Apple's incompatible filesystem

I'm not going to deny it, there are things about Apple that I like. I own an iPhone and an iPod. My wife uses a Mac. I like their design concepts and their marketing. But there are some issues that I do have with Apple, and these issues are inches from wanting me to pull the plug on my support of Apple.

One of these issues is the Apple hfs+ filesystem. Let me tell you where I am coming from.

A client of mine had a MacBook Pro that was the victim of a friend dumping an entire glass of water over. The laptop was fried. Outside of that fact, the friend was a deadbeat and wouldn't help pay to replace the laptop, my client had a year's worth of data on the drive and no backup (another hard lesson for the client). So I told the client I would do everything I could to recover the music.

Naturally, I figured the easiest route was to take out the hard drive, put it in a case, connect it via USB to my Ubuntu machine, mount it, and copy the files onto my data drive — the best laid plans of mice and men....

The first time I plugged it in and mounted it with the mount command, I was able to see the drive and even see the data. But I couldn't retrieve the data because the only way to mount the drive was read-only. So I unmounted it to try something else. Problem was, after unmounting it, the drive was no longer accessible with the mount command. So I tried hpmount and hmount (part of the hfsutils program) and gparted. Nothing would work. I was getting errors that the drive was not a Macintosh HFS volume or that the volume wasn't wrapped. No matter what tool I tried, I couldn't get to the data.

So much to my dismay I had to hop over to a Windows machine and attempt to save the data with various third-party applications. Naturally, being an open source guy, I downloaded demo after demo to see if I could find a tool that would "for sure" get the data off the drive. After going through a number of applications, I found none that would ensure the data would come off the drive — so I wasn't about to purchase the tools.

After going back to the client to let them know there was no "free" tool to get the data, the client said the data wasn't that important, and I could just re-partition the drive so that it could be used as a storage device so the client could back up data and move it from machine to machine.

That's where gparted came into play. I was happy that there was finally a tool in this ordeal that had no problem doing what it needed to do.

But what this little rant is ultimately about is that dastardly Mac filesystem. What I don't get is that Apple took the BSD subsystem and the AT&T System V and created OS X. What I don't get is why didn't they just stick with a standard UNIX-like file system? Wouldn't this have: (a) made less work and (b) ensured UNIX compatibility?

Or is that my answer? Did Apple not want UNIX compatibility? On a number of occasions (and with a number of devices), I have had to deal with incompatibilities on the part of Apple. And the more I deal with it, the more I start feeling like Apple is like Windows back in the 90s — when I was struggling to get any given version of Windows to talk with Linux. Ultimately, I won that battle. But the OS X battle seems to be one that might be more of a challenge, and that is disturbing.

The more I look at it from the inside, the more I realize that Apple is really no better than Microsoft when it comes to not wanting to play well with others. Sure, there are things that OS X does better than Windows (like connecting to Samba shares), but at least I can, without much headache, mount a Windows drive on a Linux machine to recover data.

I wonder — in the end — is Microsoft going to come around before Apple will and fully embrace Linux?

Did I really just ask that question?


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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