Mac question: Move forward? Stay pat? Start over?
March 1, 2012 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Can you help me make this decision about my Mac setup? Go forward? Stay pat? Start over?

The technology wave has swept over me and it's time to adjust ... but I'm not sure how.

I have a MacbookPro, silver, 15", Intel processor, I bought, oh 6-7 years back. I use it with a large Apple display and a Wacom tablet and I'm happy as a clam with it.

I should add I'm a cartoonist and really use this thing. By cartoonist, I mean daily cartoonist. (Some 4,500 days in a row and counting, if you care). Between my comic and multiple freelance comics and graphics work, I use this baby all the time.

But I'm still running OSX 10.4. And using Adobe CS 2. And, well, it's time to upgrade the OS. I can't slave my iPad to it. (Have to link to my wife's newer mac.) I can't run cloud backup. I can't use Square ... you get the idea.

So what's the problem? Well, okay, say I bump up a few OSs. I have to pay for a couple of leaps up. I have to buy new Adobe software as CS2 isn't compatible with, say 10.6 and beyond. I use some third-party software to maintain the commerce portion of my website and that will probably go kablooey. And there's probably more stuff I haven't even thought about. (I should also add that due to compatibility issues at my day job, I may not be able to upgrade past 10.6 and share files.)

Okay, I know this is inevitable. The question is: do I upgrade operating systems and software knowing it will cost, well, maybe $1,500? Or do I just go buy a new computer entirely? (I'm also concerned with downtime to get this done. You can probably guess my schedule is a finely-tuned and timed machine.)

Can you help me look at this problem and see what I'm not seeing? I am going to move forward. (Or maybe not. Should I just hang in there, run with what I have as long as it's working fine and move only when I absolutely have to?) I just want to do this as cost-effectively as possible while allowing for the future.

What would you do?
posted by lpsguy to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: That depends on the rest of your software library.

Between 10.6 (Snow Leopard) and 10.7 (Lion), a lot of software became incompatible. You already know your Mac won't do some things you need/want it to do, so the trick is to upgrade enough to enable those things, but not so much that you disable other things you need (other than those that cannot be avoided, like Adobe CS.)

Start with an assessment of the things you need and want (that you had previously, or that you've never had before), and which OS versions fulfill those needs. Then, do a full inventory of the software you use; find out if they're compatible with Snow Leopard and Lion, or just Snow Leopard. Figure out the replacement costs for upgraded versions accordingly. That, plus the work compatibility situation, will tell you whether you'll be going to Snow Leopard, or to Lion.

If the answer is Lion, you can then decide if you'll buy a new computer with Lion preinstalled or not. If the answer is Snow Leopard, a new computer isn't really an option, unless you buy a refurbished one that comes with Snow Leopard.
posted by davejay at 11:45 AM on March 1, 2012

Best answer: If you go to an Apple store, or call them, they will likely give you at least a few of the OS steps for free when you buy Lion. Probably all of them.

How much RAM do you have? That's going to be the limiting factor, upgrading the OS and Adobe CS.
posted by supercres at 11:46 AM on March 1, 2012

Best answer: Oh, and for what it is worth: I had a Mini running Snow Leopard Server, and just went through the trouble of upgrading to Lion Server. Since I don't use iCloud, it didn't really give me anything useful I didn't have before, and my computer seems a bit slower now -- so unless there's a compelling feature-based reason to move up to Lion, I personally wouldn't bother (and had I known how problematic the upgrade was going to be, I would have stuck with Snow Leopard.)
posted by davejay at 11:47 AM on March 1, 2012

Here's how I would start to think about it:

1) don't break your workflow. That means keeping your existing tools intact until you are confident that you can change them without much friction.

So make a list of the tools you use (Adobe CS &c) and have a look at whether they are compatible with OS X Lion yet or not. I think that most of the Creative Suite are not yet compatible with Lion. That suggests holding off, to me, or buying a newer used Mac that has Snow Leopard on it.

2) upgrade in a manner that degrades gracefully. That means take steps that don't jeopardize your current setup if they break.

So, when you're confident that you can replace your existing workflow with new tools, pick up a new Mac and those tools (via upgrades to CS or whatever) and start using them alongside your existing setup. This way, if you discover that something has broken, you still have your existing tools right there, ready to pick up and use.
posted by gauche at 11:56 AM on March 1, 2012

Best answer: FWIW, Adobe CS5 (mostly Photoshop and Illustrator, some InDesign) work fine on my Lion Mac Pro (14 GB RAM), though I installed before I upgraded OS. CS5.5 I haven't worked with as much, but haven't had any problems.

If you have less than 4 GB of RAM in your MBP, get a new computer, and like gauche said, keep working on the old one while you bring the new one up to speed with your workflow. If you have more than 4 GB, it's a toss-up as to whether upgrading hardware is worth it right now.
posted by supercres at 12:11 PM on March 1, 2012

If the issue is linking your iPad and keeping current software that runs under Rosetta then the furthest you can go is 10.6 (Snow Leopard).You will however have to do a special install of Rosetta as Snow Leopard does not install it by default. I 'm not sure about your third-party software which maintain the commerce portion of your website. If it is Web based you should be OK. If it resides on your Mac make sure it is compatible by running "About this Mac", and clicking the more info button, running a system report and looking at the applications list. Since it is probably a few years old it could be Power PC or Universal. In either case it should run under Rosetta. Also RAM is dirt cheap.
posted by Gungho at 12:22 PM on March 1, 2012

If cost is not an issue, I'd suggest buying a new Mac to use alongside your existing setup for a while so that you can get the swing of it before moving it into the workflow. This will allow you time to find and research alternative software if it turns out to be incompatible with the new machine. I think doing such a drastic upgrade on your active production machine is asking for trouble, and you are screwed if you realize, some weeks down the line, that you have a crucial piece of software that will not work on Lion. If you keep the old machine as is, you can use it as a backup for just such an occurence.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:38 PM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

One more thing to consider: Mountain Lion (10.8, due out this summer) will very likely not run on your current computer. This probably isn't too important to you but in time other software will require 10.8 and you'll be left out.

What Rock Steady recommends is probably the right path. Get a new MacBook Pro or Air with a new version of Photoshop but keep using your old setup until you're comfortable with the new gear.

Do use the Migration Assistant when you get your new Mac. It'll copy over all your settings and files and stuff so everything that can be preserved will be. That will minimize the transition pain.

Also, since you're using 10.4 now I'm guessing you don't have Time Machine running. Please, please invest another $100 in an external drive and have Time Machine do your backups.
posted by davextreme at 12:43 PM on March 1, 2012

Best answer: Roaring Apps has a table of Lion and Mountain Lion compatibility.
posted by Runes at 12:48 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As someone even more behind on software than you are I can verify that Adobe CS 1 works on Snow Leopard (there's a couple of little glitches but nothing that substantially interferes with working). So there is that.
posted by furiousthought at 12:52 PM on March 1, 2012

I don't see any advantage of iCloud over Dropbox. I backup really complex Toonboom project files (as symbolic links) and it works really well. Dropbox allows you to restore in ways that iCloud can't.
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:10 PM on March 1, 2012

Given the age you said, your computer probably is right on the cusp of not being able to run Lion. The original MacBook Pros, launched in January 2006, have 32-bit Core Duo CPUs and can't run Lion. In October 2006 they were updated to 64-bit Core 2 Duo CPUs; those can run Lion. Go to "About this Mac" and see if it says "Core Duo" or "Core 2 Duo." If it just says "Core Duo" the highest you can go to is Snow Leopard.
posted by zsazsa at 1:48 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would suggest upgrading your machine but then you'll get Lion, which is a bit of a troublesome release. 10.6 (Snow Leopard) was pretty solid and I would go for that. That means trying to get an older machine as newer machines don't just come with the latest OS, they often ONLY work with the newest OS available when they first shipped.

Lion was released mid '11 so earlier machines should boot and run Snow Leopard without a hitch. Apple has refurbished machines available and there's a Feb 2011 MacBook Pro i7 machine that looks pretty promising.

If the machine doesn't come with Snow Leopard (it probably won't), you could just try Lion for a while and see if it's ok. If not, you'll need to get Snow Leopard and reinstall. Snow Leopard is cheap and you can still get it on CD I believe. Disregard the warnings about needing 10.5; you can boot the CD and install from scratch.
posted by chairface at 1:58 PM on March 1, 2012

Best answer: Another thing to consider is that you might find the jump from CS2 to CS5 (or newer) very jarring and it could disrupt your workflow. There have been a lot of changes since CS2 and you might find it frustrating to have to constantly look for where things used to be or how to complete a certain task in CS5 that you used to be able to do in your sleep in CS2. I second the motion to keep your old setup, if possible, for just this reason. I still sometimes go back to my old Windows XP computer (which runs CS2) because I find the GUI less cluttered and I can get things done faster on it when I'm nearing a tight deadline. YMMV, of course.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 9:20 PM on March 1, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, gang. I'm thinking I'm just going to make the jump to 10.6, add some RAM and try to stay with CS2 for awhile. By time this setup has to be overturned, I should be ready for a new computer anyway. Bur really, I got a lot of different ways to look at this. Appreciate it. Now back to drawing a wolverine doing brain surgery.
posted by lpsguy at 1:34 PM on March 2, 2012

Response by poster: Oh, one other thing. I do have 10.6 on disk. Tried to install it and make the jump from 10.4. Wouldn't let me. Tells me I have to buy 10.5 and install it first. Sigh.
posted by lpsguy at 1:36 PM on March 2, 2012

I have a similar Macbook Pro (the first Core Duo one, I think) and I wish I hadn't upgraded it to Lion. It's way slower now, and none of the new stuff (i.e. scrolling and gestures) works. It was a much more useful machine when it was running Leopard.

So 10.6 (Snow Leopard) is probably a good choice to stay with.
posted by mmoncur at 8:16 PM on March 3, 2012

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