TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Mar 95 Viewpoint
Volume Number:11
Issue Number:3
Column Tag:The Editor’s Viewpoint

The Editor’s Viewpoint

By Scott T Boyd, Editor

I recently came across the following e-mail closing:

“(Anxiously awaiting a protected memory MacOS)”

We all know what he was getting at, don’t we? If only we had memory protection, life would be oh-so-much better. As often as we hear this, read this, and utter this, it must be true.

Memory protection - it’s got to be good. Make sure that stray writes won’t damage anything else, and the machine will stand solid as a rock, impervious to the vagaries of programmer error and lack of foresight. Let’s go march in front of Apple’s R&D center with placards, bullhorns, and riot police, and demand our memory protection now!

pan•a•ce•a n. a supposed remedy, cure, or medicine for all diseases or ills; cure-all [Webster’s New World Dictionary, 2nd College Edition]

Memory protection sounds so good, but it’s a panacea, a holy grail. Now, that’s not to say that it’s necessarily a bad thing; far from it. Nevertheless, it’s not the solution. If it were, unix systems wouldn’t crash, and wouldn’t get corrupted, but they do.

What is the solution? I’ll get to that, but for now consider this - fixation on a panacea can distract us to the point of missing real solutions.

The writer of the e-mail I mentioned above listed a serious of difficulties he experienced recently while trying to install and use a complex environment. He also offered his workarounds. Let’s take a look at the problems.

Crashes. Workaround - reinstall MacOS from scratch (clean install). Reason - system corruption from repeated crashes.

Corrupted files and file system. Workaround - run Norton Utilities, Disk First Aid, and so forth. A bad file system often gets worse, so fix problems early and avoid more damage.

Faulty system extensions. Workaround - remove suspect extensions. These can cause trouble whether they’re intact or corrupted.

Unknown crashes. Workaround - power down the machine for a few minutes. Reason - don’t know, but it seems to work sometimes when simple rebooting doesn’t.

Incorrect parameter RAM settings. Workaround - zap PRAM. Reason - bad settings can result in improperly configured hardware and software.

While this list isn’t complete, let’s see what we can quickly figure out about what’s happening here.

Problem: corrupted system file. Possible causes include:

• power or system failure during a write to the system file, due to “natural causes” or “human nature” (see below).

• power or system failure before the file system cache is flushed to disk, or while a file is open

• faulty hardware (SCSI termination, SCSI drive, cables, etc.)

• bad software changing the system file unintentionally or incorrectly.

Problem: file system corruption. Possible causes include all of the above, as well as improper use of file system calls (e.g. it would be bad to write directly to any of a number of system-owned files).

Problem: incompatibilities introduced by extensions. Possible causes are too numerous to mention. It’s hard to write system software, and that’s what extensions are - system software. Extendibility makes the Macintosh interesting, and it comes with a price.

Problem: Only a shutdown, power off, then restart solves problem. Typically caused by equipment problems (overheating, for example). Might also be that something needs to be reset but doesn’t except during a cold start.

Problem: configuration settings improperly set. Probable cause? Someone or something writing to PRAM unintentionally or incorrectly.

Back to the suggestion that protected memory will fix lots of problems - will it?

Will it protect the file system from corruption in the event of power failure? system failure? Wouldn’t that really require a robust file system? Perhaps a transaction-based system, complete with commit/rollback (like most databases do)?

Power failure comes in many forms. “Human nature” runs deep, and I’ve seen power failure result from inadvertent use of what looks very much like a floppy eject button on the front of certain models of Macintosh (e.g. my PowerMac 6100). My 18-month-old daughter, who seriously enjoys inserting floppies into floppy slots, one day put one into my 6100.

When I explained that it can only hold one, and you have to take it out before you can put another in, she decided that she’d better get that first one out of there. Without hesitation, she reached right up to push the floppy eject button. The next 60 ticks flowed by as slowly as a glacier’s movement as I (calmly?) said, “NO!” and rushed to avert disaster.

If only I’d had protected memory, right? A system design along the lines of a PowerBook (such as a soft power switch and battery backup) might prove more efficacious. (Of course, moving the switch elsewhere might work, too!)

Will memory protection defend against poorly-written system software? Having written some Apple system software myself, I can assure you that it’s entirely possible that Apple might accidentally ship some system software that has a bug in it. Not that I ever shipped any bugs (not on purpose, at any rate), but I did ship a few bug fixes, some for buggy Apple code, some for buggy 3rd-party code. Any errors in the system software may bring it to its knees, no matter what kind of protection is in place. Ever see a unix kernel crash? I have. Ever see the Power Macintosh memory-protected nanokernel crash? I have (three times yesterday, and twice today, unfortunately). Computers are complicated beasts, and it’s extremely tough to cover all the possibilities, memory protection notwithstanding.

Will memory protection protect against someone writing to the system file directly? Nope. How about protecting against someone adding or changing resources in the system file? Again, nope. Is it possible to protect the system file? Sure. One example is the Macintosh Classic, which can boot from ROM (just try to change that system file!). By the same token, anything that is protected by a software mechanism, yet offers an API for writing, opens up the possibility that someone may use it incorrectly. This same reasoning covers what happens with PRAM. It’s generally pretty difficult to write to PRAM without using the API. Yet we still see situations where the PRAM (or the CUDA, which handles serial on the AVs) gets incorrectly configured. Bugs in Apple’s code? Bugs in 3rd party code? Sure. Will protection help? Not really.

What’s the solution? Modernization, certainly. Memory protection is a good thing (holy grails are nice to have), but it’s going to be a while yet. And keep in mind what it’s supposed to protect against - flawed software that goes astray. And who writes it? We all do! It’s time that we learn what mistakes we’re making, and then teach each other about them, and then devise methods to avoid them.

Finally, Apple could help out with overhauled and/or new APIs which help us avoid common pitfalls. Such APIs could help by making errors harder to make (reducing the error modes), and by offering services so we can stop writing some of the same old code for the umpteenth time. And how about offering only the calls we need, and not a few thousand calls of everything you could ever think of?

On a Slightly Different Topic

So you want to start a company and you’re sweating it out at your “real” job while developing your killer idea? Maybe you’ve taken the big step and gone out on your own to bring the killer idea to market. Maybe, just maybe, it looks almost like a product. Now what do you do? Why, marketing, of course! And how better to start than by building a “presence”? Not every upstart could pull it off, but the odd assortment of Collaboration Technologies, Mark/Space Softworks, MacUp, Mac the Knife, and even Apple filled Bondage A Go Go with wide-eyed MacWorld show-goers to mingle and gawk at people in black/leather/fetish attire. As with many marketing efforts, it’s hard to know whether Mac Black ’95 achieved the desired effect, but no doubt remains about whether the attendees will remember it!

Food For Thought

Have Net, will travel! - Brad Kollmyer

 
AAPL
$98.15
Apple Inc.
-0.23
MSFT
$43.58
Microsoft Corpora
-0.31
GOOG
$587.42
Google Inc.
+1.81

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Mellel 3.3.6 - Powerful word processor w...
Mellel is the leading word processor for OS X and has been widely considered the industry standard since its inception. Mellel focuses on writers and scholars for technical writing and multilingual... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.0.4 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
Freeway Pro 7.0 - Drag-and-drop Web desi...
Freeway Pro lets you build websites with speed and precision... without writing a line of code! With it's user-oriented drag-and-drop interface, Freeway Pro helps you piece together the website of... Read more
Drive Genius 3.2.4 - Powerful system uti...
Drive Genius is an OS X utility designed to provide unsurpassed storage management. Featuring an easy-to-use interface, Drive Genius is packed with powerful tools such as a drive optimizer, a... Read more
Vitamin-R 2.15 - Personal productivity t...
Vitamin-R creates the optimal conditions for your brain to work at its best by structuring your work into short bursts of distraction-free, highly focused activity alternating with opportunities for... Read more
Toast Titanium 12.0 - The ultimate media...
Toast Titanium goes way beyond the very basic burning in the Mac OS and iLife software, and sets the standard for burning CDs, DVDs, and now Blu-ray discs on the Mac. Create superior sounding audio... Read more
OS X Yosemite Wallpaper 1.0 - Desktop im...
OS X Yosemite Wallpaper is the gorgeous new background image for Apple's upcoming OS X 10.10 Yosemite. This wallpaper is available for all screen resolutions with a source file that measures 5,418... Read more
Acorn 4.4 - Bitmap image editor. (Demo)
Acorn is a new image editor built with one goal in mind - simplicity. Fast, easy, and fluid, Acorn provides the options you'll need without any overhead. Acorn feels right, and won't drain your bank... Read more
Bartender 1.2.20 - Organize your menu ba...
Bartender lets you organize your menu bar apps. Features: Lets you tidy your menu bar apps how you want. See your menu bar apps when you want. Hide the apps you need to run, but do not need to... Read more
TotalFinder 1.6.2 - Adds tabs, hotkeys,...
TotalFinder is a universally acclaimed navigational companion for your Mac. Enhance your Mac's Finder with features so smart and convenient, you won't believe you ever lived without them. Tab-based... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Star Admiral Review
Star Admiral Review By Rob Thomas on July 30th, 2014 Our Rating: :: ADMIRABLE ADMIRALSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad While this new digital CCG may feel a bit familiar, Star Admiral offers a sci-fi twist and galaxy’s... | Read more »
Zap! Pow! Become a Badass Wizard in Phan...
Zap! Pow! | Read more »
Urban Trial Freestyle Review
Urban Trial Freestyle Review By Blake Grundman on July 30th, 2014 Our Rating: :: RIDIN' DIRTYUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad A rough ride that has trouble keeping its wheels on the track.   | Read more »
Take Note! Noteshelf Has Recieved a Big...
Take Note! Noteshelf Has Recieved a Big Update. Posted by Jessica Fisher on July 30th, 2014 [ permalink ] iPad Only App - Designed for the iPad | Read more »
Cubama Review
Cubama Review By Nadia Oxford on July 30th, 2014 Our Rating: :: TETRIIIIIS IIIIIN SPAAAAACE!Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad With its addictive challenge and interesting premise, Cubama is frantic screen-tapping fun.   | Read more »
Become a Guardians of Galactic Peace Wit...
Become a Guardians of Galactic Peace With the New Spacefaring Sim, Kairobotica. Posted by Jessica Fisher on July 30th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Soul Guardians: Age of Midgard Review
Soul Guardians: Age of Midgard Review By George Fagundes on July 30th, 2014 Our Rating: :: SO MUCH GRIND IT CRUNCHESUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Swords and trading cards are fun, right? So is Soul Guardians: Age of... | Read more »
NFL Fantasy Football App Redesigned Ahea...
NFL Fantasy Football App Redesigned Ahead of Upcoming 2014 Season Posted by Ellis Spice on July 30th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Matter Review
Matter Review By Jennifer Allen on July 30th, 2014 Our Rating: :: ORIGINAL PHOTO MANIPULATIONUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Matter lets you add geometric 3d shapes to your images and manipulate things so each image... | Read more »
Note Review
Note Review By Jennifer Allen on July 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: TOO SIMPLEiPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad Note is a note taking app that’s a little too short on features to be worth its asking price... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

More iPad Upgrade Musings – The ‘Book Mystiqu...
Much discussed recently, what with Apple reporting iPad sales shrinkage over two consecutive quarters, is that it had apparently been widely assumed that tablet users would follow a two-year hardware... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999,...
Best Buy has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $999.99 on their online store. Choose free shipping or free instant local store pickup (if available). Their price is $100 off MSRP. Price is... Read more
Save up to $300 on an iMac with Apple refurbi...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs available for up to $300 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. These are the best prices on... Read more
WaterField Unveils 15″ Outback Solo & 13″...
Hard on the heels of Apple’s refreshed MacBook Pro Retina laptops announcement, WaterField Designs has unveiled a 15-inch version of the waxed-canvas and leather Outback Solo and a 13-inch version of... Read more
New Roxio Toast 12 Delivers Digital Media Pow...
Roxio Toast 12 is a hub for sharing digital media to virtually any platform or device. has introduced two new additions to its Roxio Toast product family – Roxio Toast 12 Titanium and Roxio Toast 12... Read more
The lowest prices on leftover Retina MacBook...
Best Buy has dropped prices on leftover 13″ and 15″ Retina MacBook Pros by up to $300 off original MSRP on their online store for a limited time. Choose free local store pickup (if available) or free... Read more
Apple Updates MacBook Pro with Retina Display...
Apple today updated its MacBook Pro with Retina display with faster processors and double the amount of memory in both entry-level configurations. MacBook Pro with Retina display features a Retina... Read more
Up to $250 price drop on leftover 15-inch Mac...
B&H Photo has dropped prices on 2013 15″ Retina MacBook Pros by as much as $250 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.3GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $2349... Read more
Updated MacBook Pro Price Trackers
We’ve updated our MacBook Pro Price Trackers with the latest information on prices, bundles, and availability on the new 2014 models from Apple’s authorized internet/catalog resellers as well as... Read more
Apple updates MacBook Pros with slightly fast...
Apple updated 13″ and 15″ Retina MacBook Pros today with slightly faster Haswell processors. 13″ models now ship with 8GB of RAM standard, while 15″ MacBook Pros ship with 16GB across the board. Most... Read more

Jobs Board

Sr Software Lead Engineer, *Apple* Online S...
Sr Software Lead Engineer, Apple Online Store Publishing Systems Keywords: Company: Apple Job Code: E3PCAK8MgYYkw Location (City or ZIP): Santa Clara Status: Full Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
Sr. Product Leader, *Apple* Store Apps - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.