The Zettabyte File System (ZFS) is coming to Mac OS X – what is it?

Since Mac OS 8.1 (nine years ago) Apple OS has run on the HFS+ filesystem (which in turn is based on the 22 year old HFS), but maybe soon we will see a major upgrade with the introduction of the Zettabyte File System (ZFS). ZFS is very powerful for a number of reasons – and could make a huge difference to the user experience.

ZFS is a 128-bit file system, which means it can store 18 billion billion (18.4 × 1018) times more data than the current 64-bit systems. The limitations of ZFS are designed to be so large that they will never be encountered in practice, as an example of how large these numbers are, if 1,000 files were created every second, it would take about 9,000 years to fill the file system. As project leader Bonwick said:

Populating 128-bit file systems would exceed the quantum limits of earth-based storage. You couldn’t fill a 128-bit storage pool without boiling the oceans.” [Seth Lloyd “Ultimate physical limits of computation”
Nature 406,1047-1054 (2000)]

There are, however, a number of other notable features:

Pooled storage
ZFS can span a file system seamlessly across multiple disks and more can be added at anytime. This is good because it means a new hard disk can be added at any time, thereby adding redundancy and increasing performance by spreading i/o access across multiple disks. But is also improves the UX because users don’t have to worry about volumes, they just have storage.

Stability and data integrity
ZFS provides three core components to its data integrity model:

  • Everything is copy-on-write which means live data is never overwritten
  • Everything is transactional – sets of changes either suceed or fail as a whole
  • Everything is checksummed – preventing silent data corruption

All this results in an incredibly robust filesystem, during Sun’s tests [pdf] it has been subjected to over a million forced, violent crashes without losing data integrity or leaking a single block.

The use of checksums on all data and metadata allows for ‘self healing‘ – ZFS can repair (using the data from the other mirror) silent data corruption by detecting the corruption before passing the data of to the process that asked for it.

ZFS self healing


A snapshot is a copy of the entire file system, snapshots are not the same as backups, the two most significant differences are efficiency and speed.

A snapshot only stores the individual disk blocks that have changed, this means that a snapshot uses far less disk space than a traditional backup. Snapshots also happen instantaneously regardless of the size of the file system size, indeed the time it takes to create a snapshot is often so small that there appears to be no delay.

So what might this all mean?

Beyond the obvious benefits related to performance and data integrity there may also be important UX considerations.

I’ve written previously about the issues of the two copy file system, now the ZFS’s use of snapshots would mean that there would be very little performance or storage overhead in automatically versioning data. This would mean Apple could remove the Save dialogue box from much of the UI; files could automatically be safely saved in the background with old versions retrieved via Time Machine as needed thereby removing the need for explicit saves and hiding more of the filesystem from the user.

Google integrates YouTube videos into Google Video search – a glimpse of future strategy?

Google has announced that it has integrated YouTube into the Google Video search. The two sites remain separate but searching within Google Video will now return results from both YouTube and Google Video.

The Google Blog reassures people that the two services will continue “to play to their respective strengths” and that “Google will support YouTube by providing access to search and monetization platforms and, when/where YouTube launches internationally, to international resources”.

However, what I found most interesting is this:

Over time, Google Video will become even more comprehensive as it evolves into a service where you can search for the world’s online video content, irrespective of where it may be hosted.

It made me wonder if Google plan to eventually move Google Video to become solely a video search service (searching all video on the web), and divest all video hosting and user generated content to YouTube.

In Sydney on the 26th January? Get on Google Maps!

Google PlaneIf you are in Sydney, Australia, on the 26th January 2007 get yourself down to the Harbour. Google, as part of the Australia Day celebrations, are planning to take areal photographs of the city (from their Google branded plane) for Google Maps.

They have permission to fly low and take high resolution photographs so they will be able to pick out individual people – although you might want to wear a big hat.

Google have set up a Google Maps powered plane-tracker website to keep you informed of where to expect the the plane throughout the day.

Map of Syndey showing fly over area


Some folk getting themselves onto Google Maps…

Visualisation Frameworks

I recently stumbled across a couple of visulisation frameworks that are pretty cool:


Processing examples“Processing is an open source programming language and environment for people who want to program images, animation, and sound. It is used by students, artists, designers, architects, researchers, and hobbyists for learning, prototyping, and production.”

Processing uses a custom Java like, open-source processing language and comes with its own light weight IDE. The Processing site has a number of examples of the sort of thing that’s possible. All pretty cool stuff.

There are Windows, Mac OS X and Linux versions.


NodeBox is similar to Processing but uses Python, instead of Java, and is written for Mac OS X.

Beautiful Replacement Google Earth Image of the Earth Created by NASA

Google Earth Blog have a really nice replacement for the view of the Earth from space for Google Earth based on NASA’s Blue Marble Next Generation data, which is much nicer than the ugly images Google provides.

The add-on fades out as you zoom in to leave you with the standard Google Earth satellite images. A nice piece of work.

The Blue Marble images themselves are fantastic, providing a high resolution (500 meters/pixel) set of images of Earth for an entire year.

Apple might save us from ‘interesting’ DVD navigation

As others have noted the UX design of most, nay all, DVD navigation leaves a lot to be desired; it’s therefore interesting to see the next generation of Apple’s DVD player might ease some of the problems, as discussed on AppleInsider:

“DVD Player 5.0 captures a screenshot of each chapter that it then displays in the new fullscreen navigation interface, which runs horizontal across the top of running flicks, fading in and out on the user’s cue.”

Google launch another search service – Patent Search

Google Patent SearchLast week Google launched a Patent Search, currently it’s quite limited in its scope: it only searches US Patents before mid 2006, about 7 million patents (although Google have said that they plan to extend this).

The technology behind the Patent Search is similar to Google’s Book Search – which means you can zoom in and scroll through the text. However, unlike the Book Search the Patent Search doesn’t include the ubiquitous ‘Sponsored Links’.

While it will be interesting to see how the patent search service develops over time I’m also keen to see how Google plan to bring together the ever burgeoning set of search services; although to be honest, like a lot of people, I’ve been interested in this for a few years now.

To be fair Google have done work in this area, for example, the partial integration of the image and news search into the main search is nice. However, the dominant impression is one of a series of separate searches concealed beneath a more » link. At the very least I would like to be able to choose which services are available above the search bar.