As this reporter has gotten older, trade shows have become less appealing. Not only because it's just tougher on the body, but also this modern era requires running around with a laptop on your back between the floor and the press room to file stories immediately. Back when I started out, my show reports appeared a week after the event. Now, they are forgotten a day after the event.
There was one show I was happy to cover: NAMM, the North American Music Merchants convention. It takes place twice per year, including every January in Anaheim, a mere 15-minute drive from my home. As a failed musician, this was a truly vicarious experience, looking at all those beautiful instruments I don't have time to learn now.
The show floor is ridiculous. It extends all the way to the third floor of the building, because the Anaheim Convention Center is tiny. It was perfect for Microsoft's Build conference in 2011, but NAMM draws 95,000 people. I'm hoping it moves to the LA Convention Center next year.
Tech has made its way into NAMM, complete with a gadget and tech pavilion where all of the computer-related products are relegated. Actually, the gear was in two places: the pavilion and ,on the other end of the show floor, in the DJ section.
And at no time did I see a Windows laptop. Not one. It was wall-to-wall Macs and iPads. This industry is entirely Mac-driven, even more so than image or video editing.
So I asked around at the various booths why Mac was so popular. I had figured it was due to Apple actively courting the music industry like it did education. Steve Jobs fiercely guarded all aspects of his life, but he wore his love of music on his sleeve.
Well, it's not so romantic a reason. Turns out it's a technological reason, and a software one at that. Developers told me that OS X, with its Unix base, was far more conducive to their work than Windows 2000/XP. Windows suffers from terrible latency, making it difficult or impossible to edit frequencies in real time. When these guys are tweaking sounds, they want real-time feedback without lag, and older operating systems lagged terribly.
Not only was OS X a fast OS, the kernel has a built-in low-latency mode, which is ideal for music editing. Windows has no such switch. Low-latency is not necessarily an ideal state. There are some applications that will suffer for being in low-latency mode, after all.
There are other elements of the Mac that make it appealing as well. It was standardized on MIDI audio, while Windows has multiple audio formats. Any MIDI editing on a Windows PC would require third-party software, while Apple includes it with the OS.
Was it a strategy or an accident? Many of the developers attributed the low-latency attributes of Mac OS X to its Unix legacy and Mach microkernel. But Mac was popular with creative people in the pre-OS X days. In the case of graphics, Apple got in on the ground floor, supporting Adobe from the get go. For the longest time, Adobe products appeared on Apple first.
Either way, it shows how a tuned OS can win out over a vanilla OS that tries to be all things to all people.