Tiger – Worth the Fuss?

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…

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