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4/13/2011
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Apple Unveils Final Cut Pro X

Even Apple's high-end software is being reworked to be delivered through the Mac App Store.

Apple plans to release the next version of Final Cut Pro, its professional-level video editing software, through its consumer-oriented Mac App Store.

At the 2011 National Association of Broadcasters conference on Tuesday, Randy Ubillos, Apple's chief architect of video applications, demonstrated Final Cut Pro X amid frequent applause.

The software, slated to ship in June, includes a number of long-awaited improvements, such as: 64-bit support, which will allow the program to address more than 4GB of RAM; optimization for multicore processors through Apple's Grand Central Dispatch technology; background rendering; ColorSync support; improved content management and user interface; automated image stabilization and content analysis; and people detection, among other new features.

Final Cut Pro X will be offered through the Mac App Store for $299. Presently, Final Cut Pro 7 is only available as part of the Final Cut Studio suite for $999, or $299 as an upgrade from older versions of Final Cut Pro.

With Final Cut Pro X, there's no distinction between upgrade pricing and new product pricing. There's also no printed support material, as is the case with any Mac App Store purchase. At first glance, it appears that Apple aims to undersell Adobe, which on Monday announced the competing Premiere Pro CS5.5 for $799 ($179 upgrade) or for $1699 as part of its Production Premium Suite.

But at $299, Final Cut Pro X may not include all of the other applications currently included bundled with Final Cut Pro 7 in the Final Cut Studio suite: Motion 4, Soundtrack Pro 3, Color 1.5, Compressor 3.5, and DVD Studio Pro 4. It remains to be seen whether, if these products are offered through the Mac App Store individually, the combined cost will be more or less than Final Cut Studio. It's also possible that some of these ancillary apps, though probably not all of them, will be integrated into Final Cut Pro X.

This is not the first pro-level application offered through the Mac App Store. That would be Aperture 3. But Final Cut Pro is far more important to Apple as a source of revenue and driver of high-end hardware sales.

Apple's decision to move its professional products into an online store catering to consumers continues the company's longstanding refusal to make special accommodations for enterprise buyers, a position only underscored by the company's recent decision to discontinue its Xserve line.

But Apple isn't as disinterested in businesses as it might seem. One need look no further than the introduction of over-the-air installation of enterprise apps in iOS 4 to see that the company is willing to meet the needs of enterprise customers. The release of Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) this summer may well include changes to the Mac App Store that make it more suitable for enterprise purchasing and provisioning.

Presently, the Mac App Store terms allow administrators to install a single app that can be used by an employee on multiple machines or on a single machine for serial used by multiple employees. There is however no method for buying through the Mac App Store that allows an app to be installed on multiple machines and used simultaneously by multiple employees.

To make matters more confusing, the Mac App Store rules grant the right to "personal, non-commercial use" of Mac App Store apps. The contractual clause that follows covers installation scenarios when one is a "commercial enterprise" but does not specifically allow commercial use of Mac App Store apps or supersede the "non-commercial" stipulation of the preceding clause.

While Apple clearly expects employees to use Mac App Store apps for commercial purposes, the company's lack of contractual clarity suggests business scenarios, at least up until now, have been an afterthought.

Beyond neglecting to clarify the fate of the applications presently bundled in Final Cut Studio, Ubillos's presentation left another question unanswered. There was no mention of the fate of Final Cut Express, which hasn't been refreshed since August, 2008. Perhaps with iMovie listing for $14.99 and Final Cut Pro listing for $299, Apple no longer sees a need for a mid-range video editing program.

In any event, Final Cut Pro users are likely to have to wait a few more months before all becomes clear.

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