macOS 10.15 Catalina: Will Adobe software work?

The Apple announcement of macOS 10.15 Catalina probably makes you wonder whether your Adobe software will work in this macOS upgrade, which is due for release in late 2019.

Here’s the short version: You’ll want to run the most current version of Creative Cloud applications on macOS 10.15 Catalina. Because of changes and tighter requirements by both Apple and Adobe, a much smaller number of old applications are going to run in macOS 10.15 Catalina than in past upgrades. If you can’t or don’t want to upgrade your applications to current versions, you should delay upgrading to macOS 10.15 Catalina.

With every macOS upgrade, full information about compatibility is typically not available on the day the new system is released or even shortly after. More information emerges over time, as Apple, Adobe, and other software developers test with the final public release and produce updates with fixes. I’ll update this article as new information comes out.

Do not upgrade until everything you use is ready

There are principles that apply to almost any system upgrade, whether it’s for Macs, Windows PCs, or mobile devices. Those principles remain true for the macOS 10.15 Catalina upgrade:

  • Be prepared. If you use your Mac to run a business or another activity where you can’t afford to lose productivity, do not upgrade to Catalina until you’ve made plans to fully recover your previous configuration if things don’t work out. For example, have a complete system backup that you know how to restore.
  • Check all of the hardware and software you rely on. Before you upgrade, remember to check compatibility for everything installed on or connected to your computer. Especially anything that depends on driver software. That could include printers, graphics tablets, scanners, cameras, networking equipment, calibration equipment, backup software, diagnostic software, adapters, hubs, docks, and so on.
  • Test your complete workflow. Published compatibility reports may be on test systems that don’t have the same hardware and software you use. If you must ensure complete compatibility with everything you use, run your own tests with macOS 10.15 Catalina on a separate system, such as an external hard drive with a Mojave test system installed. Apple is making prerelease builds of Catalina available to the public (visit the Apple Public Beta Program) that you can test.
  • Current versions will be the most compatible. You can expect that current versions of Mac software will be updated for full compatibility with macOS 10.15 Catalina, but previous versions probably won’t. For Adobe applications, that means you can expect the most recent Creative Cloud (CC) versions to be either already compatible or will be updated eventually. But if you use an older version such as CS6 or earlier that Adobe no longer updates, any issues with Catalina will not be fixed.

What’s covered in this article

I focus on information that’s direct from Adobe, and on verified reports. To make the best use of your time and mine, I don’t repeat rumors and random anecdotes. But I may mention my own experiences.

The next section is about official compatibility with recent Creative Cloud versions. If you’re looking for information about older versions, jump to:

Adobe Creative Suite 3 through 6 (CS3–CS6)

Adobe Creative Suite 2 (CS2)

Official statements and verified reports for Creative Cloud versions

Good news: Adobe started publishing some Catalina compatibility information earlier than for previous macOS releases. Expect this section to be updated over time as we find out more about other applications and emerging issues; check back for updates.

While not all product teams have posted information yet, it’s worth reading the Adobe post about Photoshop and Lightroom below, because the issues with those applications are typical of what you’ll see with other Adobe applications in macOS 10.15 Catalina.

64-bit compatibility for current Adobe applications

macOS 10.15 Catalina supports only applications that run 64-bit code. This is no surprise, because Apple has been warning about the 32-bit cutoff for several years now. To be compatible, an application and all of the components installed with it must be 64-bit compliant.

Adobe has posted an article listing which current applications are 64-bit compatible: Fix Adobe app 64-bit compatibility errors on macOS. The list tells you whether or not an Adobe application is 64-bit compliant, and if it isn’t, it tells you whether an update is available now, or will be in the future. If Adobe already knows that they will not be updating an application, the table may suggest an alternative.

Note: “64-bit application” has nothing to do with the bit depth of images or channels. Among other things, it’s about the amount of memory an application can address at once. 64-bit compliance doesn’t make any visible difference to the user, but aspects of it make it possible for an application to achieve much higher performance than a 32-bit application.

Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom

In July 2019, Adobe published an early advisory about Photoshop and Lightroom compatibility: Upcoming changes to Photoshop & Lightroom OS support with macOS 10.15 (Catalina). Here are some excerpts:

We are presently working with Apple to officially support the current versions of Photoshop, Lightroom and Lightroom Classic on macOS 10.15 when it is released later this year.

Current versions of Photoshop (20.x), Lightroom (2.x) & Lightroom Classic (8.x) released at MAX October 2018 are 64-bit applications with 64-bit licensing and installer components which can be installed and activated on macOS 10.15 beta for your own testing purposes…

…If you have prior Creative Cloud versions of Photoshop, Lightroom and Lightroom Classic installed, e.g. Photoshop CC 2018 (19.x), Lightroom (1.x) or Lightroom Classic (2015.x), we suggest that you stick with macOS 10.14 if you want to continue with these versions.

Upcoming changes to Photoshop & Lightroom OS support with macOS 10.15 (Catalina)

That’s all the official information available for now.

Older versions of Adobe software (CS3–CS6)

Many Adobe CS3–CS6 applications do not make the cut this time because they are not 64-bit code (see below). Many of them already have significant issues running in macOS 10.14 Mojave. CS3–CS5 applications are now 10–13 years old. It is time to upgrade…or you can keep using them on Macs running older versions of macOS/Mac OS X.

The absolute first thing you need to do to check compatibility of older Adobe software is to see if it’s 64-bit code. If it isn’t, forget it…there’s no way it will run in macOS 10.15 Catalina.

How do you know if you’re running 32-bit applications? Do this:

  1. Click the Apple menu, choose About This Mac, and click System Report.
  2. In the System Information window that opens, click the Applications category, and then (after a slight delay on some systems) look for the 64-Bit (Intel) column. On smaller displays you might need to scroll the list to the right.
  3. Click the 64-Bit (Intel) column heading to sort the list so that applications marked “No” appear at the top.

The System Information screen shot below was taken on a Mac running macOS 10.14 Mojave, with some (not all) Adobe CS3 through CS6 applications installed. I highlighted the applications marked “No” in red. The horizontal highlights mark main Adobe applications, but many of the other applications marked “No” are related Adobe components.

Finding 32-bit applications in macOS System Information

Some CS3–CS6 applications are missing because I’ve had trouble installing some of them on Mojave, especially CS4 applications. But how to get them installed no longer matters in macOS 10.15 Catalina for any applications marked “No” in the 64-bit column, because they’re simply not going to run in Catalina.

If an older Adobe application isn’t marked “No” because it’s 64-bit, does that mean it will run in macOS 10.15 Catalina? Not necessarily. As Adobe explains above in their post about Photoshop and Lightroom, a 64-bit application may still have problems in Mojave if related components are not 64-bit. In the figure above, many of the applications marked “No” are components installed with CS3–CS6 applications, or with other applications from other companies.

For example, if Lightroom 6 is already installed on a Mac that you upgrade to macOS 10.15 Catalina, it might run, but you’ll never be able to reinstall it because some installation and licensing components are not 64-bit code. (The main Lightroom application was released as 64-bit code before its original competition, Apple Aperture.)

Applications must also meet all other requirements for security, code signing, permissions, etc. that Apple has tightened in the last few releases of macOS.

Adobe Creative Suite 2 (CS2) compatibility

There is no way to run Adobe CS2 software on macOS 10.15 Catalina. The only option is to use a newer version of the software.

The question of CS2 compatibility comes up during every recent Mac system upgrade. Some users moving up from older Macs running 10.6.8 or earlier to new Macs with the latest OS version may still be using the Creative Suite 2 (CS2) version of Adobe software, such as Adobe Photoshop CS2.

As with the last several major Mac system upgrades, macOS 10.15 Catalina requires that software be written for the Intel processors that have been running Macs for over 10 years. But CS2 applications were written for the PowerPC processors that ran older Macs. The last version of Mac OS X to run PowerPC software was OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard.

So, CS2 applications won’t run in macOS 10.15 Catalina for two major, unfixable reasons: They can’t run on Intel CPUs, and as with many CS3–CS6 applications, they aren’t 64-bit code.

External GPU support

In macOS 10.13.4, Apple added support for external graphics processing units, called external GPUs or eGPUs. The idea is that you put a powerful graphics card inside a box and connect it to your Mac using Thunderbolt, and that upgrades the graphics capabilities of your Mac. I use one to boost the weak internal graphics hardware in my 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Adobe has improved eGPU support in the most recent versions of application such as Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Lightroom Classic. Across macOS, don’t expect older applications to take full advantage of an eGPU. If you want to get the most out of your eGPU, use current versions of both your high performance applications and macOS.

Some applications may not support an eGPU automatically, so if there is an application that you’re especially interested in accelerating with an eGPU, contact the developer to see if their application fully supports an eGPU.

What I’m doing

I rely on my Mac to pay my bills, so I can’t afford for it to be out of service because of a major software problem. Therefore:

  • I won’t install prerelease software on it, since prerelease software is by definition not ready for release.
  • As with every major release of macOS, I will not install macOS 10.15 Catalina on my production Mac on the day it comes out. I will wait to see what problems and incompatibilities exist with all of the software and hardware that I rely on. I usually don’t install the latest version of macOS on my production Mac until the .5 or .6 release or when I’m satisfied that there aren’t any remaining issues with, for example, my printer or graphics tablet.

I will install macOS 10.15 Catalina on a separate test volume where I can try it out. That’s always the best way to confirm that it works with your specific workflow.

This article was originally posted on August 28, 2019 and will be updated as new information emerges.

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