This article is to address a concerning issue of Ableton’s development team. They chose a course of ignoring a problem for 6 years, and when it came to a head, they asked Catalina users to pay for the bug fix.
Recently I had a situation with OSX Catalina, and Ableton Live 9. When I upgraded to Catalina, I wasn’t aware of Ableton Live 9’s incompatibility with it. However, soon after I upgraded the operating system I began to notice some odd behavior. The odd error message would pop up here or there, and for the most part it was unconcerning and didn’t cause any lasting problems. There was one issue however that was frustrating – no longer could I use compressed audio formats with Ableton (MP3, etc.)
Compressed Audio Problems
When attempting to import an mp3 file into Albeton Live 9 on OSX Catalina, I would get the following error:
“File could not be read. It may be corrupted or not licensed.”
I opened a trouble ticket with Ableton support, who responded with the disheartening news that Ableton Live 9 is no longer supported under their terms of service.
This specific decoding issue is due to changes Apple made in Catalina regarding the encoding and decoding of compressed audio files and video files. Where previously QTKit (part of Quicktime) was utilized to decode these files in Live, now AVFoundation is used exclusively, and Quicktime has been discontinued. This means that in addition to other incompatibilities with Catalina, Live 9 no longer has access to the QTKit codecs it needs to encode and decode these filesAbleton Support Representative
In the reading of the response, I got the impression that Apple made a drastic change which caused incompatibility issues, and since Ableton was now focused on Live 10, they chose to address the changes there, and not fix their prior software.
The cost of upgrading my Live 9 to Live 10 was roughly $300.
Details of the Issue
Ableton has a support page with the details of this issue [link].
Here’s what Ableton support says regarding the error:
Up to and including Live version 10.1.1, Live uses QTKit (Quicktime) MP3 decoding, video playback and video export on macOS. As part of the transition from 32-bit to 64-bit technology in macOS 10.15 Catalina, Apple has dropped support entirely for QTKit. All compressed audio file decoding (eg. MP3, M4A, FLAC etc) now uses AVFoundation instead of QTKit. Update Live to the very latest version to resolve this issue.https://help.ableton.com/hc/en-us/articles/209774325
Evidently Ableton was using the OSX QTKit Library to manage compressed audio decoding (MP3, M4A, FLAC and so on). Now in OSX 10.15 (Catalina) Apple removed that, in favor of AVFoundation.
Issue was Introduced in Live 9
At a glance it seems Ableton was simply caught unawares of this issue and chose to patch their current development focus (Live 10), requiring existing customers to pay for the upgrade.
This isn’t the case. While Apple did make this change it was no shocker. As I began to investigate the situation it became clear that this was a problem all along with Live 9.
In fact this problem was introduced by the Ableton development team in 2013!
A quick examination of Apple’s QTKit documentation shows that this audio library was marked deprecated with OSX Mavericks (10.9) some 6 years ago (October 22, 2013). The full information on this can be found at Apple’s support page on QTKit [link].
The QuickTime Kit is a Objective-C framework (https://developer.apple.com/documentation/qtkit
QTKit.framework) for manipulating time-based media. QuickTime Kit was deprecated in OS X v10.9. Use the AVFoundation framework instead.
I fully understand a development team that can get hit with unforeseen changes from an operating system. I deal with that in my day job from time to time.
What’s at issue here, however, is that Ableton either was asleep at the wheel, unawares that they were using a library that Apple would stop supporting, or Ableton knew what they were doing, and waited it out. Either way, this problem was introduced into Ableton Live 9 in 2013. By the end of 2013, Ableton should have moved off of QTKit, in favor of AVFoundation.
Instead of fixing this issue, over the span of 6+ years, Ableton did nothing regarding the ticking time bomb. By the time Apple finally got around to removing QTKit, Ableton was on a new version (Live 10) and simply created the fix in Live 10 only.
I responded to Ableton support with my findings, that this issue was introduced by the development team in 2013, and should be fixed as it was a requirement from Apple to move away from that old library in favor of AVFoundation. Below is part of the response I got from Ableton’s support:
I understand this is frustrating for you, but it is an unfortunate reality of the continual cycle of OS and software development. Once a software’s development cycle has ended (in the case of Live 9, from its 2013 release until the release of Live 10 in 2018), resources are redirected to developing a new major version, and it is simply not possible to maintain consistent compatibility of the old software with each new OS in perpetuity.Ableton Support Representative
The support representative pointed me to a [link] that detailed other incompatibilities with OSX Catalina. His point being that Ableton can not be expected to support older versions into perpetuity. Yet I wasn’t speaking to all issues.
I was addressing the one issue that Ableton is responsible for, since they knew about it in 2013.
I suppose that’s a developers discretion (how far back they’ll remain in compliance and patch), but it makes me wonder… do I not have a perpetual license? Of course I do. I’m not speaking of software designed 6 years ago, Live 9 may have released 6 years ago, but it was updated last year to 9.7.7.
The real issue however, is that this bug wasn’t some shocker from Apple. Apple asked all developers to stop using QTKit in 2013, with OSX 10.9. Ableton chose to ignore that issue in OSX versions 10.9, 10.10, 10.11, 10.12, 10.13, 10.14!
My frustration is with the attitude that this isn’t an Ableton problem but an Apple issue, when in fact they had 6 years of warnings to fix this issue. Unknown to the customers, Ableton had no intention of fixing it until the real damage was done.
In my back and forth with Ableton support, I ended up even more frustrated then when I started. I felt I was being talked down to, but a team member who felt they knew more about Software Development Life-Cycles then myself.
On top of that the only helpful advice I got from support was to either revert OSX 10.15 back to 10.14 (which requires a complete hard drive wipe), or partition the drive. Neither issue works for me.
I suppose I could also pay the Ableton $300 for the upgrade to get the bug fixes.
My parting words with Ableton support was to say that I didn’t care for how they chose to reframe my intent, and change my words. I didn’t expect Ableton to support Live 9 for some drastic, unforeseen change that Apple introduced. What I expected was Ableton to be responsible for their negligence in not replacing a deprecated library for over 6 years:
“Instead I asked if I could get a patch for an issue that should have been dealt with 6 years ago when the mistake was made. Clear and simple.”