Apple's new version of its Mac OS X operating system, dubbed Tiger, is being touted as the world's "most advanced operating system". But does it deliver on its promise?
By Darren Waters
BBC News reporter
According to Apple, Tiger has more than 200 new features but most of them will be invisible to the average person, while a good number are developer-specific. We look at the key features and some of the smaller changes that could have a big impact on how you use your Mac.
Find files fast with Spotlight
One of the most trumpeted features is a new search system called Spotlight. Designed to give users instant access to documents, files and folders it is a supposed solution to increasingly cluttered hard drives.
Spotlight sits as a permanent icon in the top Apple menu bar and when clicked you merely type in a few letters of whatever it is you are searching for and it fires into action.
It is a big leap in usability for desktop search. Within seconds it finds any photo, mp3, e-mail, PDF, bookmark, folder, file, diary date and pretty much anything which exists on your Mac that matches your search criteria.
Spotlight does not rely simply on file names, it can search within documents and find files simply on the basis of roughly when you last used them.
For people like me who simply dump files in any convenient folder, or in one giant folder, it transforms search from something haphazard to something essential.
Complex or frequent searches can be saved as smart folders to take the pain out of finding your essential files.
Apple fans will be rubbing their hands in glee, especially because desktop search is one of the touted features of Microsoft's next operating system, which is not due out till 2006.
Widgets run in the background
Dashboard gives users access to potentially hundreds of mini applications, called widgets, that run constantly in the background of your Mac and can be launched at the click of a button.
Widgets are designed to take the hassle out of small, frequent tasks, such as checking the latest weather forecasts, train timetables, directory enquiries etc.
The emphasis is on streamlining the way you want to access your information. So rather than using scores of different websites to bookmark and open, you can use widgets.
At the moment most of the widgets are very US-centric - US traffic information only, for example - but Apple is keen for people to develop their own widgets so it will not take long for a raft of new mini-applications to be launched.
Widgets are still embryonic but they could prove to be a killer application for Mac OS X as people customise their internet experience, not through browsers, but through these mini programs.
RSS - or Really Simple Syndication - has taken off as the easiest way to keep track of what's new on your favourite websites.
There are plenty of third party programs that can look after all your RSS feeds and browsers such as Firefox and Opera have integrated RSS readers.
Apple has now updated its Safari browser so that RSS feeds can be read within the browser window.
It is not revolutionary but will probably help increase the numbers of people who are turning to RSS to improve their experience online.
If you find yourself doing repetitive tasks such as renaming digital photos, or changing the details of your MP3 files then Automator could make your life a lot easier.
Hundreds of pre-configured actions have been created so that "workflows" of repetitive tasks can be handled at the click of a button.
Tagging photos, re-sizing images, sending batch e-mails - Automator works for all of these tasks.
Some people have already founded novel applications for it, such as taking a daily astronomy picture from a website and automatically using it as the desktop image of the day.
Automator is one of those applications that only make sense when you have used it but once tried it quickly changes the way you manage tasks.
Tiger adds several crucial new features to Mac OS X that every Mac user will benefit from but at £89 for the upgrade it is questionable whether the OS is an essential purchase.
Mac OS X remains the most stable and reliable operating system on the market and the new features keep it well ahead of rival Windows XP.
PC users switching to a Mac that comes pre-installed with Tiger will be getting the best deal of all, however.
Have you switched to Tiger? Is it worth the upgrade? How does it compare to other operating systems? Send us your views.
People keep calling OS X the most advanced operating system on the planet and also the most stable. Don't forget that it runs on Unix so you have to compare it with Solaris, Linux and all the other flavours and not Windows XP. So how does it compare, well I run Solaris and OS X and while OS X looks better I would not say it is the most advanced operating system on the planet and I am sure the users of any given flavour of Linux would also argue their point. It simply has a few nice features that others do not.
Caspah Scottorn, Southampton, UK
I moved from Panther to Tiger over the weekend. Not the major jump that OS X was but well worth it. My Power Mac boots up faster and is generally quicker all round. It has some great features like Spotlight. As ever it leaves Microsoft in its wake and is what home computing should be about.
Tom , Scotland
I have been using a Mac for 10 years now. OS X and its new upgrade Tiger 10.4 are the best thing that ever that happened to desktop computing, since the introduction of the mouse. OS X is extremely stable (Unix based), fast and of course user friendly. All of the people I know of who ever switched from PC to Mac have not regretted their choice for a sec.
Tomas Wyns, Brussels, Belgium
I have been using Tiger for about a week and find it a worthy successor to Mac OS 10.3x. Improvements seems incremental by and large, but Widgets are fun to play with and Spotlight is great . I'm not sure I would run to the store to get a copy (mine was free with a new Powerbook), but if you do, you won't be disappointed.
Eddie Schwatz, Nashville, USA
Mac OS X is more stable and reliable than any Microsoft based OS, but it is no where near as reliable as a number of other Unix based operating systems. Sun Solaris has a long history of being one of the most stable, often clocking up years between reboots.
Ross Heritage, UK
I switched to Mac a few years ago after becoming constantly frustrated with my PC, and I've never looked back. Apple Mac OS X is quick, stable and intuitive. It cuts back on the clutter and lets me do exactly what I want to do. I upgraded to Tiger last week and although the new features are very impressive, I don't think it's an essential purchase for Mac owners. A small part of me wishes I'd stayed on version 10.3.9. I've still never looked back to my Windows days though.br />Gareth Peate, Oswestry, Uk
I have switched and am loving it. I am a designer and live a very unstructured life and Spotlight is great for finding those missing files on your hard drive and it is very fast which is unlike search programmes I have used before. A definite worthwhile purchase.br />Nathan Skelton, Birchinfton, Kent
Worth £89, probably not, I have found that both the Spotlight feature, as well as the revamped Find function, suffer from a 'hair trigger', locking up my machine whilst it searches for the 'To' of 'To do list'. If it would just let me finish typing, then it would be a much better feature. As for the widgets; they used to be with you on the desktop (when they were a 3rd party product) and where much more useful, now they have their own screen and no desktop interaction. The definition of software progress, one step backwards, two to the left.
I have recently upgraded and have found the upgrade useful but I do question the price tag as it has no proved to be as explosive as the hype.
Ray, Brighton, Sussex
I just installed Tiger, having skipped Panther and staying with Jaguar due to having had a glimpse of Tiger last year. My whole computer just runs more smoothly and much more speedy than ever. Spotlight is shockingly fast and thorough. The widgets are fun - can't wait to see all that will be developed over the past couple of months. The dictionary/thesaurus one is fabulous - Tiger comes with a Dictionary/Thesaurus application but like is stated in the article, turning quickly to a widget is far more convenient. I can't speak to the Panther/Tiger comparison but rest assured, if you're still on Jaguar, Tiger is worth it.
Annette Zito, Bronxville, NY, USA
OK, all 200 features aren't going to impact every last user, but this doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what's in this new OS. New mail application? Smart searches? Smart mailboxes? These spring to mind immediately. There's a wealth of stuff the average user will find really great...not just the "big new features" you've listed. Compared to Windows XP (used at work), this is a breath of fresh air, with many a handy function ready to make life in front of the computer that bit easier.
Peter Alexander, Warks
I've upgraded from OSX 10.2.8 and the improvements are easily worth the price - much better value for money than the upgrade for Adobe Photoshop. Also, the upgrade process was as easy and much quicker than backing-up my hard disk.
William Davies, London UK
Tiger carries many more things 'under the bonnet' which make it worth upgrading for - but even the last version was years ahead of Windows XP. For example the Quicktime Codec H264 is a big advance toward HD quality video. Once you are used to the Spotlight search facility you find things on the computer you forgot you had. Jonathan T, Penarth Uk
I have just upgraded from Panther to Tiger and it has only caused problems. The upgrade broke many applications, including my ADSL modem software, so I was unable to connect to the internet. I wish Apple would do more through beta testing before unleashing its upgrades so quickly.
If the end-users of OS X think that the desktop version of Tiger has been a treat, they don't know the half of it. The server edition of Tiger is also very very sweet. And while Apple (still) doesn't ship any UML tools with its development kit (XCode), Apple does have some amazing hidden gems with Xcode - like Quartz Composer - that hint at what can be expected by once the state-of-the-art improvements under the hood in Tiger are put to work. Quartz Composer is an innovative visual programming tool that will stop you in your tracks; and there is now even a website devoted to it - check it out: www.quartzcomps.com which has some demos in its archives, links to other blogs and developer notes.
David, Toronto, Canada
I made the effortless switch from Panther to Tiger a week ago. Since then, my iBook has been running faster, and it seems to be more stable (not that Panther wasn't). I love Spotlight, and the widgets are definitely cool -- though not exactly a sea change in modern computing. Having upgraded a Windows PC before, I was expecting trouble. What a nice surprise to see that, as with everything else, Apple works as advertised.
Patrick White, Omaha, USA
Someone says that Unix can go years without rebooting - well the only reason I reboot my mac every 3 months or so is for software updates.
Panther, Tiger, it's too much hype. Remember Aqua? Let's talks about the real issue: stability. All the new bells and whistles are incidental to an operating system that is reliable, one that doesn't freeze or crashes two or three times a day. The jury is still out.
Gene Rose, Fresno, USA
I think Tiger is worthwhile update not only for the obvious interface enhancements but also for the work under the hood that makes OS X a smoother ride all round. Apple has worked hard to make the transition as clean as possible from the old classic Mac experience and it's paid off.
Neil Phipps, Leicester
I upgraded last week from 10.3.9 and have found a big improvement in speed. I notice that some forget that being an advanced system, it should be installed on recent hardware. Spotlight is the most noticeable improvement, but the underpinnings of the system including Core Image are what makes this upgrade worth it. Dashboard is very overrated in my opinion. I have seen the difference in speed at my friends house where he switched from 10.3.9 on an iMac G5, and his speed gains are incredible. The OS being 64 bit based takes full advantage of the 64 bit architecture found in the G5 chip. Besides the invisible features that make the upgrade worth it, Spotlight and Automator are by far the most useful features to make it into the OS. I strongly recommend this upgrade to anyone that has a recent PowerMac G4 or higher.
Yvan Legendre, Gatineau, Canada
I have used every version of OS X and it gets better with every release. I work in a mixed platform environment and it is a joy to set up and network Macs, especially under Tiger, everything just works! I have a hard time with all the windows users in the office as their machines are always crashing, loosing network connections, loosing inboxes and generally misbehaving! Its nice to be a smug Mac user!
I'm lucky enough to have two Macs, so I updated my older iMac to Tiger to see how it works. Although the new OS is quicker with some nice features, there have been problems. My advice at the moment is only to upgrade if you can live without features such as VPN, PDF printing (corrupted on my iMac), or any lesser known application you may have installed. Updates for broken drivers and software are starting to get posted on the web, but it will be at least September before everything that works in Jaguar/Panther becomes definitely Tiger friendly.
David Hulse, London UK
I bought my Mac Mini a few months too early for it to ship with Tiger, and I'm gutted - no way can I afford £89 for the upgrade, even if there are 200 plus bells and whistles to be had.
People get a copy of Tiger and see that it looks similar to Panther and conclude it is not such a must have. But the more you use Tiger, and the more you uncover its features, the more amazed and productive you become. Going back to Panther is now painful for me, and let's not even talk about Windows. But is it worth the price? Well, let's see, you can easily spend $150 on a night out into town with your sweetie, and I am sure that would be very nice. But for less money than that you can transform your computer experience and improve your productivity on a daily basis -if you use Tiger's features of course. To me it is a no brainer.
HDL, Mississippi, USA
I upgraded last week and have had nothing but problems. I freelance design, now some fonts won't work, applications don't run correctly as I found out yesterday as it was complaining it suddenly couldn't open a file which I needed urgently so it needed to be started again. Perhaps it's not just Apple that's got problems, the software that is non-Apple may not just work. All together - quite disappointed, but they better fix the bugs before I go back to Panther.
Tiger is a worthy successor to the previous versions of the Mac OS - but potential upgraders should take note that there are bound to be things which don't work quite right in any first release of ANY new software. If you have concerns about upgrading, let your local computer expert (Apple Consultant Network member) take you through it. The pioneers are the ones that get the arrows in the back - let them do that for you.
Mark Hartman, San Diego, California, USA
I am a little disappointed in the upgrade. Not nearly as dramatic as 10.2 to 10.3. I am waiting for more Dashboard widgets. I LOVE Spotlight.
Rik, St. Louis, USA
Upgraded to Tiger on 29 April and have yet to really grasp why it is so great. I love Mac, buy all the new stuff but think the hype on this went way beyond the practical value. Sorry I upgraded so soon.
D K Haenlein, Carmel, California
I started using OS X a few years back (10.2) for greater compatibility with the printing industry and kept on my Windows XP system thinking that I wouldn't be able to do all my computing on a Mac because of compatibility issues. A few months later and my Windows XP system was sitting in the closet gathering dust. OS X is so much far advanced than XP and I have had to reboot my computer zero times in two years.
Antonio Garcia, Almeria, Spain
When I switched from Windows to Apple and Panther, the jump in quality was already enormous. But Tiger and its Spotlight is ground-breaking. My gain in productivity is 1000% bigger, to say the least. Spotlight allows us to be as cluttered as we want: it finds everything we want as we type it! This is the first time a computer adapts to people and not vice versa.
Giuseppe Salza, Paris, France
To make sure you have a smooth upgrade to Tiger, I recommend at least a G4 processor. This is because the vector rendering in Tiger requires at least a G4 CPU. Also make sure you have the latest Tiger compatible versions of software. With every OS release by Apple there are broken applications and utilities which need updating or replacing. That said, Tiger is an excellent OS. Simplicity ease of use and reliability are rolled together.
Christopher Smith, Lynchburg Virginia USA
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