, frustration, or lost work. All of the following are good approaches to consider:

  • Delay updating to OSX 10.15. I think this is a great idea for the first several months while 3rd party vendors roll out 64-bit support, but I wouldn’t recommend planning to do this for too long.
    • There’s no urgent need to upgrade OSX. Apple has historically provided security updates for the previous operating system for about a year after releasing a new version. So you should have until Q4 2020 before security becomes an important issue, at which point I think you should upgrade.
    • The only reason to update sooner is if you find any of the new features in OSX 10.15 highly compelling. Even if you do, I would recommend waiting for a while. This is not an upgrade you should rush into.
  • Try upgrading a bootable clone (see the end of this post), while leaving your regular boot drive alone. This is an easy way to safely test things and is how I plan to evaluate the update before committing. If anything goes wrong, you can just wipe the clone and keep working from your (unchanged) original boot drive. But be aware that even if you give all your applications a thorough test, you may miss odd cases. For example, I suspect that the 64-bit migration will make the Photoshop CS6 uninstaller stop working, even though I expect CS6 to generally run fine.
  • Backup and take the plunge. While testing the upgrade on a clone gives you a simpler way to back out, you can at least undo this.
    • If you run into any issues, try updating the software to the latest version of the affected software. Your vendor may have already addressed the issue. If not, try contacting them to see if they plan to offer a 64-bit update.
    • You will likely be able to downgrade, but be sure to have a backup because there is no guarantee downgrading will go smoothly. As a bonus, you can use a bootable clone to temporarily run OSX 10.14 if needed. But if you may do it more frequently, a Virtual Machine may be the best option for you.
    • If you run into critical issues, you can boot from your clone (assuming you follow my backup advice), restore from your backup, or consider switching to alternative software for anything that isn’t available in 64-bit.
    • If Photoshop CS6 does turn out to be affected, now is probably a great time to update to Photoshop CC. I think there are many great reasons to do so, and wrote “Is an Update to Photoshop CC Worth It?” to discuss why I believe it is. And you could simply switch to Affinity Photo if you prioritize cost over what Adobe has to offer.
    • [Note that if you have purchased my Lumenzia extension panel, your purchase already includes both CS6 and CC, so you will already have a free update to Lumenzia if you upgrade to Photoshop CC. Just use the download ZIP you already have, or see here if you need to download again].
  • Backup, update, and use a virtual machine to maintain compatibility with older 32-bit apps as needed. A “virtual machine” is software that simulates another computer on your computer. This gives you a new window on your screen that looks like another computer. You can use this to run Windows on your Mac, and you can also use it to run another version of OSX on your Mac.
    • The installation process was rather frustrating for me, so I’ve left notes below on how to do this.
    • You’ll be able to run your old 32-bit Mac apps as needed in the Virtual Machine. The applications run more slowly this way, moving files between the main computer and virtual machine can be a little annoying, and this probably won’t help any issues with 32-bit issues drivers. However this may be a good option if you need occasional use of some old software. I expect I may end up using a virtual machine to leave myself access to a few old software development tools.
    • Note: Creating the virtual machine is a little technical (though not terribly so for motivated users) and it’ll cost you a few bucks for VMWare (free if you choose to use VirtualBox from Oracle). Here’s a good primer on how to create an OSX Virtual Machine with VMWare. I found that VMWare’s option to create a virtual machine from the recovery partition is a bit buggy (it seems to fail to recognize the recovery partition for many users). So you may need to download the full installer from Apple and create the Virtual Machine from that (this is also the route you’ll need to take if you are trying to create the Virtual Machine after you’ve already updated your computer to OSX 10.15).
    • See the section below on how to install an OSX Virtual Machine on your Mac.
  • Switch to Windows. This will be costly (at least in the short term), probably creates larger issues with software that you’ll have to repurchase or that may not be available for Windows, and may create a whole new learning curve if you aren’t familiar with Windows. But Windows is a great option for photographers and ultimately should save you money in the long run. This path is only one I would recommend if you have been contemplating other compelling reasons to switch, these 64-bit concerns are not a reason to switch (and you may well find some of your favorite Mac apps don’t run on PC too).

Don’t freak out. As long as you don’t blindly update OSX this fall, you should be fine. I recommend taking the following approach:

  • Wait to upgrade. There is no compelling reason to dive right in when OSX 10.15 is released in the fall. There are lots of things that may break, and there’s a good chance that 3rd party software updates to 64-bit won’t all be ready initially.. You should upgrade at some point in 2020, but I recommend waiting a few months after launch to let the dust settle.
  • If you have critical apps that you find are 32-bit, you may wish to ask your developer if they plan to update (or to voice your desire for a 64-bit update).
  • Create a bootable clone before you upgrade. If something critical breaks, you can boot from that drive to keep working.
  • If  want to dive in early, upgrade first on a bootable clone to test the waters. If it doesn’t go well, your primary installation hasn’t changed and you can simply erase the clone and keep working while you wait for updates or figure out another solution. This is a small amount of work to avoid problems or a lot more work to fix a problematic migration. And you can likely try this very soon via the Apple Beta Software Program very soon.
  • If you are tech savvy and want ongoing access to a few 32-bit apps, create an OSX virtual machine (see details below if you need a few pointers to get started). This is just an option for keeping access to a few legacy apps (it runs much more slowly, and installing everything would consume a lot of space on your drive). Don’t expect that this is going to help with any 32-bit drivers, just normal applications. This is probably of very limited use for most photographers.
  • Keep using the version of Photoshop and Lightroom you have (unless you have something older than Photoshop CS5). There’s no benefit to switching now, and what you have will likely continue to work just fine. If that proves not to be the case, you can easily upgrade Photoshop or switch to Affinity later.
  • If you use Photoshop Droplets (such as for export actions from Lightroom), you’ll need to rebuild them if they weren’t created with CC 2019.
  • Keep an eye on this topic. We’ll know a lot more once Apple starts to release beta versions to test and software developers feel compelled to publicly share their plans to update old code. We’ll probably see a lot of 32-bit software that fails in June get updated to 64-bit by October or shortly after. That’s certainly been the theme I’ve seen with the various companies listed above that I’ve contacted. But not everyone will make the jump. (One of the vendors I contacted told me they are unsure if they will update or simply discontinue their software. I’ve left them out of this article as they hadn’t made a final decision at the time I’m writing this article. I’ve already replaced their FTP software with a 64-bit solution from another company).

 

How to install an OSX Virtual Machine on your Mac:

Note: I am providing notes on how I installed to help others, but cannot be responsible in any way for your use or misuse of this information, and I cannot provide any support for this. If you need further help, please contact VMWare or your virtualization software developer.

Note that VMWare’s option to create a virtual machine from the recovery partition will not work with APFS, which means that it basically doesn’t work any more (since APFS has been standard since High Sierra). Instead, you’ll need to give it Apple’s installation file, which you can obtain and use with the following steps:

  1. You’ll need to download OSX Mojave. Open the Mac app store, search for “Mojave” and click “get” to start the download. DO NOT INSTALL when prompted (doing so will overwrite your primary boot disk, we only want to put it in the Virtual Machine). At this point, you should have a new program in your Applications folder called “Install macOS Mojave”. Rather than running this, you need to send it over to VMWare.
  2. Open VMWare and choose File/New to start creating a new virtual machine.
  3. Drag “Install macOS Mojave” from your Applications folder over the area in VMWare that says “Install from Disk or Image”.
  4. Click Continue and Finish to finish creating the new virtual machine.
  5. When done, you may delete “Install macOS Mojave” from your Applications folder.

 


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