The Low End Mac Mailbag

Gigabyte Confusion, Big Letter Keyboard Wanted, G3 All-in-One Problem, and More

Dan Knight - 2007.08.22

Gigabyte Confusion

Following up on RAM Makers to Blame for MB and GB Confusion, Tim Larson writes:

Dan Knight wrote:

We've had RAM measured in KB in personal computers since 1975 or so. Hard drives started coming into their own about five years later. Modern hard drives commonly have 512 byte sectors (not a nice decimal number like 500), so it's obvious that hard drive makers are familiar with binary math.

I'm sure there was a convenience at one time to read a "memory-sized chunk" from a drive, so using units driven by binary math made sense. But, unlike with main memory, there is absolutely nothing that requires drives to be a multiple of a power of 2.

Since hard drives are always used with operating systems, their advertised capacity should be what those operating systems report. Giga may mean 1,000,000,000 in the decimal world, but in the world of computers, GB means 1,073,741,824 bytes.

Therein lies the problem. "Giga" has a well-defined meaning that predates this incorrect use in the computing industry.

Drive makers should be required to advertise numbers consistent with the rest of the industry. Maybe the best solution would be to do what Apple does with Disk Utility, which is to report the capacity in binary GB followed by the actual number of bytes in parentheses).

Or, more simply, just use decimal GB throughout the industry - that is, why leave the computing industry in a bizarre parallel universe where kilo- does not mean 1000? Completely avoid all the confusion created by binary interpretations of metric prefixes.

I've always seen the term "kilobyte" (speaking of 1024 bytes) to be a descriptor of convenience, not a normative. I'm sure the early engineers who used it thought the same. If they thought their use would someday fragment metric definitions, being good engineers, they probably would have come up with kibi-, mebi-, and gibi- on their own.

Tim (self-avowed math/computing geek :)

Hi Tim,

I'm a self-avowed math, science, and computing geek myself, but I have no problem with a system where M means a million meters or liters or Watts - yet it means 1,048,576 when counting bytes.

In the computer industry, 1,024 is normative when measuring RAM or reporting storage space, not 1,000. Why? Probably because memory chips are invariably a power of 2. Rather than explaining where the "extra 24 bytes" came from, it was probably simpler to adapt the metric names and label it a kilobyte.

I agree that it would have been less confusing if they'd come up with a different naming convention, but we've been using this for over 30 years in the world of personal computing. I can't see KiB, MiB, GiB, and TiB catching on any more that I expect to see the world use AD properly (before the year) or make the switch from BC to the BCE that some now prefer.

Heck, I live in a country where the metric system remains a mystery to most. Outside of buying a 2 liter bottle of soda, most of us in the States are hopelessly mired in the quaint, antiquated, confusing English system of weights and measures where there are two liquid ounces (US and British) and two weight ounces (Troy and avoirdupois). I don't know exactly what a cubic inch is, but we used it for generations to measure engine displacement. How does a 3.0 liter engine compare to a 318? The average consumer here doesn't have a clue.

Even the rocket scientists at NASA have problems working with the rest of the world because we continue to use a system of threes and twelves and eights and quarters.

Compared to that, remembering that a KB is 1024 bytes is easy. The problem comes when someone insists that kilo-, mega-, giga-, and tera- can only mean one thing.


Wanted: A White Keyboard with Big Letters

Franklin Warren writes:

To Whom:

Why is it that all keyboard mfgs cannot make a keyboard that is fully Mac compatible with large characters and numerals on the keys. I have bought several keyboards that had this feature but they were not fully compatible. Some of the consumers out here are getting old and have cataracts and macular degeneration going on as I do and it would seem to me that some mfg would realize that most folks would not give a tinkers damn if the there was a size increase in the keys characters! Also why do they keep with black? Black is the most idiotic color to make on a keyboard. Don't people that design them know anything about light?


Hi Frank,

Another good reason for leanring touch typing - albeit undoubtedly too late for a good portion of the population.

Apple has been building keyboard with white keys on and off for several years, and their new aluminum keyboards do have white keys. They also require Mac OS X 10.4.10 or later.

Matias also makes white keyboards.

As for compatability, what problems are you running into with the other keyboards? And what version of the Mac OS are you using?


Hi Dan,

At 81 and headed towards 82 in a hurry I don't think touch typing is for me. I did try for a while and find that my fingers are so big it is useless as I am always hitting two keys at once.

I am using 10.4.10 O/S. I looked the internet over and thus far have found some places that make large letter keyboards and have bought four of them in the past and been disappointed in them and go back to the white Apple keyboard I am now on. I had one I really liked except that the hot keys did not work on it and did not have the eject button, etc. but the keys were large and yellow with large black letters and I could see it well. I gave it to a buddy of mine that has those miserable PC's that I despise. I have gone through around 13 complete Apple systems in over twenty years and most likely have spent around $150,000.00 on computer stuff during that period. Apple has never learned how to advertise and appears never will so I quit trying to educate them on that score. If their competition hasn't been paying their ad dept's salary they should have! Apple should be the one with the most sales but as I said they never learned how to tell people what they had. Even so if they had left Power Computing alone and let them sell their computers they would have eventually had a huge base of owners that would have had no place to go except back to Apple if they then wanted to pull the O/S back from Power Computing. Now that someone had the brains to put Intel chips and allow both O/S to run why would anyone want to buy a PC?

The white keys I like as you can see them they reflect! Black is the absence of color and when I look at their black keyboards all I see is black and cannot se the letters. Had to buy at $20.00 a shot two PC large stick ons and use them of what I could on the Mac and they don't stay well and came off so quit that! In case no one has mentioned it to you Dan, getting old is not for wimps! (Grin)

Thanks for the expeditious comback,

Key Monster keyboardFrank,

Thanks for sharing the additional information. Using Google, I've found the Key Monster keyboard, which is available in black, white, yellow, and rainbow colors. The letters on the key caps are huge. The big drawback is that I can't find anyone outside of the UK who carries it. It sells for about £65 plus shipping, which could get costly going over the pond.

Keyboard Shortcuts

You should be able to use Keyboard Shortcuts in Keyboard & Mouse in the Control Center to redefine any keys that aren't doing what you want them to.

I'll see if any readers can locate a similar keyboard in North America.


Hi Dan,

Thanks for the info. I appreciate your efforts. I am rather curious about why the boards have changed the position of the option and command keys. Most of the ones I have found on the net have left off the numeric keys among other features on a lot of them. Is it a copyright or patent thing?

Yeah I had pulled up a UK one once and realized it was in pounds and knew the cost would be high to get it here, plus the fact that it is costly to start with, considering the exchange rate.

I suppose that the mfg's consider this like they do orphan diseases, not worth the effort. I am an old retired Navy Chief Aviation Electronics Technician, and the WWII Vets are dying off at the rate of 2000 a day, so we will all be gone soon. Don't much like the world I see today anyway, so I am glad I am on the way out!

Thanks Dan,


The placement of option and command keys on most keyboards is the way Windows users expect it. Mac OS X 10.4 even has a provision for remapping these keys when using a Windows keyboard so they're where Mac users expect them to be.

I don't know of any copyright or patent on extended keyboard layout. Leaving off the numeric keypad may be one way to keep size and costs down.


Poor Advice about Upgrading from a Performa 6300

Mr. Knight.

Regarding the letter you received and printed on your website today (Aug 20, 2007) about upgrading a performa 6300. The writer made specific mention that he is barely computer literate, so I have to wonder why you gave him such an intimidating set of instructions for upgrading his machine. I'm very computer literate, and when I looked at your instructions my first thought was: yeah, I can do that, but what a pain in the butt.

Why not simply recommend he purchase a used G3 iMac from Baucom Computers for $50 or from one of the LEM lists. I'm sure the MicroCenter tech referred him to your site because it would be a good place to find out where to get a machine that meets his minimum technology needs (support for USB printers) not for a complex set of instructions on adding PCI cards (where's he going to buy one?) installing a newer OS (where's he going to get one?), swapping out hard drives (how do I open the case?), etc. The guy doesn't want that hassle. He wants to take his 6300 to MicroCenter with a computer that meets his new needs and have them transfer his files and recommend a printer he can buy, all on a budget.

Sometimes I think that even Mac users aren't immune from the "but I can save money if I do it myself" PC mentality.

Best Regards,
Frederick Goff


Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I read Fred Parker's letter as telling me he is satisfied with his Performa 6300 but frustrated that he can't buy a new printer for it. My suggestion was that he pick up a Performa 6360, which will work just like his current computer (but faster), accept any cards in his 6300 (such as a video card or TV tuner), and allow him to retain his files while gaining USB.

Unless his Performa has ethernet, which is highly unlikely, there's no easy way to transfer data between it and an iMac. The two computers don't share a data port in common. Worse yet, the G3 iMac comes with a that horrid round hockey-puck mouse and that odd original Apple USB keyboard. I wouldn't wish them on anyone - and buying a decent mouse and keyboard only adds to the cost of moving to an iMac.

I've been in and out of computers since the Apple II+ era, and I don't understand why people are intimidated by them. They're just parts plugged together. It's not like a car engine. With a little patience, anyone can upgrade RAM, replace a hard drive, add an expansion card to almost any computer. (iMacs, eMacs, and Mac minis being the exception to the rule.)

If Mr. Parker isn't comfortable with the steps I outlined, I'm sure he could pay a neighborhood kid $10 to do the whole thing for him. Far better than paying MicroCenter to put together a network with a LocalTalk bridge or putting the Performa's hard drive in a FireWire enclosure to move the data.


Thanks for sharing your reasoning. I guess there's just not enough information in his email to give him the best advice, since we both read it and came away with completely different conclusions. I read his primary concern as keeping it as simple as possible while letting him get a new printer. You read it as his primary concern being able to maintain the identical computing experience while getting a new printer. The best advice is probably for Mr. Parker to decide what is most important to him. After all, if it's just getting a printer, there are places he can go to get printers that will work with his Performa.


Yes, that's one of the things we have to deal with - trying to determine what the end user really needs. Based on my experience with old printers, I'd rather see him get a modern printer. Supplies will also be easier to find.


G3 All-in-One Problem

Brian Bettenhausen writes:


I didn't know who else to ask; I've been searching on the Net for days trying to figure this issue out. I have a G3 All in One. The display doesn't come on, and it appears the power supply is clicking. Any suggestions on links to point me to for repair or replacement parts?

Thanks in advance!

Brian Bettenhausen


Sorry, but I have no hands on experience with the G3 All-in-One. I'd guess the power supply may be wearing out, but your best bet is probably to ask on G-List, our Google Group for G3, G4, and G5 Power Macs.

Perhaps a reader can shed light on this.


Missing AppleWorks

Ed Simanowski says:

As I read the recounts of some many of your readers' experiences with AppleWorks and the sense of loss that they are feeling, I was reminded of my first experiences with ClarisWorks. I purchased version 2.0 my freshman year of college and upgraded through each sequential version until most recently, when I purchased AppleWorks 6. I remember using ClarisWorks' "Communications" sessions to transfer files to my sister via our 2400 baud modems. But I think the most remarkable thing about ClarisWorks was that I could carry a copy of the application on a high density floppy disk to the college computer labs and have room to spare for saved documents. Oh, the lengths I would go to avoid using Microsoft Word 5.0!

I'm hesitant to try iWork. Not only because my beloved G4 iMac is going to be underpowered, but because Claris (Apple)Works has served me so well for more than ten years. I'm comfortable with it. It just works. It does just about everything well. Would you expect any less from an Apple product?

Thanks for letting me come to terms with the loss of a great piece of software.

Ed Simanowski

You're welcome.

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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