In Perspective: 3-D designers ask: Should we choose the Mac or NT? – Technology Information

In Perspective: 3-D designers ask: Should we choose the Mac or NT? – Technology Information – Column

Michelle Szabo

As MacWEEK prepares to morph into eMediaweekly, it seems only fitting that I address the question of platform choices for 3-D.

I’ve worked on numerous operating systems in the past 14 years, and in my experience, the Mac still shines above all the rest for ease of use and consistent output.

Windows has historically been a poor excuse for a shell surrounding a dated operating system, and Silicon Graphics workstations are far too pricey for most artists. Windows NT has gained the most ground in the 3-D market in the past few years, and some hail it as the 3-D artist’s tool of choice. For most of us, the options boil down to Mac OS or Windows NT.

How do you decide?

If you’ve been working with a Mac for a long time, you’ll find it difficult to adjust to another hardware platform. You’ve established solid work habits that fit your needs, and moving to another OS would be disruptive at best. If you’re like me, you don’t have time for disruptions, let alone time to learn a whole new OS and risk making costly mistakes.

You may also use your Mac for tasks such as desktop publishing, image manipulation, retouching, image conversion, Web site development, writing, finances, proposals, invoicing and more. Switching platforms would require you not only to adjust to a new operating system, but to purchase all new software. Assuming there are NT equivalents for your software (and you have correctly named your files), you’d then have to translate your files to NT as well.

The question becomes whether you can afford to do this. Ask yourself how seriously you are using 3-D and where you want to go with it. If you are like most artists, 3-D is one of many skills. Therefore, making a platform jump is risky and time-consuming.

Because hardware evolves significantly in about 18- to 24-month intervals, my rule of thumb is to think in those terms. Where do I want to be one or two years from now? After 18 months or so, you can plan to make another hardware decision.

Hard-core 3-D developers

If you are a more hard-core 3-D artist, you have to consider other platforms and operating systems. Right now, the higher-end 3-D software tools are more Windows- than Mac-friendly. For example, NewTek Inc.’s LightWave is rather unstable on a Mac, and neither 3D Studio Max from Autodesk Inc.’s Kinetix division nor Avid Technology Inc.’s Softimage are available for the Mac – yet all three applications have NT versions that work well.

Although you can still use your Mac for all your other work, you should seriously consider moving your 3-D work to a Windows NT workstation. Unless companies like Electric Image Inc., MetaCreations Corp. and NewTek take the lead by developing and stabilizing 3-D applications for the Mac, the platform’s position of choice among serious 3-D developers will be in jeopardy.

Because this is my last column for MacWEEK, I’d like to thank all of you very much for reading and for writing to me with your comments and questions. Best of luck in your 3-D ventures.

Michelle Szabo is a 3-D and Web designer and educator. Thoughtful comments and questions may be sent to her at

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