I had been waiting for the inevitable moment when Microsoft apologist and brown-noser extraordinare Paul Thurrott would come out with a diatribe on Tiger, and credit goes to Slashdot‘s front page for bringing it to my attention. Thurrott has done this for each release since 10.1 and each time his reviews have been “frustrating”. I suppose that if we were being charitable, we would at least call him consistent.
He starts out with a disclaimer that he has rolled out before (I am, alas, unable to remember or find where) – that he is a closet Apple lover and that he owns Apple hardware and has done for a quite considerable length of time. This is not disputed, but like those pathetic devotees of sites like AquaXP.com (documented beautifully in this Wired article), Thurrott appears to have a peculiar relationship with the Mac – consider the design of his blog, Paul Thurrott’s Internet Nexus, where a set of Tiger’s icons adorn the head of the page. Whilst I idly wonder what Apple Legal would have to say about the graphics being used in such a way, I browse the entries, chock full of Apple-related stories, which seems a little odd for a Microsoftie. Suddenly I come to a realisation – Thurrott loves that which he also so very hates. It is worth bearing this in mind as one digests his “review”.
Lengthy is his introduction – an irritating and egomaniacal indulgence designed to establish himself as a valid commentator on such matters as, say, Apple’s new operating system. In the grander scheme of things, what is most disappointing is that were it not for his undisputed status as a Microsoft shill, his experience would give him some considerable weight. Instead, the slurry comes thick and fast:
In October 2003, Apple shipped Mac OS X 10.3 “Panther,” yet another $129 upgrade. Panther featured a power-user feature called Exposé and iChat AV, which features support for Apple’s high-resolution iSight video camera. Since then, Mac OS X Panther has been updated by about 1400 bug and security fixes, from what I can tell, but in 2004 Apple announced that it was slowing OS X development. The next system, Tiger (version 10.4) was then delayed from late 2004 to the first half of 2005. Alas, despite the wait, Tiger is a minor revision, like all previous OS X updates.
One can only note that writing the above takes quite some gall. I couldn’t comment on whether the number of security and bug fixes is accurate – I would be interested to see the figure attributed to someone, but such concepts as proof are things which matter little to Thurrott, whose brazen style leaves no room for supporting evidence. “Tiger“, he says, “is a minor revision” and that “Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) was arguably a bigger advance over the initial release of XP than Tiger is over Mac OS X 10.3“. This needs no real clarification – Spotlight, CoreData, CoreImage, Automator, Dashboard, VoiceOver (in that order) are advances of extreme significance, and whilst SP2 is a sizeable update (or, more correctly, a sizeable collection of fixes and functionality that should have been in XP’s first release), it is no match for the new features we will be seeing on 29th April.
He provides a reasonable overview of Spotlight, but can’t resist two plugs for the similar functionality that Microsoft are supposed to be building into Longhorn, although he claims that that technology will be “further-reaching“. The rest of us will enjoy Spotlight now and wait what could be quite some time until Longhorn surfaces to see whether this assertion has any basis in reality.
His criticisms of Dashboard have some validity, but amount more to a matter of personal taste than anything else – for those of us that like an uncluttered desktop, keeping the widgets hidden when not in use seems like a grand idea. Personally, I rather disliked Konfabulator’s modus operandi, and will be interested to see if Dashboard is more akin to my needs. Back to Paul, he manages still to irritate in this bit with a classification of Exposé as a “feature for power users“. In my experience, the reverse is the case. I find myself only rarely using Exposé because it is slow, all but requiring the use of the mouse; I prefer the Command+Tab combination to switch between applications. Less experienced users seem to find the visual analogy that Exposé provides much easier, and I see them using it all the time. F11 rocks though.
Back to the article, it appears that he likes Safari RSS, iChat AV and Mail 2, and makes what seems to be the obligatory poke at the new plastic interface, but this bit, about the installation procedure, stuck out:
A base install of Mac OS X requires over 3 GB of space. However, if you’re not careful, you’ll also install a whopping 1.6 GB of printer drivers (!), so be sure to watch for that during the Installation Type phase (if you didn’t opt for the Easy Install, which does install all those drivers). You can also optionally install the X11 graphical environment if you’re a Linux or UNIX geek making the switch. The installation of OS X Tiger is not really that configurable beyond these few simple options.
As someone who has installed Windows more times than I care to remember, I can testify that it offers you only two sets of options during the install – one set concerns your keyboard layouts and locale, and the other relates to network settings for any cards that it has detected at that point. There is nothing like the customisation that Apple offers – picking whose printer drivers you want, whether you want X11 and the BSD subsystem, additional tools and so on. For Linux users, obviously, Apple’s list of choices pales into insignificance, but, if memory serves, not since the days of Windows 98 and NT4 have Microsoft’s legions been able to pick and choose what features their operating system should have. It matters little, but it is worthy of note, given that Thurrott considers it worthy of critique.
Since the return of Steve Jobs, Apple’s success has hinged largely on its ability to keep its product plans secret and then use “event marketing” to pump each release as the be-all, end-all solution to whatever problems you may be having.
Wrong. Apple’s success is largely due its making great products – tools which do well the tasks that people want to do. The iLife suite – iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, GarageBand – is an excellent example of this, with more and more listless Windows users finding that they like iTunes and their iPod and dabbling in the Mac world through the purchase of a Mac mini. And where does Mac OS X fit into all of this? It provides a robust and reliable foundation upon which these tools – and a whole plethora of other “insanely great” apps – can run, and it is here that the significance of APIs like CoreImage and CoreData becomes clear, making it easy for developers to include huge amounts of functionality with minimum effort.
Tiger isn’t a long-term play, however. Despite its lengthy development time, and promises of ever slower Mac OS X upgrade releases in the future, this new system isn’t a big enough upgrade over previous OS X releases to warrant much excitement. Once you get past the few major new features–primarily Spotlight and Dashboard, neither one of which exactly changes the competitive landscape very much–there’s very little real meat in Tiger.
What in fact has struck me most about Tiger is how significant the new features in it are. In these tired times, operating system/GUI innovation seems to have become increasingly stagnant, with the hideous KDE mostly existing only to provide a cheap imitation of all that is churned out by Redmond. GNOME is little better. Tiger, by comparison, is huge.
Spotlight is enormous. It is, at this juncture, hard to estimate what a difference it will make to the way we organise our computers, which most of us are not particularly good at doing. With Spotlight, you can just ask your computer for the file, rather than looking for it. Even Thurrott manages to gush about it:
Now, this kind of functionality is exceeding cool, because it’s the first step toward divorcing ourselves from worrying about the hard-coded locations of files and other data stored on the computer’s file system. If you think about it, it’s kind of silly that we have to even worry about such a thing, and though recent file system niceties like the My Documents folder in Windows (simply called Documents in OS X) try to simplify matters, the truth is, computers should be good at finding the information we need. We shouldn’t have to do all the work.
From here, I can see only a couple more steps toward ultimate usability – first, talking to the computer to ask it to find the requisite information; second, an interface such that I can pull up files simply by thinking about them. So I think Spotlight comes pretty close with contemporary technology.
Truth is that Tiger is pretty damn good. I would actually consider it the first really innovative release of Mac OS X – many considered Panther to be the stage where OS X finally matured; without wishing to sound too optimistic, Tiger is now building on that impressive foundation to bring genuinely progressive features to computer users around the world.
Which makes Thurrott’s conclusion all the more inane but, one supposes, inevitable. He allows that it is “the strongest OS X release yet” (how very magnanimous), but derides it in the same heartbeat as “a worthy competitor to Windows XP“. We can laugh at the suggestion that “Tiger may lack some of the niceties that make Windows more appealing to new users” and wryly surmise that these must include such “niceties” as the all-but-requirement to install a virus checker as soon as the system is up and running or the tiresome and confusing necessity of a firewall, but one cannot help but think that “wrongheaded comparisons to Longhorn” are rather inevitable. Windows XP is no competitor for OS X, so we look to Longhorn for the possibility that something worthy might come along. Longhorn’s new graphics framework, Avalon, is a clear response to Apple’s Aqua. And granted, Microsoft may have been first to more publicise an intention to build search into the operating system, but Apple has delivered on it first, and in the end, it is that which counts.
Tiger looks like being a stellar update to an already very impressive operating system, further widening the gap between the offerings from Cupertino and Redmond, and is something which really sweetens the deal for Windows users contemplating the switch to the Mac. It’s a shame that Thurrott cannot put his envy aside and write a review that reflects this.