Sunday, May 01, 2005

Mac OS 10.4 Tiger - A few thoughts

So, what kind of self respecting Mac geek fails to post a few words on Tiger? It's not at all surprising that such mini reviews are all over the internet so I'm sure one more will make little difference... but I cannot resist.

I've now installed it or supervised its installation on five Macs ranging from a 900mhz G3 iBook, 3 G4s, and a G5 iMac. I've only run into one problem which involved iPhoto which I think may have been related to one of the 2 plugins I had installed: Photon (for exporting to TypePad) or FlickrExport. I'm not certain about this but the only solution seemed to be a reinstall of iPhoto. Not a big problem and solved easily. I have not reinstalled the plugins to verify if any problems exist with them in relation to iPhoto and Tiger.

Most of the installs were less than 45 minutes. The spotlight indexing that takes place upon reboot hogs the processor for a bit but on all of these machines indexing was typically finished within 20 minutes. Oh, and I should note that I used the "Archive and Install" which allows for saving all the user settings which means that upon logging back in everything worked with no need to adjust anything. Smooth as buttah.

After two days of use I've got this to say: I like.

There are all sorts of little things such as the addition of Energy Saver presets to the battery menu for portables. Saves you another trip to System Preferences if you want to make a quick change to the settings.

Dashboard is far better than Konfabulator and much more useful than I thought. I've got it set to activate when i move my mouse to the bottom right corner which takes less than a second. From there I can access a fantastical variety of useful tools with more being created every day. Aside from Apple's included phonebook my two favorites thus far are WikityWidget and Wikipedia Widget.

The new Safari is incredibly speedy. I love NetNewsWire but I will also use Safari's RSS feeds. I put the 83 feeds included by Apple into my bookmarks bar and at last count I think I saw 2,000+ unread stories waiting for me. It goes without saying that I won't read all those but I can leave that open in a tab and check particular areas of interest every so often using the built in keyword filter which works splendidly.

The updated Mail program is excellent. It imported all of my email perfectly. The new smart folders that were previously only available in iTunes and iPhoto are now available in Mail thanks to the systemwide integration of Spotlight. Not only do we now have smart folders but searching through the content of thousands of emails is nearly instantaneous. While many seem to hate the new interface of Mail I'm happy with it.

Quicktime is a mixed bag. The quality of the new codec is truly amazing. I downloaded the new Batman and Fantastic 4 trailers from Apple's site and the large versions are DVD quality. The downside is that playback on a G4 1 ghz was a little choppy. The image was perfect but the playback was not as smooth as would have liked. I'll have to use this a bit more to get a better idea of what I think.

Automator, the easy to use workflow builder, is going to be very cool. I've only just begun to play with it but in just a few seconds I created a single step workflow to add "Spotlight comments" to any file. I can access this via the contextual menu in the Finder and it took me 42 seconds to create. This tool will only get better as I learn more about how it works and as others share the workflows they have created over the interweb.

The new Dictionary and Thesaurus is very cool. I can access this via a contextual menu anyplace on my screen where there is text. Tip: open up the Dictionary application and open its preferences. On the bottom change the "Contextual Menu" from the default to "Open Dictionary panel". By doing this you can get the definitions you want via a smooth little pop-up rather than opening the Dictionary application. Another tip: in addition to the contextual menu you can access this with a key combination. Position your cursor over any of these words then press Control+Command+d and you should see the magical little popup! Keep pressing Control+Command and release the d key and it will stay active. Now, keeping Control+Command pressed move your cursor around to different words in the active window!

I'll end with a few observations of Spotlight. The thing to remember is that this is now a systemwide change not just a little icon to be accessed via the menu or a search field in a Finder window. Spotlight is the groundwork for all sorts of cool future applications. That said, I was not as impressed as I thought I would be with the menu and Finder implementations of Spotlight. It works as intended but it just feels a bit... limited. Let me explain why: QuickSilver.

Now, I've been using QuickSilver for nearly a year (previously I used LaunchBar) and so I'm comparing Spotlight to QuickSilver. Spotlight is all about finding information in files and opening them in the appropriate application. QuickSilver is about finding information and manipulating or using it from within QuickSilver. For example... If I search in Spotlight for Greg the first result is my brother-in-law's address book vCard. Good. That's what I would hope. Down in that list are other related files, emails, and iCal events. Excellent. I can arrow down to them and open the appropriate object in its application in most cases. For some reason iCal events do not open though iCal itself does. Compare this to QuickSilver. When I enter Greg I get the same top hit, Greg's vCard. I also get any file with Greg in the name. I do not get email or any document with Greg in the actual content so I'm looking at a smaller file list. That said, I can do far more with what QuickSilver does find. For example, with the vCard, I can open it in Address Book as with Spotlight but I can perform all sorts of other functions. With a few key maneuvers I can send an email to Greg, send an email with an attachment, open his web page, display his phone or address in large letters across the screen for easy viewing and much more.

What it comes down to is that I'll use Spotlight for searching for files and QuickSilver for performing advanced actions and file manipulation. One day the functionality will meld together, for now I'll use them both.

One disappointment, at least on my Mac, iPhoto and Spotlight integration. Spotlight does not seem to pick up my iPhoto keywords very well. Compare this to Quicksilver which does not pick these keywords up but does see the iPhoto Smart Albums associated with the keywords and lets me view the actual album photo thumbnails! Edit: To clarify, if I use the find field in a standard Finder window it becomes obvious that they are indexed and they do show up. I think that they must have been in the dropdown search but perhaps I missed them because the display via the dropdown is more limited.

Lastly (at least for the moment) I think users of 10.4 will soon be amazed by the underlying technologies that will be incorporated into new or updated applications. Core Image filters are at the top of that list as are Spotlight plugins. Keep a look out for many goodies.

Reviews:
The very best: John Siracusa's review at Ars Technica He's been reviewing OS X going back to the public beta days. His Tiger review is 21 web pages... several hours reading. 100+ pages if you download the pdf. This is not a casual review.

Another good one by John Gruber of Daring Fireball.

Downloadable Automator Workflows
Apple's Workflows Downloads
Automator World
Automator Actions @ Macscripter

Downloadable Spotlight plugins
Apple's Spotlight Downloads

Downloadable Dashboard Widgets.
Apple's Widgets Downloads
Dashboard Widgets
Dashboard Exchange



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