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Tiger Review

This is my attempt to do a quick user report of Tiger after using Tiger for about two months.

Summary

Tiger is a significant update to OS X. The most notable improvements in the operating system are:

  • desktop searching via Spotlight
  • desktop widgets via Dashboard
  • Safari Web Browser and RSS Support
  • Apple Mail

There are dozens of other advertised improvements. I have yet to make use of many of them. However, I have tinkered with somethings:

  • application workflow support via Automator

Lowdown

My overall opinion of Tiger so far is somewhere between goad/very good (3.5). My scale is poor (1), satisfactory (2), good (3), excellent (4), and superior (5).

What keeps me from giving an excellent to superior evaluation is the sinking feeling that Apple does not work closely with major software vendors and open-source groups effectively, thereby resulting in a sub-optimal experience when using non-Apple software with new releases of OS X. I'll provide some examples shortly in my discussion of notable new features.

Spotlight

Let's begin with the innate desktop searching capability found in Tiger: Spotlight. Spotlight is the first desktop-search tool to be integrated with any operating system. The challenges of making this work properly are non-trivial, and Apple is to be credited with taking the risks to bring this technology to users.

Spotlight works essentially as follows. An initial indexing process is commenced after booting Tiger for the first time. Indexing involves everything from the file/folder name to the actual content of files, provided there is an extractor for the given file type. Apple comes with extractors for common file types. Not unexpectedly, it comes with native support to extract content from Microsoft file formats.

Once initial indexing is complete, subsequent file additions, deletions, and modifications are tracked. Any change results in reindexing of the file's content (if possible). It is this capability that distinguishes Spotlight from other desktop searching tools, including Google Desktop Search, which basically do brute-force searching for changed files (with some heuristics) as part of the ongoing indexing strategy, usually during idle periods on a user computer.

Anyway, the question is: How useful and effective is it? My initial experience has been mixed. I had hoped to use this with the new and improved Apple Mail. The use of the word hoped should tell most of the story. Lest I digress. Spotlight is effective for searching for document content, including PDF. There do appear to be bugs in the PDF extractor, however. I noticed when trying to search for certain text in my LaTeX/PDF documents that Spotlight did not pick up text in titles, etc. (Yes, the text is real text, not an image!)

I'm optimistic that Spotlight will become better. But the main reason for which I upgraded to Tiger--to search my e-mail using Spotlight--has proven a big disappointment. If you need this capability and are using better e-mail clients such as Thunderbird, you'll be waiting for awhile.

Dashboard

One of the curious inclusions in OS X is Dashboard, which allows users to add widgets, which are applets that can be used, typically, to accomplish short tasks without having to go to a web browser or dedicated application.

A good example of a widget is a calendar. You often need the ability to do a quick calculation. Your choices in previous OS X releases were limited to using the built-in Calculator application or opening up a Terminal session and running bc (Unix's basic calculator.) Now, you can reveal the Dashboard and use the calculator widget to do your task. Then you can get back to whatever you were doing. The calculator and any other widgets you are using don't participate in the desktop clutter. Of course, Dashboard itself can become cluttered; however, this might be ok. Similar to what you might do in your own home, you try to keep the living area clean and then relegate clutter to closet space and the like.

So again I ask the question, is Dashboard useful? Truth be told, I think it is pretty slick. However, I am wondering whether Apple missed the boat on something here. I'm often looking up stuff using Dashboard. I have to switch back and forth between the Dashboard, which means that I am still spinning my wheels as I'd do between running applications in the first place. Dashboard, to me, seems like just an application container, which reminds me of another idea that was cool for awhile but lost traction: Java Applets.

My view is that widgets are interesting but they should adhere to straightforward tasks. And there are some tasks for which Dashboard doesn't compete with Konfabulator (which was the inspiration for Dashboard). Take for example the Picture Frame widget in Konfabulator. The beauty of this widget is that you can cycle through a collection of photos on your desktop and it just floats in the background. You wouldn't use Dashboard for this sort of task, because revealing Dashboard is a transient phenomenon. As soon as you go back to running applications, Dashboard disappears.

I find Dashboard useful for getting the quick weather forecast, looking up phone numbers, checking flights, etc. I don't find it all that useful for things like getting directions, because I usually need to go to a browser to save and/or print them anyway.

I'll probably add a list of favorite widgets here.

Apple Mail

The lowdown is that I don't recommend this to anyone who is using IMAP seriously. I'm someone who has a significant number of folders and e-mail messages (over 2 Gigabytes in fact). There appear to be major scalability problems with Apple Mail.

The strange thing about Apple Mail is that at one point, it used to be somewhat responsive. With the introduction of what appears to be a new threading model and Spotlight, Apple Mail performance just drags. On two different IMAP servers, I noticed that fetching individual messages (something everyone does when reading mail in general) takes an inordinately long time. There's something very weird going on.

Apple Mail suffers from a lack of configurability for IMAP capabilities. In particular, I have no ability to control the number of threads/connections. As a result, all you ever see when working with Apple Mail are spinning wheels and your thumbs twiddling.

If you're a POP user, you're going to love this client. I don't anticipate any problems for users who maintain all of their folders locally. But this, IMHO, is the worst possible way to use e-mail. If you are like me and work from multiple locations, IMAP is the way to go.

Safari Web Browser

The web experience on Tiger seems to be improving at a dramatic pace. While I still find myself using Firefox occasionally for certain sites, it is getting to a point where I can use Safari as my day-to-day browser. Certain commerce sites, e.g. personal banking, seem to suffer from a number of JavaScript problems.

The most compelling aspect of the Safari experience is the RSS integration...

Ok, battery ran out...more later.

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