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32 GB versus 32GB: Almost everyone is writing it wrong

Fair warning, dear reader: this may be the most pedantic post in the history of TUAW. Maybe in history, period. But I can't help it: someone is wrong on the internet.

Here's a fun trick. Go to the Apple menu on your Mac and select "About This Mac." A little window will come up listing your processor and RAM specs. Mine describes a 2.6 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 4 GB of RAM. If I click "More Info" to open System Profiler, I'll also learn that I have a 250 GB hard drive.

Now go to Apple's product page for the MacBook Pro and click on "Buy Now" to see descriptions of tech specs. The 17-inch model is currently listed with a 2.53GHz processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. Other than the obvious differences in specs, did you notice anything different? All the spaces disappeared. 2.53GHz instead of 2.6 GHz. 4GB and 500GB instead of 4 GB or 250 GB.

Almost everyone in the computer industry is writing tech specs this way on their product pages, and they're all doing it wrong. Click "Read More" to find out why.

The International System of Units, otherwise known as the metric system, sets the standards for not only what a given quantity is, but how to express it. On page 133 of the SI brochure, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures says, "The numerical value always precedes the unit, and a space is always used to separate the unit from the number [...] The only exceptions to this rule are for the unit symbols for degree, minute, and second for plane angle." (emphasis added)

By those standards, 3.06 GHz, 500 GB, and 1.44 MB are correct. 3.06GHz, 500GB, and 1.44MB are wrong -- but so many places have been doing it wrong for so long that it's almost become common practice. This wouldn't be a big deal if it weren't for the fact that almost every major software or hardware manufacturer's product descriptions are formatted differently from the nomenclature used in their operating systems. Note that this is a separate issue from the well-known "gigabyte versus gibibyte" confusion ("Daddy, why does my 32 GB iPod only have 29 GB of space when there's nothing on it?") -- which Snow Leopard dealt with, to much controversy. This isn't about reporting hard drive space differently; it's about the inconsistency of running numbers and the units they describe together on product pages, but not doing it in the OS.

Apple, listen... I like you, but I think we need some space.

Here are some examples of entities who are doing it wrong and omitting spaces between numbers and units:

Product pages: Apple, Newegg, Macsales, Amazon (Kindle description), Microsoft (Xbox 360 page), Google (Nexus S tech spec page), Sony, Dell, and Lenovo.

Blogs: Macworld, Engadget, and almost everyone else on the internet, including us at TUAW most of the time.

Online: Google Images and Gmail.

Devices: The badges on the backs of iPods and iPhones.

So beautiful, but so wrong

Now here's who's doing it right and leaving the spaces in:

File systems: Mac OS X, iOS, Windows, DOS, Chrome OS, Android, Sony PlayStation 3.

Available space, with spaces

Online: Apple's App Store, MobileMe, and Microsoft's Hotmail.

Product pages: Microsoft, HP.

Only Microsoft and HP are consistent between their product pages and the specs reported in the OS that runs on those products. Everyone else is caught up in this schism between product page and OS nomenclature, writing 32GB instead of 32 GB, and it's been driving me nuts. No one would ever write 32gigabytes or 2.6gigahertz, so why are so many corporations and bloggers writing 32GB or 2.6GHz?

Yes, I recognize this is a very insubstantial nit to pick. The world will keep spinning whether product sellers properly format their products' descriptions according to SI standards or not. I probably wouldn't have even noticed this myself if I wasn't an editor, responsible for making sure the content we present at TUAW is accurately presented. I don't have any control over those other sites' content (yet; I'm saving up for my secret volcano lair in the South Pacific), but I'm taking back the space for TUAW. 32GB is dead; long live 32 GB!

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