Microsoft needs to move into the decimal world

Dear Microsoft,

These days, consumers buy PCs and tablets and other similar devices. They’re not familiar with binary calculations.

So when they see a device that claims to have a 64 GB drive and then they look in File Explorer and see that it’s only 59 GB, they feel cheated. And when they hear that their 128 GB drive only has 89 GB of free disk space, they wonder what you’re doing with all the space they thought they paid for.

You can explain the difference between binary and decimal calculations until you turn blue. Consumers won’t get it.

Apple bit the bullet and did this in 2009. If you buy a 1 terabyte external drive and plug it into a Mac, the OS X disk tools tell you it has 1 trillion bytes of storage, with 996 GB available after formatting.

Plug that exact same drive into a Windows machine and it tells you that you only have 931.51 GB available. (Don’t believe me? See for yourself.)

Which answer is easier for consumers to understand?

I understand it’s a hassle to convert your Windows tools (File Explorer, Disk Management, Resource Monitor, etc.) to show MB and GB in their decimal form. I know it will annoy techies who have been working with Base 2 since the 1990s or earlier.

But you really need to make this change, because otherwise this sort of thing happens. It is insane, from a marketing point of view, to publish a table disclosing storage space in binary terms when the device itself AND its packaging AND your advertising use decimal measurements.

Meanwhile, maybe you can whip up a little app and put it on the Windows 8 desktop, one that will conveniently display actual free and used storage in decimal terms.

If you open the Metro-style PC Settings today on a system running Windows 8 or Windows RT and tap General, you see this:


It can’t be too hard to tweak that text so it says something like this:

Your total system disk size is 128 billion bytes.
You have 110.5 billion bytes available.

Seriously, people.

17 thoughts on “Microsoft needs to move into the decimal world

  1. ED
    I hope your post on ZDNet the other day about who is honest with storage space available would make someone up there to rethink about it.

    Sent from my Windows Phone

  2. Or, you know, everyone else could move into the binary world. AS THEY SHOULD. Decimal is nonsense in the world of computing. It’s worthless, useful only because greedy storage manufacturers insist on inflating their numbers by using binary. And there are other things, such as RAM, that are (and always will be) measured in binary because they have to be.

  3. Given that people have tried to sue MS for shipping a tablet that didn’t have as much storage on it as specified, I am surprised that nobody has tried to sue these lieing storage vendors for short changing us.
    Either it’s got 64GB of storage or it hasn’t. If it’s only 64GiB then say that it’s only 60GB.

  4. Anal personalities are killing the World IMHO. Sueing most businesses wrongly and wasting a lot of time and money for no real purpose. Does it really matter at the end of the day that a calculation is done one way or another? No, not really. However, I have to agree on this one Ed. Not because of feeling shorted or something like that, but it would be nice to see it in base 10 rather than base 2. And I’m a programmer too, but base 10 is still more normal to everyone including me. It would be a nice change. Though, I still just can’t see a judge thinking that because someone can’t caculate in base 2 is reason for them to receive compensation for such practices.

  5. Binary prefixes were fine when floppies were 360K. They were OK when hard drives were 20 MB. They became problematic when we got into the GB range.

    Today, we have multi-terabyte hard drives. 1.024 raised to the fourth power is almost 1.1. A 2.4% difference is not a big deal, but 10% is no longer negligible.

    Even I’m getting annoyed by this. When I want to split 1 decimal TB drive into two equal partitions in Disk Management, I can’t just assign 500 decimal GB to each. Even more confusingly, Disk Management works not in binary GiB, but in binary MiB. If it worked in decimal MB, then I wouldn’t care if it were TB, or GB, or MB — I can just move decimal points.

  6. No. That is my point.

    He tried to sue MS for selling a Surface with less than quoted amounts of storage available, not a drive manufacturer for incorrectly quoting its size.

    They all say that they have 64GB when they actually have 64GiB which is actually 60GB. So why don’t they just start by saying that they have 60GB and be correct.

  7. Ah Crap. Just realised having read into this properly that it’s actually the other way around. Being a programmer, I assumed that 1024 bytes was a KB as it always has been in my life and got confussed. Whereas it is that that got renamed years ago to be KiB.

    I don’t really care which notation is used as long as it it correct. MS should report the 64GB drive as 64GB or 60GiB, but definitely not 60GB which is what they currently do.

  8. I’ve gotten used to it, but I guess it would be a good change especially for tablets, etc But let’s face it, Ed, nobody raised much of a stink about this until it was MS. And even if MS fixes it, they’ll find something else to fixate on

  9. I’m no MS fan myself, but in this point, I must agree with their stand. 1024 is NOT 1000 and no matter what definitions the HDD/SDD industry decides to use, They should not mix it up. If necessary, they could display both sizes in the property windows. One actual, and one being common or whatever.

  10. Bah humbug. Consumers should stick with devices designed for consuming: televisions. If they want to watch kitten videos and update Facebook pages, let them live in Apple’s walled garden. Leave the computers to people who actually do things on them.

  11. Possibly the storage manufacturers could stop misleading by using inappropriate units for computer storage for marketing reasons.

  12. Ed says: “Second, the unit actually DOES have 64 GiB (if you want to get technical).”

    Uh…actually, according to your own article, it is 59GiB, which is 64GB.

    You know, if you want to get technical.

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