What do you call it when most of your "new/needed features" on your favorite DAW wishlist comes true? If you've been a Pro Tools LE or M-Audio M-Powered user, you call it Pro Tools 9.
After years of users forum requests, complaints and demands, Avid has decided to join the club and make Pro Tools 9 free from any proprietary hardware restraints. No more having to tote around some kind of interface with your laptop, even if you only wanted to mix or edit. It will run on ASIO or Core Audio drivers. And in perhaps even bigger news, ADC or "automatic delay compensation" has been unlocked, so now you can use as many look-ahead plugins as you want, without having to get out a calculator or use a third-party compensation trick. MP3 mixdown is now included at no extra charge. A timecode ruler, full Beat Detective editing, up to 96 tracks, 256 buses and 32 simultaneous inputs are previously HD level-only options that are now available to all. If you have an HD rig, you can license your laptop and edit and mix on it as well.
Pro Tools 9 ($599) comes on a single install disc, with no more LE or M-Powered versions. HD users get every feature included, while LE or M-Powered upgraders get most of them, and even more can be had by buying the optional Complete Production Toolkit 2, ($1995) giving you all of HD save the hardware-specific features like TDM plug-ins. You can check out the features comparison here: Pro Tools 9 Features.
I've still got XP Pro on my studio machine, running Pro Tools 8. Pro Tools 9 requires Windows 7, but there are some reports of getting it working on XP. Mac OS 10.6 is the minimum Apple OS, so I loaded it on my MacBook Pro and took it for a spin. I installed it on top of Pro Tools 8 without a glitch. All of my plug-ins worked and the process was quick and easy. Pro Tools 9 is visually identical to PT8 (which I like), with an easy-on-the-eyes color scheme.
If you are looking to get into a DAW for the first trime, or have not tried Pro Tools because of the previous restrictions, Pro Tools 9 is a great move by Avid towards changing the definition of "industry standard" from being "the DAW used in major studios" to "the DAW on everyone's laptop".