Monday, April 28, 2014

Reaktor reaches end of life?

I have been a big fan of Reaktor for some time, and use it exclusively in my live work. Recently I have encountered some absolute stupidity on the part of its developer Native Instruments. And this is forcing me to rethink my commitment.

I started with Reaktor back in version 3 and have been hacking away steadily for 15 years. It's a fantastic system for developing your own instruments, effects, and audio utilities. One does this either by hacking together pieces from existing tools or simply building virtual circuits from scratch in a graphical interface. It's a lot like Max/MSP except easier to get started, and with thousands of ready-to-go ensembles, many of excellent quality. Back when I started all this, Max had a poor interface and provided no way to customise the look and feel for performance. Also I didn't like the sound. Both of these factors are no longer the case, but still Reaktor has the edge in some departments. (For one, it works as a VST so it is easy to integrate with any DAW.)

My working method is to build on a powerful desktop system, keeping in mind CPU usage, and then port over to my laptop for live performance. The development box is a fast i7 chip with lots of memory, running Windows 7. The laptop is an old dual core with 2GB RAM running Windows XP. But it gets at least half the performance, once I have optimised, and this is usually perfectly adequate.

Reaktor has been stuck on version 5 for what seems like aeons. Native Instruments have lost interest and moved onto more lucrative products. But since they are aware that Reaktor is the product their evangelists (and many established electronic artists) use, they keep updating it with point releases, improving the interface, fixing bugs, and sometimes even introducing significant features (like the OSC implementation). All of these little changes have been free of charge, but still it seems like Reaktor might disappear into the aether at any time.

One thing I have never liked about Reaktor is that every new version, even the point releases, creates data files (ensembles and instruments) incompatible with what came before. That's just lazy coding. Any sort of decent file format should permit new semantics so long as the syntax was consistent. Older software versions that don't understand the new features could simply fail quietly. This restriction means that I need to update both my computers every time even a small version change is released. I start with the development machine and, once I have the time and the need, I update the performance laptop.

With Reaktor 5.9 Native Instruments completely changed the installation method. For some reason the programme is now packaged as an ISO, with a disk driver and loader. The loader creates a virtual disk and loads the ISO, pretending it has mounted a DVD. Then it extracts the actual installation programme and proceeds. This is a strange backwards approach in an era when actual DVDs are becoming a rarity. It provides many points of failure and is wasteful of disk space and bandwidth. I have no idea what is wrong with the tried-and-true method of using a simple installation programme.

This installation failed on my development system, leaving me with an unusable Reaktor in any version. Tech support then took an entire week to get back to me. That's ridiculous for software that I am using professionally and have paid for through updates over many years.

Now I have discovered something even worse. Reaktor 5.9 no longer supports Windows XP. And NI did not announce this fact! So I only discovered the horrible truth when attempting to install the software on my performance laptop. No go and no workaround.

Of course all my recent work on the development system is in version 5.9. These files will not run in version 5.8, and there is no way to export them. Everything I have been working on for the last month or so is now useless to me.

The solution is to spend 120 Euro and update to Windows 8 on the laptop. But that is more than the entire system cost, and the "update" procedure actually means wiping everything on the disk. So all my data and applications, not to mention days of reconfiguration, will have to be redone. Well, I might have the time for that process sometime this decade. Or I might not.

The second approach is to throw out my Reaktor 5.9 work, revert to 5.8 on the development system, and think about switching entirely to Max at some point in the future. Far more people use Max, it is a standard in education, and the tech support is excellent. Unfortunately I'd have to discard 15 years of idiosyncratic instrument building, which is a bitter pill.

So maybe it is not Windows XP that has reached end of life. Maybe it is Reaktor that has finally proven to be more bother than it is worth. It's a shame, because it is so totally unnecessary.

I am sure some people will tell me that it's all my fault for not already using the latest and greatest operating system on the laptop. But Windows XP works perfectly well in all regards and does not have device compatibility problems that still are an issue with Windows 8. I see no reason to "upgrade" to an expensive and in some ways inferior piece of software.

Another argument is that using XP is irresponsible, since it will become a haven for viruses, now that it is no longer being updated regularly. But this ignores two facts. Viruses target the more popular systems, which XP will not be any longer. So there is no evidence the hypothesis is true. Second, I don't engage in any activities likely to harvest a virus. In fact I only go online when needed to install software updates. Which is perhaps an irony.



Anonymous said...

You only need to replace Reaktor 5.dll and Reaktor 5.exe files and Reaktor 5.9 will work on WinXP. That's how I did it.
I replaced Reaktor 5.6 dll and exe with Reaktor 5.9 versions and everything works fine. I opened up their shitty setup file with WinRar, I found dll and exe 5.9 versions in installation folders, extracted them into my Reaktor installation folder and replaced older 5.6 versions with 5.9 versions.
There was no point of doing full installation process.

I've seen a lot of people going desperate, but apparently nobody used their brains to experiment a little. I did the same thing with newer versions of Kontakt...

robin said...

I am not desperate and, I think most others would agree, I do know how to "use my brains". I had already tried the extract and copy method which failed completely. I am glad it worked for you. Maybe I will try again with a different version of the archive file. All my points stand.

Thomas said...

Reaktor is delivered in a variety of different versions. There are at least two EXE, one is the 32bit-version (x86), the other one is the 64bit-version) x64. The same is for the DLL.

You can check the type of the binary in the file-properties.

I don't know if there is already a VST3-version but as this would require a complete redesign of the code, i doubt that.

robin said...

I solved the problem by buying a "new" laptop with Windows 7. have continued to have issues with the Reaktor updates and installs since this fiasco. it seems they have moved to a model of software updates that is extremely intolerant of different user settings. My last three software updates from NI ALL failed for different reasons. And no, I don't have this problem from anyone else. In fact I just finished configuring a new computer with no issues other than those generated by NI.

popeye-x said...

i've been using reaktor for 14 years, since before it was called reaktor. basically, i've bought everything they sell. its unbelievable to me they no longer include, or even mention, the old ensembles that really got me into using reaktor OUT THE ASS. when i started, all the panels were dull green and reminded me of a luftwaffe radio shack. i even asked NI could it be possible to convert the NEW stuff to the old look? they thought i was an idiot.... i use all manner of legal reaktors, v3, v4, v5 etc. i also use cracked versions , too. if i feel like it. why not? i've paid them almost 2 grand and i need several reaktors running at the same time on different machines. i read where the guy who did the CSI soundtrack had 7 reaktor machines. that's mild compared to hans zimmer with 23 cubase pc's running gigastudio. thanks for the workaround tips, i'll be goddamned if i'm going to stop using reaktor now. i still don't know how it works! i just use it... and love it.

robin said...

I have never had a problem running the same copy of Reaktor multiple times, even on different machines. All seem to register just fine. Plus I remember that one can legally run Reaktor for 30 days without registering it. This was to cover those cases where you are on the road and your laptop goes down, so you need to quickly sub in another one. Not sure if this is still the case, however. And the new installation routine might complicate things.

IMO all software should offer easy manual installs, even if a slick interface-driven installation is also provided. If registry entries are required, they should be simple to make and undo.

robin said...

A year later and I still have problems with Reaktor 5.x installing on Windows 7. However, now we have Reaktor 6, a surprising update that adds new like to the product line. And this seems to have a whole new installation routine that actually works. Be happy, Reaktor folk!

Anonymous said...

Entertaining reading the article & the comments. Personally I use old soft on old machines & make just dandy music. Reason 2.5, Project5 v2.5.1, Ableton 5 & others. Folks, just keep your old beloved WinXPs & use older versions. I see alot of updated gadgets in the software world but I don't see any better music made than there was 5-10 years ago. Plus everyone seems more frustrated with devs than ever...If they are asses then don't do business with them, let them fail. New does not equate to good or better.

robin said...

You make a good point. We don't always need newer and "better". On the other hand, I am quite happy with my update to Reaktor 6, though I must say it's a better deal for brand new owners (reduced list price) than those upgrading (who paid almost as much). The main advantage is that the sound has been improved, due to internal algorithms and (possibly) further oversampling. I didn't think it likely but... hearing is believing!

Anonymous said...

Well, Thanks for responding to my comment...That is rare these days. Yes newer Reaktors sound better & I will give NI that one, However Battery went downhill with version 4 am staying at version 3. A fellow even made a video on youtube about that. One issue that I find for staying with XP is that many 32bit plugs are turning freebies nowadays & I don't like the TCP module which is in all windows 8 & 10 computers which is a wide open back door to microsoft, government & all others granted access to your entire system....It cannot be firewalled. Well, nice chat & you have a great life & have fun with reaktor. I send you positive energy with this message-Krowbarh

robin said...

Positive energy to you as well!

One note: everything can be firewalled. Get a BSD box and roll your own core if necessary. Though nothing that radical is needed. Simply don't run Windows on your firewall box and all is good.

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