A running tally of all the cool (and not so cool) new things I find to love/hate in Mac OS X 10.4, otherwise known as Tiger.
Tiger — the latest version of Mac OS X — was released to a lot of fanfare on Friday afternoon, as you’re no doubt aware by now since it seems to have garnered an inordinate amount of press. For an insanely comprehensive review of the low-level stuff, turn to ARS Technica. For a look at the smaller changes that affect day-to-day usage, check out John Gruber’s running tally.
As a fairly recent Mac convert myself, I hadn’t bothered going out of my way to find myself a copy of Panther, the previous upgrade, until a few weeks after its release. This time around, I made sure I was at the front of the line when the boxes went on sale. The store was busy, but not nearly as much as I might have expected. Looks like the Apple stores themselves (of which we have none in Canada yet) had a bigger turnout.
With barely a few days of usage on the new OS, how am I liking it? That’s inconclusive for the moment, as I still haven’t had any lightning bolt revelations like the way Exposé struck me. I’ll need more time than this to really form an opinion. It looks like there’s a lot of good new stuff to explore, and of course a few new annoyances to adjust to. I’ll keep this list running over the course of this week as I dig further in to my new toy, and add new items as I find them.
Anecdotally, and based only on a gut feeling, my system feels slower. Many have reported the opposite to be true, so I think I might be an exception. I upgraded my 10.3 install instead of doing an entire re-install, which might be part of the problem. Just prior to the upgrade though, I was rapidly running out of primary drive free space (to the point where I only had a few hundred MB left). I’ve since cleared off about 5GB, so my virtual memory shouldn’t be a bottleneck here, although I’m tempted to assume my drive is quite a bit more fragmented now. If so, I wouldn’t be surprised if that alone explained the slowdown. Otherwise it might be time to think about dropping a few widgets off my Dashboard..
I finally got around to tinkering with the new Automator, and I feel pretty positive about it. It’s limited to a series of pre-canned actions for various applications, which currently consist entirely of Apple products. But it’s also open to developers adding hooks within their own applications, so that will probably change. I get the feeling it’s essentially AppleScript lite, for those who choose not to learn the language. Suits me fine.
Finally, it’s no longer necessary to Cmd + 1 to switch to icon view for the sake of getting image dimensions. As long as ‘Show Preview Column’ is checked in view options (Cmd + J) the preview column contains ‘em.
Installation was a snap, as I’d pretty much expect from any major software release right now. After appropriately backing everything up, unplugging the external Firewire drive, and clicking a few dialogue boxes to get things underway then ducking out for a movie, coming back to a freshly Tigerized computer was a nice treat.
The new RSS feature seems pretty much useless to me, a happy NetNewsWire user. I don’t see much point in reading a site’s RSS feed in the browser, when I can simply read the full site. Maybe I’m missing some kind of aggregation feature that lumps all the various feeds together the way a traditional news reader does.
If you haven’t already overridden your default RSS button action with a non-Safari aggregator (like I have), apparently creating a bookmark folder of RSS feeds will enable you to view them all together after all.
Credit where it’s due though, Safari lets me click on the blue RSS button to subscribe to a feed in my default newsreader, which happens to be NNW. It doesn’t lock me into Safari itself, which is smart. Beyond RSS, there’s plenty new to see in Safari 2.0. This is the one I expect to dig into much further, but for now I’m quite impressed by the speed improvement.
Minor annoyance: context-sensitive menus on links and images have improved, but the old standbys “Save Image As…” and “Download/Save Linked File As…” are a bit different, saving to the Desktop by default. Pressing Option brings back the old menu items, but still. I categorize my downloaded items as I grab them to avoid a marathon clean-up session later; why discourage that behaviour?
I’ve never quite gotten the hang of the Photoshop file browser, and iPhoto is way too slow, so this is one of the best new additions for my particular workflow. Ever since switching from Windows XP, I’ve missed the equivalent functionality of being able to view a folder of images in slideshow format. The Tiger implementation is spectacular, allowing you to quickly alternate between a series of slides and a full-screen view of any particular image.
Here’s how you get to it:
Here’s the full-screen view and controls:
And here’s the slide view, which expands and collapses in a way reminiscent of Exposé:
But read the next point.
What’s absolutely appalling is how buried this new functionality is. The only way I’ve found to get to it is by running a Spotlight search, and browsing through the resulting images that return in your search. This might be acceptable if all I ever did was browse by keyword, but there’s a reason I categorize my images into folders. I can’t imagine why this hasn’t been implemented in the Finder somehow.
Dashboard is mostly (very slick) eye candy, but I could see the potential for a few really well-built widgets becoming staples of my daily computer usage. A fair criticism I’ve heard is that the Dashboard layer, which exists almost as a virtual second desktop for the various widgets, is too exclusive. There’s a demand for the ability to move these widgets out of it and onto the real desktop, and move other applications into it. I may be alone in this, but I wouldn’t want these widgets cluttering up my desktop. Having them pulled into view by a tap of F12 is a great way of managing them. But a choice is always nice in cases like this.
The widgets themselves look to be a little weighty, memory-wise. No noticeable slowdown yet, but this will be the first place I look if and when. And how come new widgets I’ve downloaded don’t show up in the control panel thingy at the bottom of the screen?
Tiger comes on a DVD. Apparently you can get CDs by mailing the original disc back to Apple along with a nominal service fee, but it’s pretty clear that DVD is the new distribution medium going forward. Fine for my Powerbook, not so great for my older iBook which is still ticking along just fine. It’ll be interesting to see how its older OS ages.
I’ve yet to determine how much Spotlight actually changes things. I’m pretty darn addicted to QuickSilver and its adaptive selection; Spotlight feels a lot slower, and the jumping around as new results filter in is particularly annoying.
My biggest pet peeve so far is that results will appear, then disappear as newer and more relevant results filter in. If you’re going to show an item in the results at all, leave it there. Yes, I can pull up the full Spotlight window and hunt down the flash of an item I happened to notice, but the relative speed of the incoming results often means I didn’t catch enough of a glimpse to retain the name or location.
My searching so far has consisted of a few half-hearted guesses though, instead of anything concrete. Things that are annoying while there’s no goal in mind (the multiple clicks to filter by location, the wild variation of data types) might prove incredibly useful when I’m looking for something in particular. I’ll have to get a little more comfortable with Spotlight before I’m using it for tasks like that, so it seems like there might be not so much a learning curve as an adoption curve: I understand how it works, and why I’d need it, but I just haven’t felt comfortable enough with it to make it a part of my standard routine yet.
Smart Folders. Saving search results as a virtual folder is brilliant. My favourite new smart folder: Items within “Bright Creative” Last Modified within Last 3 Days. One-click access to all my most recent working files, it’s a thing of beauty.
The menu bar at the top of the screen went glossier, while the blue Apple and Spotlight icons on either side went flatter. In all the pre-release screenshots I’ve seen, both icons appeared to “cap” either side of the menu bar with a full background colour that was clickable; it looked like a great solution to me. In the final release they simply sit there as roundish icons, while retaining the clickable area. Yawn.
The new RSS screensaver is great. Select a source, and watch the latest realtime headlines swoosh around a swirling blue background. Click on any headline to visit the article. Not entirely practical, but hey, it’s a screensaver after all. They’re allowed to be cool for the sake of it.
Previously, in order to enable easy access to advanced character entry tools like the Keyboard Viewer or Character Palette, it was first necessary to select a keyboard language and enable a flag in your menu bar. Annoying, but livable… unless you happened to be a Canadian english speaker, of whom there are many; selecting the Canadian flag would enable a french keyboard layout. The only way around this was to live with having an American (or Australian) flag in your menu bar all the time. Thankfully, the problem has been fixed in Tiger.
A built-in, system-wide dictionary and thesaurus are a Ctrl+click away. Available as a context-sensitive menu, Dashboard widget, and stand-alone app, the vocabulary is large enough to be useful, but the built-in search ironically isn’t. Results are exact; don’t know how to spell a word? Too bad. dictionary.com still has a place in my workflow for now.
(It was interesting to see Apple didn’t bother pulling the punches either. All your favourite dirty words are in there and defined, with pronunciation guides.)