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iPontificateMy Favorite Things About Tiger (and a Couple of Grrrrrr's, While I'm At It)

by - May 24th, 2005

I think we have all read the many reviews of Tiger and its great new features: Dashboard, Spotlight, Safari RSS. According to many, Tiger is the single most improved operating system from Apple since OS X began shipping.

I believe that is true from a technology standpoint. But I don't want to write a column about locked-down API's, 64-bit computing, CoreImage, Quartz Extreme, or the H.264 codec (which kicks butt in a major way). There are many others far more suited to that than me.

From a feature standpoint, is Tiger all that? I don't think so. Panther brought more usable features to the table for me. Fast User Switching alone made Panther better feature-wise in my book. Throw in Exposé, Finder labels, system-level faxing, Finder-level file compression, and there is no contest.

Dashboard is neat visually, but not very useful for me. It takes at least as long for a widget to load as a my home page loads in Safari, and I can't do anything else while Dashboard updates its widgets. No productivity boost there. It does make a neat demo to impress your potential switcher friends, I guess. Maybe it's because I stubbornly cling to Watson, maybe it's because I haven't seen its killer widget yet, but, yawn. If you have any favorite widgets that just might sway me, let me know.

Spotlight is great in concept and potentially could change things dramatically. It will take a while for me to really integrate it into my workflow because I have spent the last twenty plus years using Macs without Spotlight. Organizing my files is pretty ingrained, and that won't be changing soon. It is neat that I can type my wife's name and find every email, song and photo that references Jennifer almost instantly. But I could already do those searches in Mail, iTunes and iPhoto, respectively. Spotlight is more of a number upgrade for me in this area, and a horrible disappointment in another.

Spotlight has taken a huge step backward in its ability to do easy filename searches from the Finder. I am absolutely floored that Apple has done something so bizarre. Literally 99% of my searches are for files by their name. To do a search that used to require typing Apple-F, then the file's name and return, now requires typing Apple-F, changing one search criteria, deleting a second search criteria, then finally typing the name of the file. This is not an improvement. Who do I have to kick in the crotch to get this fixed?

RSS feeds in Safari is the least liked of the big three new features, judging by the reviews. It's my favorite. Most reviews mention that you can bookmark RSS feeds, but skip Safari's coolest RSS feature. If you bookmark several sites' RSS feeds, group them into a bookmark folder, you can see all of the feeds simultaneously on one page. Now I can select one menu item and see all of my Mac-related headlines from many different sites, over the last two weeks, ordered from newest to oldest, with the new articles highlighted in orange. That's freakin' useful.

I actually didn't want this column to be about the same features everyone else has already written about. (Too late). I wanted to write about the new things in Tiger that haven't made all of the reviews. Overall, I give Tiger a big thumbs up. Just not necessarily for the same reasons others have.

Since I have been using Tiger, I have become pretty familiar with the new OS. It may be a while before I discover all of the little nuggets, but a column next Christmas about the new features in Tiger probably isn't going to get a lot of looks.

So on to my favorite (so far) new features in Tiger.

I mentioned I was a fan of Fast User Switching, and I am, but one thing used to drive me crazy. If I needed to restart, say, for a software install, Panther would point out other users were logged in, and prompt me for an admin password. I would type my username, press tab, type my password and hit return. Thus dismissing the dialog, because the default button was the cancel button. Guys, I appreciate your concern for my wife's vacation itinerary, but didn't me typing my login and password count for anything?

They must have gotten my email threatening to kick someone in the crotch, because that dialog now works as expected, plus a Switch User button lets you check for unsaved work faster. It may be minor, but it is a real improvement.

Remember that other cool operating system that would instantly update icons and items in the Finder as docs were saved, moved and copied? What was that called? Oh, yeah, System 7. Tiger has finally reached parity with Apple's 1991 operating system in this regard. Just thinking that it took this long makes me want to go back in time and kick someone in the crotch.

And, finally, the best new feature in Tiger is Safari RSS, but not just for the new RSS capabilities I mentioned above. First, and foremost, Safari is faster. Way faster. No more gloating, Firefox users. (Firefoxes?) While Safari has been my primary browser, there was no denying Firefox was faster, especially for secure sites.

I kept Firefox on hand just to check my Amex account and to change my wireless router settings. Pre-Tiger Safari also stalled when talking to my router. No more! For the first time since Safari was released, I officially have become a one browser man.

A Safari feature I have rarely seen mentioned since Tiger was originally previewed is the change in the way it reports errors. Safari used to present error information in a drop down sheet, and that annoyed me. Just one more click or keystroke to dismiss the sheet before I could return to browsing. Now, Safari presents errors in the main browser window, so I can note it and continue browsing with no further interruption. Urge to kick someone in the crotch fading...fading.

A lot of times I launch Safari to do a Google search. In Panther, I would begin typing in the Google search field, but my home page would load, taking focus away from the search field as I typed. When I hit return, nothing happened and the search field was empty. I was forced to retype my search from the beginning, fuming that I never really get to kick someone in the crotch. Either Tiger has corrected this annoying bug, or Safari is just so much faster at loading pages that it gets to it before I can get to typing. Either way, I have not reproduced the behavior since upgrading.

You may consider these tweaks just bug and interface fixes, but they improve my day to day experience enough for me to consider them new features. Tiger's polish is the best we've seen in OS X, but there is a long way to go. The seemingly random interface styles of different applications is one concern. For the record, I like the new Mail interface, but I wish Apple would just pick one interface design and go with it.

I could keep rambling on this topic, but Rob Griffiths, of Mac OS X Hints fame, recently started his own puntitled blog, The Robservatory. He expertly discusses these and other fascinating issues there, so I don't have to here. I highly recommend checking it out, especially for some great discussions on the finer points of OS X.

So, here's the bottom line. Real interface improvements, woohoo! Glitzy big new features, meh.

Are there any cool nuggets in Tiger that you have unearthed? Let me know.

is an Idiot. He is the co-founder of IWS Interactive, a New York (and now Houston) based development company for Macintosh. Now he spends his time writing about, developing for, and getting clients to buy Macs. Oh, yeah, and he recently had a kid. So his days are filled with taking care of little Jack, then playing with his Mac. He wouldn't have it any other way.

You can send your comments directly to Gary, or you can also post your comments below.

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