13 January 2008



A very interesting article at Ars Technica tells us why file systems matter. And it tells us a lot about Macs too !

From BFS to ZFS: past, present, and future of file systems

ZFS was the new file system that was rummored to be behind Leopard's Time Machine. ZFS has been developped by SUN Microsystem for their Solaris operating system.

Quote from the ZFS Open Solaris Page:

ZFS is a new kind of filesystem that provides simple administration, transactional semantics, end-to-end data integrity, and immense scalability. ZFS is not an incremental improvement to existing technology; it is a fundamentally new approach to data management. We've blown away 20 years of obsolete assumptions, eliminated complexity at the source, and created a storage system that's actually a pleasure to use.

ZFS presents a pooled storage model that completely eliminates the concept of volumes and the associated problems of partitions, provisioning, wasted bandwidth and stranded storage. Thousands of filesystems can draw from a common storage pool, each one consuming only as much space as it actually needs. The combined I/O bandwidth of all devices in the pool is available to all filesystems at all times.

Key word here: data integrity... For flawless backups etc...

Well, to tell you the truth, the above quote was from the ZFS Open Solaris Page via the ZFS on OS X page on MacForge, the provider of many a Free Software project for the Mac.

Which also means that YES! ZFS is available for the Mac !!!

To know more about it, go to Welcome to ZFS on OS X.

04 January 2008

Office 2008 review

Ars Technica's word

Ars Technica has released a brief review of Office 2008, a few days before the suite's release at MacWorld 2008 .

The new file format

For translators, the main appeal of the suite is the access it provides to the new Office 2007 format. There are plenty of things to say about this new format, and the first is that power users or developers who rely on the OOXML standard to create files that Office 2007/2008 should support are going to be a little surprised ...

Native !

Another important feature of the suite is that the new Office for Mac is now a Universal Binary, which means that it will run natively and equally well on both PPC and Intel machines. No more Rosetta between the machine and Office!

MacTech has run a few tests (2500) to compare Office 2008 to Office 2004 on G4 and Intel /Tiger and Leopard machines.

The conclusion is that Office 2008 is about 30% faster than Office 2004 on Intel machines and that it is "marginally" slower on G4 machines. Also, Office 2008 looks faster on Leopard than on Tiger.

Besides for the raw performance, the article points at the fact that the suite having been rewritten, a number of features are either more quickly accessed or provide a faster ergonomic experience than their 2004 counterparts. Which means that even users of a G4 could see some benefits using it .

No more Wordfast ! Scripting options ?

The major problem for Mac translators is that since Office 2008 drops VBA support they won't be able to use WordFast anymore, at least the current versions that are basically a Word macro written in VBA.

Office 2008 supposedly adds better AppleScript support and OSX integration but it is unlikely that such features will be of much use for tool developers who relied on the relative compatibility with Office for Windows to deliver their "mutliplatform" tools. Still, people who want to start converting their VBA work to AppleScript should take a look at MacTech's transition guide.

According to Nadyne, MBU member and Ars Technica's Jacqui Cheng, Office 2008's Automator support does not come as a default option: it is not in the "Home/Student" edition, only in the "Standard" and "Special".

Automator support comes along with "full Exchange support" for an extra cost of $250 ("Home/Student" at $150, "Standard" at $400)...

Pricing ?

Also, it looks like MS is sticking to its funky Vista-like pricing options (or maybe Vista only made that worse)... Why is it so hard to simply have a 1 license vs 3+ licenses pricing pattern?

No multi-license scheme for "Standard" and 3 "non-commercial" installs for "Home/Student"...

Last but not least ?

Here is a good reason to wait until a few updates are released... Microsoft has published a list of know issues with the new software. MacOSXHints makes a short summary and has links to the relevant page at Microsoft. You wonder what they've done of their time in 4 years of development... Another case of the Vista syndrome? Some issues seem to have been addressed in the first update of the suite though.


Ars Technica's Office 2008 review:
First Look: Microsoft Office for Mac 2008
By Jonathan M. Gitlin, January 2008

MS does not respect its own format:
Microsoft Office XML formats? Defective by design
By St├ęphane Rodriguez, August 2007

MacTech's VBA to AppleScript transition guide:
Moving from Microsoft Office VBA to AppleScript: MacTech's Guide to Making the Transition
By Paul Berkowitz, April 2007.

MacTech's Office 2008 Benchmarks Preview:
How well does Office 2008 run compared to Office 2004?
By Neil Ticktin, Editor-in-Chief, January 2008.

Mac My Day, Nadyne's blog at MBU:
today's top five questions in the Office 2008 booth
By Nadyne, MBU member, January 2008.

Ars Technica's Infite Loop
Microsoft announces Mac Office 2008 pricing, upgrade details
By Jacqui Cheng, September 2007.

MacOSXHints' summary of known issues
A list of known issues with Microsoft Office 2008
By user davidfoster with addendum by manager robg, January 2008.

Microsoft's first update details
Description of the Office 2008 for Mac 12.0.1 Update
By Microsoft, March 2008

02 January 2008

Will the Real T(ranslator|echie) Please Stand Up?

I think I need to change my working habits too.

Here is Andy Kim's story about workplace ergonomics.

And here is Bill Clementson's older story:
part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4

01 January 2008

RAM cost on Apple machines


With the latest hardware updates, RAM price has considerably dropped.

The iMac 2gb->4gb update drops from ¥89,000 to ¥47,000, same drop on the laptops. Only the Mac Pro does not seem to benefit from the drop (at ¥63,000).

I've seen a number of blog articles here and there complaining about Apple's RAM prices but each and every single one of them missed something: a comparison of the actual chips that were being installed on the updated machines and a comparison with other makers' practices.

I have no doubt that one can find cheap memory anywhere but what is the cost of the high end stuff, and why not assume that it is what Apple puts in our machines ? Is there a study out their that proves Apple is such a crook as far as RAM quality/cost ratio is concerned ?

What is the performance difference between components of various prices and origins ?

Just to make sure I am not misunderstood. I have no doubt whatsoever that Apple is making a very fat margin on a number of items.

The update from 2gb to 4gb on the iMac line is ¥89,000 on the Japanese store (~$615 - too bad for the US customers who are penalized by the exchange rate: $700 on the US Apple Store).

When I check similar updates (from 2gb to 4gb) for various makers' online stores I find (after a huge lot of painful browsing through ugly online stores):

Below $400

  • Dell (desktop) charges $270.
  • HP (desktop) charges $170+$100=$270
  • Lenovo (desktop) charges $340-$60=$280
  • Everex (?) charges $135x2=$270 for memory chips but it is not specified if the chips come installed or not.
  • HP (laptop) charges $300
  • AlienWare (desktop) charges $450-$100=$350
  • Dell (laptop) charges $375.

Above $400

  • Apple charges less on the Mac Pro series: from 2gb to 4 gb only costs $400.
  • Lenovo (laptop) charges $520-$80=$440
  • NEC (desktop) charges ¥110,000-¥50,000=¥60,000 (~$460)
  • Fujitsu (laptop) charges $480.
  • Sony (laptop) charges $660-$110=$550 (I could not find relevant information for Sony desktops but since the Apple RAM tax applies equally to notebooks I also checked the Sony laptops)
  • Toshiba laptops did not seem to include a 4gb options but the upgrade from 512mbx2 to 2gbx1 is $280

Also, Apple's line is made of compact machines (obvious for the laptops) at the exception of the Mac Pro. All the compact machines' upgrades from 2gb to 4gb cost the same at Apple and the non-compact Mac Pro's upgrade costs much less. Similarly for other makers, all the compact machines' upgrades cost more than the non-compact machines'.

So, what does all that mean ?

  1. One can find extra cheap uninstalled RAM in the wild, just check for low prices in your area.
  2. All the makers I checked charge much more for the update than for the price of the individual chip
  3. Makers that also compete in the low end (Dell, Lenovo, HP, Everex) charge similar prices <$400
  4. Other makers (Sony, Fujitsu, NEC) all charge more than Apple's upgrade for the Mac Pro's $400, and Sony is actually quite close to Apple's compact machines ($550 - $700). Toshiba would no doubt charge similar prices if its laptops accepted 4gb or RAM (I could not find any on the online store, but that does not mean they don't exist).

Now, I have still no idea what chips are in the machines, what is their relative quality and how much margin all the other makers actually get from their RAM upgrade prices. But considering the prices, it does not seem that what Apple does is so outrageous after all. After all, as John Gruber put it in a recent post, Apple is after profit, not market shares.

And just in case that would have escaped people who write blogs, the actual act of shopping is made very easy by Apple. I live in the Japanese country side and being able to have flawless support after getting my machine from the online store is definitely worth the $100 difference with a Sony machine, or the $350 with a Dell machine. Plus, those don't run Leopard. When I call the support center and talk to super polite people who are able to answer complex questions without hesitation, I say that is worth the Apple tax on my RAM (and yes, I did get 4GB on my wife's recent 24" iMac).

Regarding the recent iMac's memory specifications, see this document. Earlier iMacs did not support the full 4GB it seems.