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High Sierra 10.13! - Don't get trapped on the Donner Pass

Mountain Lion

On September 23rd, Apple is expected to release macOS 10.13 High Sierra, the 14th major release of OS X. The key feature of this release is a new file system called APFS. This is one of the most dramatic changes to OS X in years and one that should be approached with caution, careful planning, and patience.

As always, Carbon recommends a wait and see approach when faced with the upgrade to a new operating system. There is no award for being the first to install. Give software vendors a chance to validate their products and release compatibility fixes if needed. Don't rush to upgrade only to disrupt your workflow. Your computers are the critical tools of your business. Don't risk disruption just because a new release is available.

Your Carbon crew is carefully evaluating the new release and has been testing it for months. Please discuss any upgrade plans with your favorite Carbon technician before installing High Sierra. As always, we are here to support your Macs and ensure smooth workflows.

What is APFS and how does it impact your Mac? Most Mac users never think about the file system. After all, you turn on the machine, create data, and everything just works. Apple does an excellent job of masking all the complexity behind the ease and stability of OS X. But at the bottom of all the complexity is a file system, keeping track of all your data.

The file system used on your Mac today, HFS+, was introduced in 1998 and is based on its predecessor, HFS, introduced in 1985 to support Apple's first hard drive. Yes... the technology at the core of today's Macs is over 30 years old! Since those humble origins, it is easy to say that technology has made exponential leaps forward. With these leaps in capacity, speed, and features, a change to the file system was inevitable.

And this change has already begun. Anyone who has an iPhone or iPad running iOS 10.3 or higher is already using a device with APFS. Apple silently, and smoothly, replaced the file system on millions of phones and tablets during a normal update. Most users had no idea it happened and after a reboot they were back to using the device as before.

But, iOS devices are much more closed than OS X systems. The change to APFS on OS X may not be as smooth. When High Sierra is installed, only Macs with SSD boot drives will be converted to APFS. Any Mac with a rotational hard drive, including Macs with Fusion Drives (a fusion drive is a combination of an SSD and a rotational drive), and Macs with RAID volumes will remain HFS+. In addition, all external volumes, from thumb drives to Pegasus arrays, will remain HFS+. Because OS X can have multiple drives, some with multiple partitions and varied formats, it is not as easy for Apple to migrate everything automatically without user knowledge or impact. This mix of formats may produce some interesting side effects as some features of High Sierra Server are designed only for APFS volumes.

The bottom line is that this is an exciting new feature by Apple, one that has been long anticipated. But it is a feature that end users will not see or fully appreciate. They will only know it is happening if a problem arises. That is what Carbon will strive to avoid for all our customers.

While High Sierra may be a bumpy road, it is clearly a road to the future. Apple's products will continue to get faster, more stable, and more capable. The introduction of APFS sets a new foundation for this future.

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