Saturday, October 24, 2009

Goodbye ZFS, Hello something else...

Apple has shut down the source repository for the Mac OS X port of ZFS, leading to a flurry of reports that the project has been canned, apparently for legal rather than technical reasons.

While this may leave Apple without an advanced project to develop a next-generation operating system, it certainly doesn't leave them without a wide array of examples nor without a choice of starting points.

Apple could, of course, start from scratch, designing a file system to suit their particular circumstances, perhaps even one that would scale from the smallest portable devices to the largest Xsan installations, with plenty of elbow room for future increases in bit density.

They could also start with existing projects, such as UFS2, associated with the FreeBSD project, or maybe HAMMER, associated with DragonFly BSD, an offshoot of FreeBSD.

Many of us were looking forward to ZFS, not because it was ZFS in particular, but because it would presumably have been both faster and more stable than HFS+ (starting about halfway down). Frankly, the speed advantage of one file system design over another mostly goes away as you move from hard disks to solid state memory, since there's no time-consuming repositioning of read/write heads in solid state memory. (There can still be minor differences in speed due to code efficiency, but these pale by comparison.) While most desktop and laptop computers continue to come with hard disks, the cost/capacity of solid state memory is coming down rapidly, and it has already displaced hard disks in the most portable devices. Speed is on the way to becoming a non-issue.

What's mainly left is security (control over who has access to what), stability (partly a matter of redundancy), a logical structure that contributes to rather than interferes with keeping content organized and making it accessible, and the completeness of metadata (file name, file type, file owner, creator, creating program, date of creation, source URI, ...).

Apple might also wish to integrate (aspects of) its Spotlight and/or Core Data technologies into the file system. I'm not enough of an adept to know whether there's anything to be gained in this, but it seems possible.

All in all, it seems like a win that Apple is looking to its own resources for a next-generation replacement for HFS+.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What's next from Apple?

Please understand that the following is entirely speculation, based upon extrapolation from what's already public. Any similarity between what you find here and future products may be ascribed to luck (or, if you're feeling charitable, to prescience on my part).

What's brewing at Apple that wasn't introduced on Tuesday? New MacBook Pros, of course, probably not departing more than slightly from the current industrial design, just the usual spec bump. New Mac Pros? Same as for the portable line; why change a wining design? Sure there will be new standard configurations and new options, faster processors, bigger hard drives, likely the new optical link technology recently introduced by Intel, but they're not likely to look much different than they have for several years now.

Practically everyone is expecting some sort of tablet from Apple, and I think they're right about that much. Moreover, I think the iFrame video format that recently made a blip in the news offers a clue about one particular detail, the screen resolution. iFrame is a 16:9, 960 by 540 format, but it's a sure bet that an Apple tablet won't be 16:9, even though they just moved to that aspect ratio for their iMacs. What iFrame supplies is a minimum long dimension (width in landscape mode), but the shorter dimension is more likely to be at least 640 (for a 3:2 aspect ratio, just like the iPhone), with 100 vertical pixels left over after letterboxing HD video, just enough to provide a menu bar and controls at the bottom that don't cover part of the content, or a clips bar. iFrame is about video editing, so you're going to want more than just the raw video on the screen.

What else? Well, Apple TV hardware is getting so long in the tooth that it's beginning to resemble a saber-toothed tiger, so, unless they plan to let it wither, there really has to be a new version in the pipeline. 1080p30 is a given, as is a Mini DisplayPort in addition to most of the output options on the current model. Most likely it will also include a Core 2 Duo processor combined with NVIDIA's integrated graphics chipset, and I think you'll see the software opened up in much the same way as the iPhone has been via the App Store, with an operating system that's clearly a variant of OS X, sharing most of the same libraries.

I also think you'll see a high end AirPort designed to work with one or more of the 4G wireless networks now either in planning or being built out. Ideally, this would have a software-defined radio unit for connection to the provider's network, allowing a single hardware configuration to take advantage of whatever might be or become available through software updates, the antithesis of lock-in.

Time frame? Hard to say. The new AppleTV and AirPort might not arrive until next summer.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Apple's uber-affordable workgroup server

Starting today, $999 gets you a Mac mini with quite respectable specs, preloaded with Mac OS X 10.6 Server (unlimited license). While this combination is potent enough for far more strenuous use, it practically screams workgroup, since it's easily affordable enough to allow sprinkling them around a company, and compact enough to fit into a drawer, if need be.

Mac OS X 10.6 Server combines the power and security of UNIX with the ease of use of a Macintosh, and comes with a set of collaboration tools to help people communicate and help organizations learn.

This is an amazing deal! (And you thought Macs were expensive...)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mossberg in perspective

At the bottom of this Apple 2.0 article you'll find the following tidbit from an earlier Mossberg review...

"After months of testing Vista on multiple computers, new and old, I believe it is the best version of Windows that Microsoft has produced." — Wall Street Journal, Jan. 18, 2007

...juxtaposed with this...

"After using pre-release versions of Windows 7 for nine months, and intensively testing the final version for the past month on many different machines, I believe it is the best version of Windows Microsoft has produced." — Wall Street Journal, Oct. 8, 2009

If Microsoft manages its glidepath very well, it just might succeed in replacing XP with Windows 7 as the de facto standard version.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

PC: "I'm a PC." . . . Mac: "You might want to get that fixed."

Windows Mobile 6.5 is fast following in the footsteps of Vista, the deal-killer.

Windows 7 for the desktop may fare better, but it's unlikely to pull Microsoft's nose above the horizon for more than a single quarter, if that. (Merry Christmas, MS, but beware the chill that follows.)

These days, the reasons for sticking with Windows look more like excuses, thin and flimsy, and the reasons for not doing so are already powerful, on their way to becoming irrefutable.

This situation isn't going to turn around, ever; it's only going to become more so. That's because Microsoft is too much like GM, and Chrysler before it, too set in its ways and lacking in imagination, too accustomed to easy money and market clout and too unaccustomed to real competition based on value. By the time Microsoft gets a grip, its market share will have dwindled to less than 20%, perhaps even single digits.

Think that can't happen? Consider what an agreement between HP and Dell to push Linux would do to shift the market. What if you had to pay $50 extra to have Windows installed on a new machine in place of Linux, would you do it? How about another $150 to get Microsoft Office in place of Star Office or, or any of a dozen other alternatives, would you ante up?

Sure, some people aren't put off by the need to put out extra money for first-rate software, but most of them are already using Macs.