Apple's plan to replace Vista with OS X - on Wintel

Apple's plan to replace Vista with OS X - on Wintel

Summary: You're Apple, Inc. You have a new kick-butt file system, ZFS, that blows away Microsoft's aging NTFS and complements see-and-gotta-have storage tools like Time Machine.

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You're Apple, Inc. You have a new kick-butt file system, ZFS, that blows away Microsoft's aging NTFS and complements see-and-gotta-have storage tools like Time Machine.

And maybe, you'd like to add the world's Windows users to your total available market. Enabling customers to replace the creaking mass of Windows compromise with something modern. Sure, Vista looks new, but the guts are old. The NTFS file system is based on 1980's technology from DEC, after all.

In either case you need a new file system. Changing file systems is error-prone and tedious: back up all your data, reformat the disk, install the new OS and then restore your data. Except now Apple has a better way.

A way that can change Windows file systems to Mac file systems.

According to a patent filed by smart Apple engineers Greg Marriott and David Shayer, Apple can do that. (I heard about the patent from Greg Keizer.)

The invention isn't hard to describe. The fun is in the possible uses.

What is a file system? A file system presents your files to your Explorer window or your Finder. It also keeps track of where the files are on disk - translating from the logical name "foo.bar" to the physical address of the data on the disk. Since you are always dealing with files, the file system needs to be very good: reliable, fast, secure and easy to manage.

ZFS is the first 21st century file system on a mainstream desktop operating system.

Apple's touchless file system converter: how it works The core insight of the invention is that the existing file system has all the data the new file system needs. You don't need to touch the files to change the file system.

The converter reads the existing file system to find out where all the files are on disk. Then it creates a new set of data structures, such as a catalog and file extents, for the new file system. After verifying the new structures, the converter replaces the first file system by rewriting the disk's partition map and and overwriting the volume headers of the first file system.

Reboot and you are on a new file system. Maybe even a whole new operating system.

Convert NTFS to ZFS. Convert media players to ZFS. Most of the patent is about how the invention might be used. Here's some:

  • Embed the converter in iTunes and convert the file systems of media players
  • Create dual file systems: leave the original file system in place, construct the replacement data structures, which the second file system then uses to access the files
  • Any-to-any conversion: "In general, any file system can be converted . . . ."

That's right. Apple invested in this because they needed to. But it is a general purpose tool.

The Storage Bits take All the pieces are now in place for the conversion of the Mac base to ZFS. Just don't expect Steve Jobs to ever mention it. It is a file system. It isn't sexy.

What is sexy is that combined with Time Machine, ZFS enables for the first time truly safe massive home storage. Time Machine provides the "set and forget" backup automation with a simple, intuitive restore function that leaves Mac and Windows users drooling. ZFS provides the best data integrity and, for free, high performance RAID. Yes, George, better than Intel's ICH8 chip. And it works much better with flash drives.

The future starts now Apple had Mac OS X running on Intel processors for five years before they announced the switch. With Apple's experience in managing big migrations - from 68000 to PowerPC to x86, and from OS 9 to Unix-based OS X - one has to wonder if Steve will finally choose to make the Mac OS available on Wintel systems.

Apple already has a sizable Windows software business. They install their Bonjour networking with every copy of iTunes, where it works way better than anything Redmond has. Now they are adding a browser, Safari. By inserting ZFS under NTFS data structures - and virtualizing Vista - they could start selling Mac OS X on Vista machines while preserving the customer's investment in Wintel software.

Windows becomes a wart on your foot instead of a cancer in your brain You buy Mac OS X and suddenly life is better: more stable, more efficient, more easily managed and with the best storage applications on the desktop. You could run your Windows apps in a Vista window, just as Parallels and VMware users do now. If you're tired of managing virus subscriptions and bug-ridden bloatware, the promise of a "new" computer for $129 would be compelling, especially if you didn't give up anything you'd already bought.

This software revenue would be additive for Apple. Apple designs great hardware so if you want Mac, you'd still buy a Mac.

Remember, Steve likes to play the long game. Just because Microsoft has always dominated the desktop doesn't mean they always will. The technology exists, the market is changing and Google has Microsoft's attention. When will Cupertino mug Redmond on the PC?

Update: Apple has finally confirmed that a "read-only" version of ZFS will be in 10.5.0. That is a different roll-out - or is that roll-in? - strategy than I'd expected. Given the obvious superiority of ZFS over HFS+ it is clear that Apple will roll it in. The only question is when.

From the way they've phrased this I'd say there is still some schedule risk due to technical issues. I still expect them to first enable full ZFS functionality in Mac OS X Server - I'm thinking 10.5.3 - with full support for single-user OS X several dot releases later, like 10.5.6. For the Mac user base it is more important to get it right than it is to get it quick. A phased approach - extended beta - is the only way to go.

Comments welcome, of course.

Topics: Operating Systems, Apple, Hardware, Microsoft, Windows

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162 comments
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  • ZFS isn't apple's file system...

    ...It's Sun Microsystems' (and present in Solaris, FreeBSD, etc. etc.) and representatives from Apple have denied that Leopard will feature ZFS (perhaps they're lying - in which case I think Apple Inc. is really hypocritical).

    And if leopard still uses HFS+, then NTFS is definitely a better file system...
    laxmanb
    • In what way?

      Specifically, in what way is NTFS a better file system than HFS+?

      I've done some searching and can't find anything definitive, so on what are you basing
      your conclusion?
      frgough
      • They're similar

        Esp considering HFS+ was released 5 years after NTFS and was a "catch-up" attempt by Apple. Wait, that isnt possible is it? No. Apple never has to "catch up", they just lead. Esp now that they have their GUI from Xerox, their kernel from NetBSD and a fancy new file system from Sun (not to mention their great new Intel developed BIOS and hardware).

        Yep, Apple is truly the great innovator. NO ONE can put together pre-existing components and market them the way they can! (and thats not sarcasm, I do believe their strong suit is in quickly integrating components and packaging them really really well)
        mlambert890@...
        • Cute

          Except that the GUI did not come from Xerox. The Alto was an inspiration, but the Mac OS code-base was all Apple. Now, that OS aged very quickly and Apple didn't bother to create a replacement, but they did turn BSD into something worthy of the consumer desktop. The entire GUI and most of the infrastructure of Mac OS X is in fact uniquely Apple's. Only the base of the kernel and a lot of UNIX utilities and UFS are not Apple innovations.

          Now we have ZFS from Sun. Yet Time Machine is likely Apple's own invention, as is almost everything a Mac OS X user sees and uses.
          ehwood
    • Sun's ZFS Will Also Be In Their New OS! :)

      No Apple didn't invent the wheel here. Correct! But even Sun is advertising the fact that Apple is using their NexGen file system.
      So that's going a little too far saying they are being hypocritical. This author just forgot to mention that it was Sun's bit of innovation.

      ...And even if Apple still used HFS+, it's still lightyears beyond NTFS, a system that still requires defragging with a having to keep a process (4processes) running all the time indexing the system to enable fake real time search that even BeOS oblirated in speed without any extra processes or indexing!

      With ZFS OS-X Leopard leaps into the future of full ultra fast computer search with new enhanced Spotlight!
      i2fun@...
      • HFS doesn't require defragging?

        You know that thing that Macs do when they finish installing software (optimizing system performance)? It's defragging, you just don't know it.
        nix_hed
        • Defragging a Mac

          Under OSX, the optimizing of the system is not so much defragging as redoing the prebinding of applications and OS to their various components which requires a reboot to ensure proper operation. ask any Unix/Linux tech.
          GentleRF
          • Yep

            Though if you want to really know how something works, ask a programmer, as defragging and association repair mechanisms function largely in the higher range of their precious OSI model.

            HFS also constantly allocates system resources to a process that is all but defragging, moving block data around to make certain you don't end up with fragmentation. It doesn't mean it doesn't need to be defragged, it just does it while you're working, rather than when you don't need the resources.
            Spiritusindomit@...
        • HFS doesn't require defragging?

          Upon opening a file, OS X checks to see if a file is fragmented if it's under a certain size (don't remember the size off the top of my head) and defrags it on the fly. OS X resists fragmentation but it don't totally eliminate it, however I've never had to defrag OS X in 7-8 years.
          Axsimulate
      • Koolaid Man!

        Oh sure... The author (a biased ideologue like you) just "forgot" to mention that this feature he is crediting to Apple that will transform computing was invented THREE YEARS AGO BY SUN. Oh sure. "just forgot" Imagine if such a thing was "just forgotten" in a Microsoft article? They hypocrisy is mind boggling.

        As for your rant re: HFS+... Please. Let's here your scholarly analysis of how HFS+ is "lightyears" ahead of NTFS. Please, we are waiting. It will be interesting because it will be the first time outside of the Apple mind control camps that such an analysis will exist!

        I'll get you started by disproving one of your points. ALL file systems fragment. You can start learning by reading this:

        http://www.kernelthread.com/mac/apme/fragmentation/
        mlambert890@...
        • Got your "koolaid" . . . hangin'

          Here's the link you supplied . . .

          <http://www.kernelthread.com/mac/apme/fragmentation/>

          Here's a quote . . .

          "Defragmentation on HFS+ volumes should not be necessary at all, or worthwhile, in most cases, because the system seems to do a very good job of avoiding/countering fragmentation."

          Bet you didn't get past the pretty graphics, huh?
          brian ansorge
    • You're right , ZFS isn't Apple's file system .

      It definitely isn't Microsofts either , but Leopard will include ZFS in read mode only .
      Leopard really does have plenty of new features , features that Windows uer could
      have . Oh yeah , windows users can have them also , but at a price .
      Intellihence
      • Huh?

        That post didnt even mention Microsoft. It merely pointed out that the article needs either a correction or a retraction since it incorrectly asserts that Apple has put effort into HUGE innovation in creating the NEXT GENERATION of file system when all it is doing is utilizing a THREE YEAR OLD SUN invention that Sun was nice enough to open source (where the hell would Apple be without Open Source, I wonder?)

        Somehow you now mention Microsoft and Windows? Yeah, you don't have an agenda. Maybe the poster is a Solaris fan pissed that Apple is again stealing credit for UNIX world innovation.

        How much does Apple pay you guys (including the author of the article since it reads like it was written at Cupertino) anyway?
        mlambert890@...
        • Indeed.

          I certainly am. The vast majority of innovation in the tech industry comes from one place. Sun. It's really annoying to have all these proprietary, closed sauce mac worshippers piggy backing like they know the first thing about how applications work. They seriously think unix and linux developers are on the 'same team.' That's some damn good koolaid they brew.
          Spiritusindomit@...
  • I've thought that for a long time

    There is no reason why Apple couldn't make it's own operating sysem for Windows
    machines. I'd still buy Apple hardware because I like quality products and seldom go
    for the cheap solution.
    Prime Detailer
    • Probably will never happen

      Apple is still primarily a hardware company. If you look at all of Apple's software, the
      focus is to drive hardware sales. iTunes was ported to Windows to drive iPod sales.
      Safari has been ported to Windows to drive iPhone sales.
      frgough
      • It would be a big slap to Microsofts face

        if Apple did start making OS X available for cheap pc's . It would be great for
        economical reasons . If OS X hit PC's , the price of Vista would drop drastically , and
        then the lay-offs at Microsoft would begin . Just a thought .
        Intellihence
        • You changed it back again

          how nice. <br>
          Apple could not charge 129.00 for OS X on Windows. They would lose money. And I seriously doubt they could get OS X stable on other hardware. They have enough of a time on hardware they control. <br>
          I hope they do it. I'd love to see the weekly mega-patching Apple would have to do then. <br>
          But, I doubt it will ever happen since Jobs is a control freak and could never accept that he wasn't calling ALL of the shots.
          xuniL_z
          • I agree...if this happens Apply may fall apart

            I'm trying to picture Apple under the scopes that MS is under at all times. I don't think they are big enough to handle the pressure. I don't think they have the infrastructure to handle the number of hardware variations time will tell. I think that is way more than than can handle in my opion. But with people like Spot Boy what is he going to do when the heat gets turned.
            fr0thy2.
          • RE: You changed it back again

            "Apple could not charge 129.00 for OS X on Windows. They would lose money."

            Your right Apple could not charge $129.00 for OS X for the PC most people wouldn't buy it, just the same way most people are not buying Vista and installing it. They are buying it with a new computer, and that is what Apple would have to do is OEM it to Dell, HP, etc. But then they may run into Microsoft strong arming the OEMs. (wouldn't be the first time MS has done such a thing)

            "And I seriously doubt they could get OS X stable on other hardware. They have enough of a time on hardware they control."

            Yeah, right. You are funny!

            "I hope they do it."

            Me too.

            "I'd love to see the weekly mega-patching Apple would have to do then."

            You mean like Microsoft already does?

            "But, I doubt it will ever happen since Jobs is a control freak and could never accept that he wasn't calling ALL of the shots."

            Well, there is something we can agree on.
            Axsimulate