With OS X 10.11 El Capitan now available as a free download from the Mac App Store, you’re probably wondering how well your Adobe software and other Mac apps will run on it. Below is a summary of what I’ve seen so far. Upgrading to El Capitan seems to go relatively smoothly for most software. The biggest problems with compatibility and stability were with the first release of El Capitan (OS X 10.11.0); many of those problems were fixed in OS X 10.11.1.
[Update: After the release of the OS X 10.11.5 update in May 2016, I decided to upgrade both my Mac desktop and laptop to El Capitan because of the many updates and fixes by both Apple and Adobe since the initial release of El Capitan. Everything seems to be running well now. The Adobe applications I use the most right now are the CC versions of Lightroom, Photoshop, Premiere Pro, and After Effects.]
While there’s lots of information throughout this article, if you’re in a hurry you can jump down to:
- General Adobe compatibility
- Photoshop CC
- Lightroom CC
- Acrobat DC
- Audition CC
- Premiere Pro CC and CS6
- After Effects CC
- Apple Metal graphics acceleration
- Pre-CC versions (CS2–CS6)
- Photoshop Elements 11
- Java requirement
El Capitan and current versions of Adobe software
Before its final release OS X 10.11 El Capitan had been available as a public beta for some time, giving users an opportunity to test Adobe software. While I haven’t seen every user report, what I have seen indicates that Adobe Creative Cloud applications generally run at least as well on El Capitan as they did on Yosemite. As problems turn up I’ll post them here, so keep checking back.
Adobe compatibility FAQs: When a new major version of OS X comes out, Adobe usually publishes a general statement on Creative Cloud compatibility. It took a while for that to appear, but that official Adobe article is here (Mac OS X El Capitan (10.11) compatibility FAQs). While I was waiting for that general statement to come out, I watched for announcements by individual product teams which are mentioned below.
Some Adobe applications may not work as expected with OS X Full Screen and Split View features. This has been the case for several versions of OS X. Adobe often uses its own window drawing code that can provide additional useful features, but at the expense of compatibility.
Photoshop CC 2015: For the best compatibility with OS X 10.11 El Capitan, make sure you’ve updated to the most recent version of Photoshop CC. If you’re using an earlier version of Photoshop CC 2015.1, the Photoshop team has posted an article (Photoshop and El Capitan | Mac OS 10.11) listing known issues including various delays and sluggishness with specific actions, and a graphics glitch when using Image Size. This help document contains a link to download a new Adobe “OSXCompatibility.plugin” file that is supposed to be an interim fix for many of the existing glitches, but you don’t need to use that plug-in if you’re running Photoshop CC 2015.1 or later.
Photoshop CC 2015.5 introduces an incompatibility with El Capitan printing that may result in unexpected color or tone shifts on printed output (link goes to a Lightroom discussion, but the same problem exists in Photoshop CC 2015.5). Adobe has announced that an update will soon fix this bug. Photoshop has not yet received this update (Lightroom was fixed in Lightroom CC 2015.6.1/6.6.1). If color-managed printing is critical to your workflow, roll back to an earlier version of Photoshop CC.
Adobe continues to collect reports on the Photoshop feedback site where you can vote up and comment on issues that are affecting you, or report problems that aren’t already in there.
If you import images from cameras using the Photo Downloader that is part of Adobe Bridge, refer to an Adobe article about this issue (Bridge does not recognize some devices on Mac OS 10.11). The status of this problem is still marked as “In Progress” on the Photoshop Feedback site (Bridge: Issue using Photo Downloader on Mac OS 10.11 – El Capitan).
Lightroom CC 2015: The Lightroom team has posted an article (Lightroom and El Capitan). “Lightroom Queen” Victoria Bampton is also watching for issues (Lightroom and El Capitan Compatibility). Tethered shooting with Nikon and Leica cameras was originally broken by El Capitan, but are now working in the Lightroom 2015.4/6.4 update. In the case of Nikon, it was because Lightroom uses the Nikon SDK and was waiting to receive and test an El Capitan-compatible update of that component from Nikon. Apparently, Leica tethering is still not working.
If you’re having problems using the OS X Full Screen or Split Screen modes with Lightroom, or if you’re getting unexpected shifts in color or tone when you print, make sure you’ve updated to Lightroom CC 2015.6.1/6.6.1 which resolves many of these Mac-specific issues.
Acrobat DC: If you enter OS X full screen mode, most Mac applications let you exit full screen mode with the Esc key or Control+Command+F. In Acrobat, the Esc shortcut doesn’t exit full screen mode, so use Control+Command+F.
Audition CC and CS6: When El Capitan was originally released, the Audition product team posted an advisory to avoid the upgrade. Fortunately, Audition plug-in issues in El Capitan appear to be resolved by fixes in the OS X 10.11.1 update released by Apple on October 21, 2015: Audition CC and OSX 10.11 (El Capitan)
Premiere Pro CC and CS6: In the comments section of the Premiere Pro blog post about Premiere Pro CC 2015.1 (a.k.a. version 9.1) on November 30, 2015, Al Mooney of Adobe writes “El Capitan is supported with this release.” However, in the December 3, 2015 post Touch and Gesture Support in Premiere Pro CC 2015.1, David Kuspa of Adobe writes in the comments, “9.1 does address some issues with El Capitan that we were able to fix in time for this release, but we’re aware of some other issues that we’re continuing to work with Apple to resolve.”
A reader noticed that in Premiere Pro CS6, the dialog box for linking or relinking media is missing its title bar. When relinking media, this means you can’t see the filename of the document you’re trying to relink to. There doesn’t seem to be a fix. This problem is discussed in the Adobe Communities forum for Premiere Pro. This does not happen in Premiere Pro CC because the Relink Media dialog box was redesigned.
After Effects CC: The Adobe After Effects team has posted an article (After Effects ready for Mac OS X v10.11 (El Capitan)) that says After Effects CS6 through CC 2015 have been tested and no new issues turned up.
Metal: Apple claims that the new Metal API speeds up graphically intensive software. In presentations about El Capitan, Apple used Adobe After Effects as an example, citing an 8x improvement in rendering times. It is not yet clear how real these gains are across Adobe Creative Cloud applications. I’ve seen some on social media misinterpret Apple’s After Effects demo figure as if it means all Adobe software will see an immediate 8x speed boost; that’s a gross over-generalization. On Twitter, Adobe clarified that the Metal demo showed a “preview” of “1 possibility” in After Effects. We should probably not expect widespread Metal acceleration in current versions of Adobe software, but in the future Adobe will probably take advantage of Metal where it makes sense, as they recently have in several applications with OpenCL graphics acceleration.
@markpaterson Hi Mark, that was a tech preview of 3 effects. Nothing has been announced. It was just 1 possibility of what we might do. ^KM
— Adobe After Effects (@AdobeAE) September 30, 2015
In June 2016, Adobe added Apple Metal as a GPU acceleration option for both Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2015.3 and Adobe Media Encoder CC 2015.3. However, Adobe has mentioned that this is “initial support” only. On my older Mac configuration OpenCL is still much faster than Metal, but I heard from a user with a newer Mac Pro that Metal was faster than OpenCL for them.
Upgrading to El Capitan with older Adobe software or from earlier versions of OS X
If you’re upgrading from OS X 10.10 Yosemite, OS X 10.9 Mavericks, or OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion you probably won’t run into any new surprises. But if you’re making a bigger jump from an earlier version of OS X, or from Adobe software earlier than CS6, you may find issues that affect your migration. In many cases you can clear up problems by reinstalling the Adobe software.
Note that CS2 applications, including Photoshop, were written for Macs with PowerPC CPUs. OS X 10.11 El Capitan only runs Intel CPU-compatible software, so El Capitan will not allow CS2 to run or install.
Adobe CS3, CS4, and CS5 applications should run, but Adobe does not officially support them on El Capitan and there may be problems. I upgraded a test Mac to El Capitan with those versions of Photoshop already installed and have been able to run them, as shown in the figure below, after running the Java installer mentioned later in this article. License activation and deactivation work fine. Registration might not work, but registration is not required to run the software. I have not tried printing or serious editing with those versions.
In Photoshop CS6 in OS X 10.8 through 10.11, if you are having problems with keyboard shortcuts or brushes, including lags when painting, and especially with a Wacom tablet connected, you may need to install the “white window workaround” plug-in and try updating your Wacom driver.
Illustrator CS5 will crash when clicking the Eyedropper tool in OS X 10.11–10.11.3. But in 10.11.4, the eyedropper crash no longer happens, so Apple seems to have fixed whatever broke in 10.11. However, in 10.11.4 Illustrator CS5 might still crash on quit; a suggested solution for that at the Adobe forums (Illustrator CS5 crashing on exit) fixed that crash for me, specifically the part about renaming
Photoshop Elements 11: A reader reported that Photoshop Elements 11 is freezing when saving a document in El Capitan. There’s an Adobe Communities forum thread with other reports about it; if anyone knows how to solve this please reply in the comments.
Java requirement: When launching some older Adobe software for the first time in OS X El Capitan, OS X may say that a Java runtime needs to be installed. If a button is provided, click it; you can also download the Java installer directly from the Java for OS X 2015-001 page at Apple Support and install that. Note: Sometimes when you visit that link to Java for OS X, you get a blank page. If you see this in the Safari web browser, try opening Safari preferences, click the Advanced tab, and turn off the “Never use font sizes smaller than…” option. If that doesn’t work, try this direct download link: Java for OS X 2015-001 download
Some users have reported that the Adobe launch issue is not fixed until you reboot a second time after the Java installation. Also, some report that earlier versions such as CS3 are not working with the latest version of Java (currently Java 8), but it does work if they install Java 6, which is provided by Apple in the link above.
It’s understandable that some people avoid installing Java because to its security issues, but OS X won’t let some Adobe applications launch without it. In the case of Photoshop, Adobe says Photoshop doesn’t need Java at all, but OS X puts up the message anyway.
OS X Gatekeeper may prevent older Adobe software from starting: Gatekeeper is an Apple security feature (added in Mountain Lion) that helps protect you from running malicious applications. If you run Adobe software released before Gatekeeper, you should know what to do if Gatekeeper prevents Adobe software from starting. Adobe covers that in this tech note: Error “has not been signed by a recognized distributor” | Launch Adobe applications | Mac OS. The short answer is to bypass the error by right-clicking the application icon, then choose Open from the context menu. Depending on the Mac you use, instead of right-clicking you can also Control-click, or if you have a trackpad set up for two-finger secondary click you can do it that way instead.
Adobe software released after Gatekeeper was introduced properly conforms to Gatekeeper requirements, so no adjustments are needed for them.
Intel compatibility required: If your Adobe software is earlier than CS5, to run under El Capitan at all it must support Intel processors. After Apple switched to Intel-based Macs, Apple started phasing out support for running software based on the older PowerPC processors. Starting with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, Mac OS X no longer runs PowerPC-based software. You’ll have to check compatibility for each of the Adobe applications you want to run; for example, Photoshop CS3 was the first version of Photoshop that ran on Intel-based Macs. But even if your software older than CS5 runs on El Capitan, it may still have other issues because OS X has changed a lot since then.
Upgrading from Mac OS X 10.6 or earlier: You may also want to read my blog post “Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: Will Adobe apps and other software work?”, so that you can also be up to date on the more dramatic changes that were introduced in Lion, such as the end of OS X support for PowerPC-based software.
General compatibility and other info
To learn about OS X software compatibility of Mac software in general, one resource is the Roaring Apps database. It lists OS X software and its reported compatibility with the last few versions of OS X, and it’s crowdsourced from user reports which are said to vary in reliability. As always, for any software that you cannot afford to be without, you should do two things: Check that company’s support website to verify compatibility, and also set up a test installation of El Capitan on a separate volume (like a spare hard drive or even a large enough USB flash drive) to run tests with your own files, peripherals, and workflows.
Wondering what El Capitan is all about? For the most in-depth El Capitan review you’ll probably find anywhere, read the OS X 10.11 El Capitan review at Ars Technica. As with every major release of OS X, the Ars Technica review not only evaluates the visible features that Apple promotes, but goes under the surface to explain changes to some of the underlying technologies in OS X and how they affect your Mac experience.
TRIM support for third-party SSDs: If you replaced your Mac’s original internal drive with a solid state drive (SSD), depending on the brand it may be a good idea to enable a feature called TRIM for better long-term performance. There was a time during the OS X 10.10 Yosemite release when TRIM could not be enabled in Yosemite without compromising certain aspects of OS X security. Fortunately Apple later provided a way to enable TRIM starting in OS X 10.10.5, and that restoration of TRIM support is still present in 10.11 El Capitan. For the details, see Trim Enabler and Yosemite by Cindori Software, creator of the Trim Enabler utility.
10-bits-per-channel video displays: For many years, Photoshop users and other graphics professionals have wanted proper support for 10-bits-per-channel video displays (also known as 30-bit when counting the three RGB channels together) on Macs. This isn’t about the file format, but the data path to the video monitor. While 10-bpc-capable displays, graphics cards, cables, and software (such as Photoshop) have been ready for some time, OS X itself has been the last missing piece everybody has been waiting for. Finally, 10bpc/30-bit display color has appeared in OS X 10.11 El Capitan. For more information, see my article 30-bit display color is now supported by OS X and Photoshop.