macOS 11 is coming, says the body language

Desmond Morris didn’t invent body language, but he promoted its wider understanding in his book Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behaviour (1978). Bear in mind that this was almost forty years ago, when it was still acceptable to use the term man to include humans of all genders. For the record – and for a scientist and surrealist painter whom I greatly admire – I should point out that his 2002 sequel was more appropriately named Peoplewatching: The Desmond Morris Guide to Body Language.

I eagerly look forward to someone writing its sequel about corporate body language, as there is so much on display in the opening Keynote Address in Apple’s annual developers’ conference, WWDC, that it is not always easy to know where to begin. As usual, some of the most important announcements this year were not made on stage at all, nor even referred to by the succession of rabble-rousing presenters, but let out quietly while all that front was going on.

I refer of course to the new file system which Apple has just released in test form, puzzlingly called Apple File System, but known by the initials of APFS.

First we need to untangle the name. Clearly Apple want to call it the Apple File System, which would abbreviate to AFS, but those initials are already taken by the Andrew File System, a fairly unusual distributed file system which was developed at Carnegie Mellon University, and has in the past been supported on Macs. Perhaps the meaning of the P will be unveiled when it is released, as being Personal or Protected.

With the great majority of Apple’s products using only Flash/SSD storage, now is the time to replace a creaky old file system designed for small, slow hard drives with something optimised for large, fast Fusion and SSD storage. Among its other main features are the elimination of traditional partitions, so that any given APFS volume can grow and shrink as it needs, robust crash protection without the overhead of journalling, and whole-disk encryption without the overhead of File Vault. It is designed for today’s devices, and to provide a firm base for future Apple operating systems from watchOS up to macOS.

Apple’s Extended File System, HFS+, has served us well over far too many years. Sadly it is now getting in the way of operating system progress, and APFS promises to be an excellent way ahead. It is not, though, just part of the normal progress of what we should now call macOS. Just as that rebranding is another phrase of body language, to prepare us for macOS 11, so is APFS.

It would have been unconscionable for Apple to have pressed ahead with macOS 11 without a new file system. APFS is the first and vital step along the road to a completely new operating system for Macs, iOS devices, and the rest of the ecosystem.

We have been given other clues in more overtly articulated sections of the WWDC Keynote. Apple sees our Macs, iPhones, iPads, watches, AppleTVs, and IoT devices as being integrated from the word go. Instead of sharing documents between your iPhone and your Mac using the cumbersome intermediary of iCloud, Apple sees iCloud’s successor (still in the clouds) as bringing them all together, sharing storage wherever you and they might be.

To make that work, macOS 11 is being engineered with security at its heart. Schemes such as Gatekeeper and SIP are afterthoughts clagged onto a kernel which still harks back to Mac OS X 10.0. Each time that Apple closes a loophole in them, another one (or two) are found, ready to exploit.

This is going to have some issues with users, of course. At present, it is not difficult to run software which is unsigned. Those days are numbered, although there will probably remain some more convoluted methods of doing so even in macOS 11. Apple is keen to drag developers back to the App Store, and has found several ways of expressing its encouragement already. This is not just about making more money, much more about moving macOS closer to the protection of a walled garden that is iOS.

We are about to discover that some perhaps less than compelling devices, such as the  watch, become a whole lot more attractive once they have become authentication peripherals.

Under Apple’s current timetable, APFS is now in public testing, aiming for a final release some time in 2017. Whether that will coincide with macOS 10.13 I do not know, but suspect that Apple will want a year or so ironing out any remaining bugs before aiming to release macOS 11 in 2018.