New features in Apple's upcoming Snow Leopard
Jun 23, 2008

Anyone who pays attention to Apple news is, I'm sure, aware of their recent announcement of Snow Leopard, the successor to Leopard, which will be coming out in about a year. They're also probably aware that Apple is advertising this release primarily as a code refactoring that will add stability, optimization, and 'no new features'. Since that announcement there have been any number of blog posts explaining how there actually will be some significant new features, they're just mainly under the hood enhancements that the average user wouldn't actually be aware of. RoughlyDrafted has an excellent post explicating what some of those features are, so I'm not going to rehash that discussion. I do, however, want to address one of the points made, specifically that 'ZFS isn’t going to replace HFS+ outright in Snow Leopard, and has limited relevance today to desktop and laptop users, particularly those who never move beyond the single disk drive installed in their system'. I disagree. This statement is partly true in that most people, especially those with only a single HDD, won't benefit from ZFS' pooling and the various benefits that come from that (such as RAID-Z). But I still think it's inclusion in OS X will be a coup for the average user as well. Specifically, the use of ZFS means that silent data corruption will be a thing of the past thanks to copy on write and full data checksumming. Also, the advantages that ZFS' snapshots will bring to TimeMachine will greatly enhance it's usability, speed, and effectiveness for anyone with an external hard drive, network hard drive, or Time Capsule. On top of that, there are, in fact, a few benefits of ZFS pooling for those with just a single hard drive. In particular, filesystem level compression will allow the user (or, more likely, Apple) to designate certain folders to be their own filesystems that are automatically compressed to to provide a) more efficient use of space and b) faster access. This won't help much with your music and video files, but it should do a lot to greatly reduce the size and increase the access speed of the configuration and preferences files in your Library (mine is currently 3.24 GB uncompressed). I don't imagine it would be difficult for Apple to update OS X so that /Library, /System/Library, and /Users/*/Library are all their own filesystems with compression turned on. And even if they don't a savvy user could do this themselves if they really wanted to. ZFS will also be a boon to those who might want to create their own home server. A niche market for now, perhaps, but the ability to just keep adding new USB or FireWire (or eSATA?) hard drives to their computer and have that storage space just seamlessly added into their storage capacity will make it significantly easier to manage. I, for one, think that ZFS is probably the best news related to Snow Leopard that I've heard. I've already been using ZFS in both Leopard (you can download an update from the ADC that gives you full read/write access to ZFS) and FreeBSD and loving every minute of it. I just wish Sun would release it under the GPL so it could be included in Linux as well...
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