Paragon NTFS 8

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but in between sick kids, getting back to work and other matters my writing schedule (if there ever was one) went completely to pieces and this has been held up for weeks on end, so today I decided to take advantage of being roused from my bed at 6AM on a Saturday morning to clean up the draft’s loose ends and just post it mostly as is.

One of my oldest gripes regarding any form of computing is storage – not just the number and kind of physical media that we use or deprecate (which reminds me, thank goodness the 3.5” floppy is finally going the way of the dodo)1, but also the near-infinite ways we’ve been reinventing the wheel where it regards organizing bytes on said media.

I’m not from the punched card days (not by much, anyway), but ever since CP/M, DOS and the like came about that I’ve been more than moderately annoyed at what sometimes seemed like incompatibility by design regarding approaches to storage – and Apple also bore some of the blame (remember 800K floppies?).

These days, with USB and external drives as de facto standards for physical media, the problems lie mostly in the filesystem. FAT used to be ubiquitous, but it’s fading away as hard disks become ever more capacious, and plenty of devices now support (or come pre-formatted to handle) NTFS in one way or another, so a while back I decided to buy Paragon’s NTFS 7.0.3, given that Snow Leopard hasn’t yet come round to delivering NTFS write support2.

Ironically, this was not due to my using the Mac at work – most files there tend to move about via servers (although there are occasionally some hassles) or e-mail, so I very seldom need to actually write to an NTFS volume at work.

At home, however, things are different:

1. We keep a copy of all the kids’ photos and videos stored on an NTFS disk, so that it can be accessed by any machine (but all of those are managed and exported from my Mac).
2. My new TV, my parent’s and assorted other gadgetry can read NTFS volumes but not HFS+, which makes it possible to just plug the disk in when the grandparents visit (or when you visit them) so they can watch the kids’ antics on the big screen.
3. I want to be able to access my wife’s backup disk if necessary (and by that I mean storing some stuff there as well).

As it turns out, my storage needs tripled when my first kid came about, and multi-megapixel photos are nothing when you start to shoot even VGA grade video (let alone what my current phones and cameras can record), so moving gigabytes of stuff from one disk to another soon became a long, boring chore (I started out using FUSE and suchlike, which worked but was a lot slower than Paragon).

Plus there is always the matter of managing volumes – i.e., needing to troubleshoot, format or partition NTFS volumes, one of those things you seldom need to do but sometimes really have to when there isn’t a Windows machine on sight – like when I needed to re-purpose one of my older disks for off-site backup and had to take it to work for reformatting and partitioning.

And Paragon’s driver does just what I need – not only am I able to mount NTFS disks on the Finder and write to them at my leisure, it also extends the filesystem support in tools like Disk Utility to allow me to easily check, re-partition and format NTFS disks without fiddling around with anything but the original Apple tools (you do get a new preference pane for enabling/disabling the driver, but like any technology that “just works”, you can simply ignore it).

Now comes the interesting bit (and the full disclosure): Paragon was kind enough to provide me with a free license for the 8.0 release, and I started using it over the last couple of weeks or so as I dumped and organized a fresh batch of photos and videos taken during my leave.

And it does just what it says on the tin – i.e., it feels just as fast as using the Mac’s native filesystem. Even when I tried comparing write times to different external drives, I could not notice any practical difference (mind you, external hard drives don’t grow on trees, and as such I don’t have that many nor do they have the same characteristics). Mount times (i.e., the delay from when you plug in your disk to it showing up on the Finder) also seem shorter than in the previous version, which is a nice bonus.

The upgrade process was just as smooth as the original install, too – I upgraded both my 7.0 install on my MacBook and the beta 8.0 installation I had done on my mini without any trouble (other than the sadly usual reboot when you install system-level stuff).

As an aside, 8.0 also includes an equivalent driver for those of you on the opposite side of the fence (i.e., running Windows and wanting to access HFS disks), which is a nice touch even if I don’t need it. In case you’re interested, they’re doing a giveaway for both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows, which might come in handy.

1 Although I still have a hundred or so of them with my earliest writing and college stuff that I’ve been meaning to go through for ages now – I even bought a USB floppy to do it…

2 And if you mess around with fstab to force enable it, be aware that it’s not merely unsupported, it’s unstable and known to eat your hard disk.