Apple Mac OS X Tiger 10.4
Tiger is a giant leap over its predecessor, Panther. In my tests, the operating system seemed stable and relatively bug-free, and performance was excellent on both my new test system and even my ageing Powerbook.
Price$ 199.00 (AUD)
Is this latest release of Mac OS X worth $199 bucks? The answer is yes and the improvements aren't just cosmetic.
Rather, new features such as Tiger's desktop search tool are powerful enough to change the way you use your Mac.
Spotlight on Spotlight
The breakthrough feature in OS X version 10.4 - the reason to get Tiger at all - is Spotlight. This whip-smart desktop search tool rummages through your files, folders, e-mail, and certain applications, and then displays results neatly by category.
Spotlight's search window dresses the top-right corner of any Finder window. Alternatively, pressing Command-Space summons a search field that drops down from the upper-right menu bar. The first time you use Spotlight, your Mac needs 15 to 30 minutes to index its contents. After that, the OS constantly indexes files in the background. As you would in the iTunes search window, keep typing to constantly refine your search results on-the-fly.
Spotlight is fast, and its searches can run deep, making it superior to previous Finder-based searches and Windows searches. Spotlight can search by the usual criteria (file name, kind, keywords) but also by a dizzying variety of deeper parameters such as audio bit-rate, codecs, colour label, photo aperture, and type of encryption. It searches through files and folders, all Apple applications, and major third-party applications like Microsoft Word and Excel. Spotlight doesn't search through Microsoft Entourage, however, which is a bummer, since not everyone uses Apple Mail.
Widgets, video chat and RSS
I liked Apple's new Dashboard Widgets - fun and functional utilities of many kinds which appear/disappear instantly on a separate desktop layer, managed from a Dock-like Widget Bar. A basic set is supplied by Apple (including clock, calculator, calendar, address book, weather forecast, unit converter and more). Dozens more third-party Widgets can be downloaded.
iChat now supports the Jabber chat protocol and lets you conduct 10-way audio chats and slick-looking four-way video chats, although there are hardware limits (see "System requirements").
Fans of Really Simple Syndication (RSS) will also enjoy Apple's update to the Safari Web browser, which now supports the reading of blogs and news feeds. Apple includes links to about 25 news sources, but it's easy to add your own and to create a page that aggregates your favourite news sources.
Parental Controls and automation
Tiger's Parental Controls for Finder, Mail, iChat, Safari, and the new dictionary/thesaurus (a separate app that lets you look up words without an Internet connection) are strict, but there are some holes. For Mail and iChat, for example, you can add individuals with whom your child can communicate, but once people are "white-listed", the messages can include every profanity known to man and still make the cut. The controls also work only with Safari, and parents have to add every Web site a child is allowed to visit as a bookmark.
Tiger does make it easier to deal with repetitive actions like batch-importing photos with its new Automator application. Apple includes 175 prebuilt actions, and more are available on its Downloads page as well as through third-party Web sites.
Apple has added slideshow support to the Finder, Spotlight, and Mail - letting you, for instance, view a series of e-mail image attachments as a slide show (and, at a click, adding selected pics to iPhoto).
Finally, cross-platform folks will like the improved support for faster, more seamless networking between Macs and PCs.
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