Apple's weak tech-fu

Apple's market cap surpassed Microsoft's yesterday. But Apple's weak tech-fu - especially in storage - threatens to derail the company and the stock price.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

Apple's market cap surpassed Microsoft's yesterday. But Apple's weak tech-fu - especially in storage - threatens to derail the company and the stock price.

In Apple's lagging tech chops I reviewed the underwhelming feature set of the industry's most expensive line of notebooks: no quad-core; no USB3; no Blu-ray player. And now it looks like they are skipping the fine new hybrid drive.

But OS X and Apple's storage product are lagging as well. Apple makes it easy to create great memories - and real easy to lose them.

I was reminded of this fact when I lost some difficult to replace files on my Mac Pro. And I run 3 different backups: Time Machine; daily disk clones; and an online backup.

Data integrity should be a given As noted in 50 ways to lose your data, How data gets lost and How Microsoft puts your data at risk our PCs are steaming piles of storage hurt.

Kudos to Microsoft: they've been working under the covers to improve NTFS without breaking anything. They added some transaction-style options to NTFS with Transactional NTFS (TxF):

TxF transactions increase application reliability by protecting data integrity across failures and simplify application development by greatly reducing the amount of error handling code.

But TxF-fu is weak. It requires programmers to use new APIs. The OS itself doesn't use it for many files. And it doesn't validate the data - so you can have bad data correctly written.

But at least Microsoft has done something. Mac data integrity is a joke.

Weak journaling HFS+ journaling maintains a small list of metadata changes. If a power outage or loose connection interrupts metadata updates HFS+ will ensure file system consistency. But that's it.

But if bad stuff happens while you are writing the data HFS+ is clueless. And Time Machine will overwrite a good copy with a newly corrupted one right away.

Data validation There is no data validation: not in HFS+; not in Time Machine; not in Time Capsule; and certainly not across any USB links. That's just begging for trouble.

It's like popping the hood on a Ferrari and finding a Model T engine. Apple has chosen to keep hacking HFS+ - a product that was outdated 10 years ago - instead of adopting new technology.

Apple looked to fix this with ZFS the 1st 21st century file system, but they backed out after announcing ZFS for OS X server 2 years ago.

Non-redundant storage Time capsule is a single disk drive! Encouraging people to store their memories on one is stupid. The drive will fail and people will lose data. Enough of that and the stock price goes too.

Few civilians understand how their storage works or what the risks are. Apple has a responsibility to provide customers with kit that not only works, but works well.

The Storage Bits take Microsoft and Apple are where Detroit was 40 years ago on auto safety: "no one cares, no one will pay for it!" But people will pay for safety, as Toyota well knows.

Data corruption is much more common than we'd like to believe and much more common than we've been told - see Nightmare on DIMM street for the latest example.

Microsoft has the biggest problem: their huge installed base. They can't just build a modern file system and migrate 500 million users to it.

But Apple's problem isn't technical or marketing: it's management. Unix is designed to support different file systems. Plenty of people were excited by ZFS on Mac.

The people responsible for Apple's file systems have decided that building the best possible product doesn't matter. They can keep their jobs and their stock options without doing anything, so why should they? Steve is busy with the iPhone; he won't notice. Besides, didn't Sun invent it?

But Apple innovates best when it innovates least: not inventing, but integrating outside technology - like Next, or Unix, or display postscript, or DTrace, or touchscreens - and sweating the details. No one is sweating HFS+ and that will come back to bite Apple.

The sad part: Apple customers will be the first to suffer.

Comments welcome, of course. Learn more about ZFS on Mac here.

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