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OS X Desktops (Apple) Operating Systems Software Apple Technology

The Behind-the-Scenes Changes Found In MacOS High Sierra (arstechnica.com) 205

Apple officially announced macOS High Sierra at WWDC 2017 earlier this month. While the new OS doesn't feature a ton of user-visible improvements and is ultimately shaping up to be a low-key release, it does feature several behind-the-scenes changes that could help make it the most stable macOS update in years. Andrew Cunningham from Ars Technica has "browsed the dev docs and talked with Apple to get some more details of the update's foundational changes." Here are some excerpts from three key areas of the report: APFS
Like iOS 10.3, High Sierra will convert your boot drive to APFS when you first install it -- this will be true for all Macs that run High Sierra, regardless of whether they're equipped with an SSD, a spinning HDD, or a Fusion Drive setup. In the current beta installer, you're given an option to uncheck the APFS box (checked by default) before you start the install process, though that doesn't necessarily guarantee that it will survive in the final version. It's also not clear at this point if there are edge cases -- third-party SSDs, for instance -- that won't automatically be converted. But assuming that most people stick with the defaults and that most people don't crack their Macs open, most Mac users who do the upgrade are going to get the new filesystem.

HEVC and HEIF
All High Sierra Macs will pick up support for HEVC, but only very recent models will support any kind of hardware acceleration. This is important because playing HEVC streams, especially at high resolutions and bitrates, is a pretty hardware-intensive operation. HEVC playback can consume most of a CPU's processor cycles, and especially on slower dual-core laptop processors, smooth playback may be impossible altogether. Dedicated HEVC encode and decode blocks in CPUs and GPUs can handle the heavy lifting more efficiently, freeing up your CPU and greatly reducing power consumption, but HEVC's newness means that dedicated hardware isn't especially prevalent yet.

Metal 2
While both macOS and iOS still nominally support open, third-party APIs like OpenGL and OpenCL, it's clear that the company sees Metal as the way forward for graphics and GPU compute on its platforms. Apple's OpenGL support in macOS and iOS hasn't changed at all in years, and there are absolutely no signs that Apple plans to support Vulkan. But the API will enable some improvements for end users, too. People with newer GPUs should expect to benefit from some performance improvements, not just in games but in macOS itself; Apple says the entire WindowServer is now using Metal, which should improve the fluidity and consistency of transitions and animations within macOS; this can be a problem on Macs when you're pushing multiple monitors or using higher Retina scaling modes on, especially if you're using integrated graphics. Metal 2 is also the go-to API for supporting VR on macOS, something Apple is pushing in a big way with its newer iMacs and its native support for external Thunderbolt 3 GPU enclosures. Apple says that every device that supports Metal should support at least some of Metal 2's new features, but the implication there is that some older GPUs won't be able to do everything the newer ones can do.

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The Behind-the-Scenes Changes Found In MacOS High Sierra

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  • ... cool. That A Good Thing. Let's hope it continues. :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 19, 2017 @11:51PM (#54652031)

    it's clear that the company sees Metal as the way forward for graphics and GPU compute on its platforms.

    No.... an Apple only proprietary graphics API is not the way forward. Vulkan is the way forward. It will be available on Windows, Linux, smartphones, BSD, everywhere... except Apple, apparently.

    Metal is about vendor lockin, but they don't have enough of the total computing market to make that work out in their favour.

    • MSFT : DirectX
      Apple : Metal

      I'm all for Vulkan but Apple is not one to let others control an essential API. Remember when DirectX was behind OpenGL at the beginning and then passed OpenGL in speed and feature set?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jcr ( 53032 )

      Metal is about vendor lockin

      No, it's about performance. If OpenGL could do what Metal can, they'd stick to it.

      -jcr

      • No, it's about performance. If OpenGL could do what Metal can, they'd stick to it.

        I guess Vulkan doesn't exist then, huh? Most of the arguments both for and against Vulkan seem to be that it's more explicit than metal. This makes it harder to program but has more opportunities efficiency available. Also, of course Apple released Metal long before Vulkan, but that's mostly because their OpenGL implementation was lagging shockingly far behind the standard.

      • by Khyber ( 864651 )

        No, Metal is about vendor lock-in. To boot, we already had a graphics API called MeTaL, made by S3, back when the first Unreal Tournament came out. It was shit then, and I'll wager on this new API being shit when Apple tries to put it out.

    • Vulkan is the way forward.

      Have you actually read the Vulkan spec?

  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi@ev c i r c u i t s . com> on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @12:22AM (#54652135) Homepage

    Replacing HFS with APFS brings a lot of new features similar to ZFS but it's also going towards the Android/iOS security model where the system and user data are separated and the system read-only without a root user anymore.

    Although it will probably be trivial to break out, we're moving more towards commercial ecosystems that no longer will support tinkering with the OS.

    • no longer will support tinkering with the OS and apple that can be app store only and maybe apple only drivers for usb / TB / PCI-E stuff. Just wait for the cost of adobe CC to go up by 30% to cover apples cut.

    • Replacing HFS with APFS brings a lot of new features similar to ZFS but it's also going towards the Android/iOS security model

      Sure that's fine and all but I don't think many users will see a difference, power or otherwise. It's just more secure for those that leave the locks in place.

      To me the more interesting thing is, Apple is not phasing this in as an optional FS you can install, but instead going balls-out and making conversion the default option for every install! That means millions of Mac users wh

      • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @05:22AM (#54652867) Journal
        They've already deployed APFS for all iOS devices. These are a nice place for FS testing, because they all tend to have regular backups and they have a debug interface that connects to Apple-controlled software for collecting problem reports. On top of that, the macOS beta testers probably include a lot of people who do weird things with their FS. I still wouldn't entirely trust it on release (the general rule of thumb is that it takes 10 years for a new FS to become stable), but it's probably had a better stress test than any other new FS. I'd be interested to know if more data is stored on APFS or ZFS at this point.
        • they have a debug interface that connects to Apple-controlled software for collecting problem reports

          You mean like the telemetry that people keep complaining about whenever Microsoft tries to do it? Did I just hear someone imply that Apple does the same thing?

          • No, I mean like the crash reporter stuff that Windows and macOS (and a load of Linux distros) have had for 10+ years.
            • Right, people are complaining about the telemetry in Windows 10 that can't be disabled; that's the only telemetry you can't disable in Windows 10.
        • Although that's a great point that they did a similar conversion for iOS, to me that's not nearly so impressive because in IOS the operating system has tight control over how the file system changes... it doesn't have third party deffraggers or a bunch of hard links the user added or any one of a million other odd things people could choose to do with the filesystem in an open system.

          The developer beta probably does help shake out major issues though as they would be a group more likely to have messed with

        • by antdude ( 79039 )

          Were there any major issues of APFS in iOS devices? I have not seen and heard of any since its public stable release.

    • Switching to a totally new filesystem is also a slick way of making sure people don't revert back to an earlier version of MacOS. The old MacOS will no longer read your drive after the upgrade.

      • Time Machine will still be HFS+, so you can roll back easy enough.

      • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        Switching to a totally new filesystem is also a slick way of making sure people don't revert back to an earlier version of MacOS. The old MacOS will no longer read your drive after the upgrade.

        Not true. 10.12.4 (Sierra) has full support for APFS, just not as a boot volume.

        • Not true. 10.12.4 (Sierra) has full support for APFS, just not as a boot volume.

          If you can't boot from it, is that full support? When you couldn't boot ZFS on Linux, we didn't call that full support.

          • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

            Fair enough. I should have said it provides native read-write support. I'm not sure why it can't boot from it; maybe the boot loader is missing critical bits or the frameworks get confused when running on a non-HFS+ volume in some subtle ways. Either way, the point is that you don't lose access to anything. It just makes reverting a royal pain in the you-know-what.

            And if it is a boot loader issue, then there's a nonzero possibility that Sierra reinstalled on top of High Sierra would be able to boot fro

    • That does not make much sense.
      On HFS user and root stuff is seperated as well, just as on any unix system.

      • by guruevi ( 827432 )

        No, they're taking away the root user out of the OS, no more daemons running as root, no more sudo. And they're separating the file system as in creating different volumes (a form of partitioning) for the /System and the /User and making /System read-only.

        • There always will be a system/root user.
          Otherwise you could not make upgrades. E.g. if /System is mounted read only, during upgrades it would need to be remounted, or the "upgrade process" would need special abilities to byass the file systems permissions.

          Any links for the stuff you mention? It sounds interesting.

  • HEVC and HEIF (Score:5, Informative)

    by theweatherelectric ( 2007596 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @12:24AM (#54652143)

    The main problem with HEVC is the patent licensing. In order to use HEVC you need to get 3 different patent licenses from 3 different patent pools (MPEG LA [mpegla.com], HEVC Advance [hevcadvance.com], and Velos Media [velosmedia.com]).

    There are some companies with HEVC patents, like Technicolor [technicolor.com], which aren't in any patent pool so you also need to get a patent license from them. Technicolor says they have done this "to enable direct licensing" of their HEVC patents. Sounds convenient.

    The patent licensing situation has reduced the x265 developers to begging the patent pools [x265.org] for better licensing terms. I recognise the x265 team is trying to make a buck but I think they'd be better off focusing on building an AV1 implementation than throwing their lot in with HEVC. HEVC's licensing is just not web friendly.

    Luckily, the HEIF image format is content format agnostic (presentation [apple.com] and slides [apple.com]). In principle you could use HEIF with VP9 [webmproject.org] or with AV1 [aomedia.org]. Apple may never support VP9 but I don't think they can avoid adding support for AV1 in future. AV1 will have too many advantages over HEVC (better performance, royalty-free licensing) to ignore.

    • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @01:02AM (#54652233)

      While HEVC is probably going to be useful in the future, since it does offer good compression and the licensing is likely to get sorted one way or another, VP9 is useful NOW. Google will send you videos in VP9 format if it can since not only is VP9 Google's format, but it gets better per-bit quality than MP4/AVC. Well given that Youtube is, by far, the big name in video hosting for the 'net, makes sense to support it. On top of that, Netflix has started making use of it as well. They are the very biggest commercial streaming service. So between the two it is a massive amount of use.

      I can't see why you'd want to add HEVC, which is brand new, still having licensing issues and thus has next to zero adoption before VP9 which is already a major force. I mean shit even Edge supports VP9 these days. Safari and IE are basically the only browsers that don't these days (and IE is deprecated).

    • by sl3xd ( 111641 )

      HEVC is out now, and has broad industry support from embedded hardware manufacturers (set top boxes, roku-a-likes, cameras, camcorders, etc.), as well as software players like Microsoft and Apple.

      I feel that VP9 is a dead-end in many ways: It's a "standard" that really has only one controlling interest: Google. VP9 has virtually zero mindshare outside the Googleplex; I'm not aware of any dedicated cameras, camcorders, set top boxes, etc. that support VP9.

      AV1, on the other hand, looks very compelling... i

      • HEVC is out now

        VP9 is out now and has broader use than HEVC.

        as well as software players like Microsoft and Apple

        Microsoft supports VP9 in Edge [windows.com].

        VP9 has virtually zero mindshare outside the Googleplex

        Netflix [medium.com] uses VP9. Wikipedia [wikimedia.org] uses VP9. And, of course, even though it's inside the Googleplex it's difficult to ignore that YouTube [googleblog.com] uses VP9. YouTube no longer offers 4K video [9to5mac.com] to Safari by default due to Safari's lack of VP9 support.

        set top boxes, etc. that support VP9

        Roku [roku.com] has VP9 support, Chromecast Ultra [google.com] has VP9 support, Android phones [android.com] have VP9 support, etc, etc.

        AV1, on the other hand, looks very compelling... it actually has broad industry support, from big players like Microsoft, Cisco, Netflix, Google, all the way down to silicon makers like Broadcom, Xilinx, RealTek, ARM, AMD, and NVIDIA.

        Right. Just like VP9. When will Apple add VP9 support?

        It's disingenuous to complain that Apple isn't going to include AV1 when it isn't - and won't be - ready before High Sierra.

        Show me where I complained that AV1 won't

        • by sl3xd ( 111641 )

          In the meantime, let's acknowledge that Apple hasn't joined the Alliance for Open Media [aomedia.org]. When will Apple join?

          Why single out Apple? It's not like Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, Canon, Nikon, LG, Philips, HP, or Lenovo are members either..

          It's silly to criticize Apple for adding support for a codec which "all of the above" are also supporting.

          Honestly, I'm all for open codecs, but after waiting years to see Vorbis, Opus, Theora, and VP6-VP8 adoption stand at an effective Level of Zero, in spite of being competitive (or better) while not having a patent minefield, I've grown wary of the ever-growing next shiny thing that

          • Why single out Apple?

            Because Microsoft, Google, and Mozilla have joined. Apple is the last major browser maker who hasn't.

            VP6-VP8 adoption stand at an effective Level of Zero

            VP6 and VP7 were used by Flash and by Skype, VP8 is mandatory to implement on Android and is used in video calls, and VP8 is used in WebRTC [google.com].

            • by sl3xd ( 111641 )

              You realize there's a big world outside of the web browser, right? Take a look at the home theatre isle at your local electronics store; visit a camera shop. When I see a codec move into that market, I take it seriously.

              It's not at all surprising to see Google's codec is mandatory on Google's Android OS and Google's WebRTC. That's a no brainer.

              Apple has patents in the HEVC pool, and if memory serves, the late Steve Jobs lead the (failed) charge to try to get VP8 into the MPEG patent pool, so there may be ba

          • Opus

            And I should also add that all browsers support Opus in WebRTC (even Safari in Safari 11) and Opus is mandatory to implement on Android since Android 5. Skype also uses Opus (the SILK encoder comes from Skype).

            • by sl3xd ( 111641 )

              And yet, I cannot plug a flash drive with my music in Opus format into my 2017 model car's stereo and expect it to play.

              Nor can I plug it into my brand new Blu-ray player and hear music.

              A big wide world exists outside the web browser, and in many of them, MP3 is the only game in town.

              I'll be thrilled if BlueTooth's next iteration mandates Opus support for its A2DP profile. I suspect I'll be disappointed, as few device makers implement anything other than its only mandatory codec, SBC. (Though there is spor

              • And yet, I cannot plug a flash drive with my music in Opus format into my 2017 model car's stereo and expect it to play.

                I can't help you with your buyer's remorse. I can tell you that Vorbis and Opus audio and VP8 and VP9 video play just fine on my iPhone 7. VLC for iOS works well. Maybe get an iPhone 7 and plug it into your car.

  • Sell it to us (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JeffElkins ( 977243 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @01:47AM (#54652353)

    Sell me macOS to use on the Intel box of my choice or in a VM. Thanks!

    • Re:Sell it to us (Score:4, Insightful)

      by fermion ( 181285 ) on Tuesday June 20, 2017 @02:27AM (#54652445) Homepage Journal
      MS Windows is a beautiful OS because it is designed to be used on any POS hardware that falls off the back of a truck. This is incredible useful, and represent a significant technological advancement. It also results in serious compromises that limits what the OS can do, and limits the type of legacy thing the OS no longer needs to support.

      So, Apple never supported the lame parallel port because it was, well lame. When firewire became useful, SCSI, which was incredible useful and fast, was pushed out the door. It was possible to transition between processor families because the old stuff could go away.

      Remember that the need to support legacy products pretty much meant the MS Windows could not really take full advantage of the new chips, so the x86 Intel and AMD development were basically starved because the gamers and few HPC customers could not support development. It was Apple's move to Intel that gave it the funds to progress.

      In reality if you can figure out how to get the OS to run on cheaper hardware, Apple really does not do anything t stop the private consumer. I have never seen a lawsuit where Apple has sued an end user for using it's OS on unsanctioned hardware. What Apple is not going to do it support its use because there is no upside or profit in it. People who want cheap hardware are not going to spend any money, and not going to support the advanced technology that Apple represents.

      • MS Windows is a beautiful OS because it is designed to be used on any POS hardware that falls off the back of a truck. This is incredible useful, and represent a significant technological advancement. It also results in serious compromises that limits what the OS can do, and limits the type of legacy thing the OS no longer needs to support.

        That's the beauty about standardization, there are much fewer compromises. We are not talking embedded software on a custom chip a-la PS1 and Saturn (and newer consoles to some extent). We are talking the x86 instruction set as it has evolved over the years. Mac OS and Windows don't differ here. The only difference is custom drivers, which Windows pushes to third parties and Linux has managed to do fairly well for years.

        So, Apple never supported the lame parallel port because it was, well lame. When firewire became useful, SCSI, which was incredible useful and fast, was pushed out the door. It was possible to transition between processor families because the old stuff could go away.

        Except the old stuff never really went away. People hold on to their Mac's for years. I

      • by caseih ( 160668 )

        You didn't read the OP's post very well. He said, sell us a version that can run in a VM. That's a lot easier and more like the existing Mac ecosystem. Apple could even sell the OS with their own VM software that provides a certain set of custom virtual hardware. That would make the OS useable for a lot of people, and would provide a quite decent user experience.

        I concede that's not in Apple's interest of course, since they make their money selling the hardware.

        • by fermion ( 181285 )
          The same support issue exists. MS makes an OS that runs on anything, which is why I run in a VM on my Mac. Mac OS is not designed to run on anything.
          • by caseih ( 160668 )

            There's no reason Apple couldn't make a VM that provided a specific set of hardware to the virtual machine, and this VM could run anywhere, on any hardware combination.

      • People who want cheap hardware are not going to spend any money, and not going to support the advanced technology that Apple represents.

        Not true at all . . . many of us spend tons of money on hardware per year but refuse to pay a ridiculous price for commodity Intel-based hardware in a pretty aluminum case. My company's workstations are tools, not toys or fashion statements -- I don't care what they look like as long as they do what we need them to do. We build monster-class workstations sourcing our ow

    • by jeremyp ( 130771 )

      Apple is a hardware company. They sell computers, phones, tablets and watches. If you don't want to buy one of their computers, phones, tablets or watches, they don't care that you are not using their operating system.

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