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In Praise of Hard Drives

The importance of matriculation from the School of Hard Knocks cannot be underestimated.


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They say the quality and capacity of hard drives increases annually by as much as prices drop - 60%. The hard drive is an old - some would say outdated - technology, and yet it remains one of the most dependable - and important - we have in the world of IT. High-end Macs come today with 60GB drives - a capacity unthinkable only a few years ago - and by the time the PowerPC 970 Macs reach the market, that capacity will most likely be doubled.

User files today are gargantuan by yesterday's standards. The simple text or word processor file has been replaced by the digital photo files, the MP3 music files, and the DVD movie. And yet, even though disk free space may never again be at a premium, that is no excuse for developers to be sloppy. And 'compact' almost always means 'fast', and one would have to search far and wide for a Mac user that didn't want more speed on their machine.

'Compact' most often implies 'well engineered' as well. It takes time to go over code, analyse it, find the repetitious design patterns, the foibles, the weaknesses - and every time one reviews code, one can potentially see things one did not see before - especially bugs. The more time is devoted to code, the more compact and the better that program will be.

While hard drive capacity transcends the believable, software quality - especially on the Mac - has long ago dipped under the acceptable. No software market in the world is so riddled - so diluted - with shoddy products which are poorly designed, sloppily programmed, and rushed to market. There is also an uneasy feeling about the experience and expertise of the typical Macintosh programmer. Blunders which would get one kicked out of Programming 101 and sent to the guidance counselor occur daily, and their perpetrators assume a bewildering lack of understanding.

The importance of matriculation from the School of Hard Knocks cannot be underestimated, and yet there is normally a basic modicum of talent for the job which is conspicuous in its absence in the Macintosh market. A programmer shouldn't have to be assailed by customer complaints from a market twenty times that of Apple's to finally 'get a clue'.

Those darlings of Apple, the Omni Group, have yet to get a stable browser out the door, and are now in the process of yanking Apple's own idea of using open source KDE code and still taking money for their (lack of) effort.

Gone in 20 Seconds

Carefully prefacing his comments so as to not provoke the wrath of the Cocoa-dev Furies, BeOS guru Scot Hacker told a frightening narrative in the immediate wake of Macworld San Francisco 2003.

His own hard drives had space left, but the number of music files he'd registered with Apple's iTunes meant that he had to wait up to twenty seconds to just get the sorry program to react to a mouse click and a selection change.

Although a representative for Apple admitted to the problem off the record, and although Scot himself remains optimistic, the technology at fault is going on a full twenty years of age - meaning there is no excuse.

The mere mention of possible deficiencies in the technology is more likely than not to incur not improvements, but hostility - and this from the same community that cannot get a decent web browser out the door.

When it gets so bad that a program that manipulates a single character string wants an entire megabyte on disk - and when the author of the program is not apologetic, but arrogant - then things have gone too far, or not far enough.

When it gets so bad that a program can allow the creation of multiple directories in the same location and with the same name and still make it out the door - then things have gone too far, or not far enough.

Apple people have long been sheltered from the IT world at large. The discussions of bugs, bloat, and vulnerabilities which run rampant on the net never reach the average Mac user. Inconsistencies in a program's performance are shrugged off, bug reports are put on the shelf, and program crashes - well, one doesn't need to worry about them anymore, does one? After all, 'the system itself has not been affected'.

At the same time, the custodians of the hard drives are not letting grass grow between their toes. The creators of MP4 have found both a better and more compact way to store audio files - they're saving disk space for everyone. If they can do it, why can't the self-centered, complacent Apple developers do it?

One thing's for sure: They will not do it until Mac users rise up against them and say: 'We're not going to take your junky software anymore.'

PC users did it; it's high time Apple users did it too.

About Rixstep

Stockholm/London-based Rixstep are a constellation of programmers and support staff from Radsoft Laboratories who tired of Windows vulnerabilities, Linux driver issues, and cursing x86 hardware all day long. Rixstep have many years of experience behind their efforts, with teaching and consulting credentials from the likes of British Aerospace, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Lloyds TSB, SAAB Defence Systems, British Broadcasting Corporation, Barclays Bank, IBM, Microsoft, and Sony/Ericsson.

Rixstep and Radsoft products are or have been in use by Sweden's Royal Mail, Sony/Ericsson, the US Department of Defense, the offices of the US Supreme Court, the Government of Western Australia, the German Federal Police, Verizon Wireless, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Microsoft Corporation, the New York Times, Apple Inc, Oxford University, and hundreds of research institutes around the globe. See here.

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