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Summary:

Tiger is out, but does all the hype match up to reality?

OK, before I start, I’d like to say that I’m not doing this to be inflammatory. I’m asking a serious question about whether the hype for Tiger was justified, or whether I’m now so de-sensitized to it all that I’m missing something.

I’ve installed Tiger and I’ve been using it for a week. I’m not impressed.

OK, some things are faster. Some things look different and there are some minor improvements and fixes for things that annoyed me (hey, account-specific signatures). There’s even some really cute eye candy (Dashboard). But I somehow don’t feel completely bowled over.

For 90% of what I do, nothing has changed. It looks different, but I don’t see any of it making any significant difference to the way I work.

Let’s have a look at some key bits of functionality:

Dashboard

Dashboard is really cool from a ‘hey look at this really good looking stuff’, but I honestly can’t see any really helpful benefit of this. Some of the widgets look great, but get too many widgets on your dashboard and it looks like a nightmare. Organizing them is difficult; they just float around. The Dictionary feature looks nice, but getting to it is a pain; I have to switch to the Dashboard, then if it isn’t the active widget I have to select it with the mouse (there’s no easy keyboard access) and then do what I want. I can do that with OmniDictionary with just one keypress (thanks to Quickeys).

What is the point of some this stuff? The clock is too large (I know, someone will write a different one), so it defeats the object of providing multiple clocks on your dashboard for different timezones. Four clocks on your Dashboard and a lot of my 17″ PowerBook’s screen estate is gone. And what use is a dummy desktop calendar application? Aren’t we supposed to be using iCal, which does every that does and shows us the date in the Dock, in addition to providing us with Todo and event and multiple calendars. Why have yet another separate calendar application that doesn’t do anything but show the date?

The same is true of the Dashboard Address book interface. I can get to my address book in one key press, and when I’m there I can edit it to. I can’t do that in Dashboard. And I still have the problem that to access the Dashboard version I have to switch to the Dashboard and then change apps, if necessary, with the mouse to get where I want.

And no offence to the Dashboard writers out there, but I haven’t seen one that I’ve thought would be particularly useful as a Dashboard widget. In the majority of cases the functionality offered by a Dashboard widget is the same as that provided through a simple web page in your browser. And as a browser item, especially using tabs, they are a damn site more accessible than all the fuss required to change to Dashboard, switch to a widget and start using it.

On the whole, using Dashboard seems slow and complicated compared to switching to my web browser or dedicated application like OmniDictionary and just using it. Sure, Dashboard looks nice, but I can’t find any benefit of actually using it.

Spotlight

The technology behind Spotlight is impressive, and it’s particularly quick, but I’ve yet to actually need Spotlight to find anything. I file my work in specific folders (or just one ‘active’ folder, depending on the machine). Files I’ve downloaded go into the same folder. My email, through filtering, is automatically filed away.

Why would I need to use Spotlight to find that Word document I was working on two hours ago? Or the project I did last week. I knoq where it is because I filed it there. Ditto with email.

Again, I’m not trying to demean Spotlight, but it strikes me as the sort of technology that will be used most by the same people who frequently lose their keys, utility bills and remote controls, rather than those who are relatively organized and know where to find things.

Mail

Mail has changed so slightly, most people wouldn’t notice beyond the obvious disappearance of the draw on the right/left which has all smoothed out. Account specific signatures are great, but the interface for controlling them is so abysmal it’s hard to tell what you are configuring. Plus it doesn’t always work.

Smart folders are pretty cool. But for some strange reason they are stuck at the bottom of the folder panel. Have a lot of folders, like a I do, and you have to scroll to get to them, limiting their usefulness for people who actually have to do any work. If they are going to be any use they need to be right up there at the top of the list of mail folders. But you can’t move them; they appear after the global Inbox, no matter how many times you try to drag them.

Another annoyance is that for all the changes and so called improvements in Mail certain things are still broken and still inconsistent. For example, synchronizing an entire IMAP mailbox still doesn’t work. And the ‘unread’ counter displayed in the dock only counts unread items in your inbox; it completely ignores the unread count on any subfolders. This wouldn’t so bad if they hadn’t changed Mail so that the count next to individual mailboxes didn’t show the total of all unread messages in subfolders. Even that doens’t work properly. The effect is a thoroughly misleading view of your email state if all you do is look at the dock.

Safari and RSS

RSS is great. I’d be lost without it, if I’m honest. But RSS is useless if your RSS reader shows you stories in a way that implies that all of the stories are brand new and you need to read all of them. Unfortunately, Safari follows that model. Right now, if I open the standard RSS feeds I get 153 stories.

For the ones I’ve read, it changes the size and colour of the story header. But what about the ones I don’t want to read ? How do I get rid of them?

I can’t. If I reload the page, Safari assumes I’ve read them all and updates the unread counter, but it still shows all of the old stories I didn’t read last time. Why are they still there?

Safari isn’t the only RSS reader that uses this approach, but with such a flawed view, and coming so late to the table, I was expecting something more radical and actually useful.

I may be bowled over with some of the eye candy, but nothing yet strikes me as critical for day to day use.

I’m sure I’ll follow up with more thoughts as I work through more of the system…

  1. impressive to me was the relative ease of the upgrade. And how solid it was. Much better than in previous iterations, that is for certain!

    Spotlight indexes EVERYTHING.

    So even if you KNOW where a file is, you still have to navigate to it and then open it. Spotlight knows where your file is too…a quick search in spotlight and a click or Enter, and your file’s open. May not seem like much, but it saves a few seconds every time you launch a file from Spotlight, vs navigating to it…

    that’s just my take. I’m finding new and cool things every day that I use Tiger. I think the real improvements in Tiger are under the hood things. We’ll benefit from them over time, but they’re not immediately obvious to us.
    Then there are the little things (all over the place!) that we’ll continue to find and say, “hey, that’s cool!” All in all, I’m happy. Not completely blown away, but still very impressed.

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  2. I think that Mail has improved much more significantly than you make out (although I agree with your points regarding Dashboard and, to an extent, Spotlight).

    Mail is well over twice as fast for me as it was previously, the Spotlight enabled search functionality means that searching through emails is incredibly fast. I’m a huge fan of all the improvements in the email area.

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  3. Quicksilver saves so much more time than Spotlight does when it comes to quickly opening files or renaming/ moving / emailing them. I haven’t really used Spotlight to find stuff, but I do really like the metadata features it adds to the filesystem. Spotlight comments etc make it easy to make efficient Smartfolders that make life so much easier. I work in Customer support, and have to keep track of products, their specification sheets, their manuals, product pictures, actual specs and features, who my contacts at the different departments are, etc. Smartfolders allow me to organize by project as well as by filetype. I like to organize files by filetype, but using Smartfolders I can organize my information by relevance.

    And Automator, a much-overlooked feature of Tiger, allows me to do stuff Finder won’t let me do. Like select a bunch of files and add a Spotlight comment to that selection. And you didn’t even mention it! Tssktssk.. ;)

    It just depends on what you use your Mac for, I suppose.

    I share your opinion on Dashboard though. I played with it for a while after installing Tiger, and the widgets are still sitting there, unused and unmoved since the first time I organized them. I only keep Dashboard running for when I show people “What’s new in Tiger”. Smartfolders only get “Gee, that’s kinda cool.” remarks.

    Spotlight draws some “Whoa’s” though, but probably not for the “right” reasons ;)

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  4. There’s a lot of ugly, goofy stuff in Dashboard but, there’s some really useful stuff out there also. I have three weather radars and five weather stations that update every time I hit dashboard. And since they are basically html and javascript, I modified them to my liking. Total convenience. The screen capture widget is wonderful, I very rarely use SnapitPro anymore. The real-time stock is handy. So, Dashboard might be useless to you but not to me. Create a widget yourself that works for you.
    Spotlight is also handy as Nick mentioned. Didn’t think I would use it but have.
    So, maybe it’s just you, stuck in your old rut :-)

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  5. Yes, yet another nick. :P

    I find a lot of the additions to Tiger indispensable. Just like how I can’t live without Exposé, I am quickly finding myself dependent on Automator and Spotlight. Dashboard makes life easier too and I constantly use it. The built-in dictionary gets used all the time as well. Mail? Meh. Safari RSS? Nice, but I still prefer a separate newsreader.

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  6. If you don’t think Tiger constitues a significant overhaul of OS X, read this entire article (yes, all 21 pages, or 106 printed PDF pages ), then say that again –
    http://arstechnica.com/reviews/os/macosx-10.4.ars

    in short, theres more, much more to Tiger than meets-the-eye via Dashboard and Spotlight.

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  7. I read the Ars Technica article while I was still using the beta. I’ve been beta testing Tiger for months. Sure, there’s other stuff in Tiger, but Dashboard and Spotlight are supposed to be the key ones.

    And the Ars article goes into a lot of detail of stuff behind the scenes that you just don’t think about. Sure it’s cool, and yes, it’s there, but how much of an improvement is it, really?

    The point is, now I’m using Tiger full time there seems so little that is actually useful from a day to day usage point of view. Yet Dashboard, Spotlight and the Mail improvements were supposed to be key enhancements for regular users.

    As to spotlight ‘indexing everything’ and me still having to ‘navigate to it, and open it’, I don’t see how pressing the key combination of Spotlight, typing in the filename and then selecting it from the list of files is any quicker than me switching to the finder, clicking the ‘Active Work’ folder in the sidebar and opening the document. I’d wager I could do it faster by hand than by spotlight.

    As to MAil. Yes, it’s faster. No disagreement there but that’s the only significant improvement I can see. And some things are slower – have you tried creating a new IMAP account? Mail sits there for about a minute talking a server just 15ft away doing god knows what. It now takes 2-3 minutes to set up a new account, over three separate dialog boxes. I used to be able to type everything into one box, no stupid checking and the whole process took 15 seconds.

    You don’t do this frequently, I know, but why the hell should it take so long anyway?

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  8. Sadden to hear that Tiger is not what it’s cracked up to be. I was waiting till the end of june to update due VPN problems. Now I may wait even longer. I am not impressed with widgets. to me they are just eye-candy. I want hard-core functionality over networks and a rock-solid OS for using graphic apps. And spotlight I am sure I will find usefull. So from the souns of things Tiger is not a must-have update for me for my iBook. Of course it will the default OS on the new G5 I am upgrading to at the end of next month.

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  9. Safari’s RSS system works with third party RSS readers. You can configure NetNewsWire 2.0 to be the default RSS reader and still use all of Safari’s RSS features. Pretty cool. Apple did what they do best, create a usable if minimalist solution and provided all the hooks for third party developers to add more sophisticated features. I find RSS in Safari adequate. But if I needed more, I would just go with a Tiger compatible RSS reader.

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  10. I didn’t get Panther because it was just another turn on the yearly upgrade wheel.

    Tiger is supposed to represent a slowdown on the upgrade wheel which I appreciate but I will definitely not buy Tiger through retail.

    I’m on a first generation G4 with Jaguar so I’ll probably wait for a revised mac mini that is able to make good use of the various ‘core’ technologies in Tiger (and comes with the iApps bundled).

    Those core technologies seem to have a bright future. The rest of the under-the-hood stuff is very nice. It all goes to enhance the user experience both directly and indirectly. Windows compatibility, network diagnostics etc.

    I agree that Tiger is seriously lacking real user visible features to warrant a major upgrade label although when you take a look at what’s changed behind the scenes it really is a major upgrade.

    To counter that perspective more features should have been added that users could evaluate directly.

    The install and re-install procedures are nowhere near the level they should be at after four major revisions for example.

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