Skip to comments.Apple Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" Review (Generally positive but with reservations)
Posted on 04/16/2005 5:05:39 AM PDT by jalisco555
Allow me to make a confession that may surprise you. I've been a Mac fan my entire life. Back in 1987, when my house burned down after a Christmas tree mishap I'd rather not detail at the moment, I needed to replace my crispy Commodore 64 set up with a more modern system. I originally wanted an Amiga, but alas, the local Commodore dealer didn't offer financing. The local Apple dealer did, however, and after figuring out how much I wanted to spend (an exorbitant amount even by today's standards), I arrived at two choices: An Apple IIGS with a color display, 768 KB (not MB) of RAM, one 5.25-inch floppy drive, one 3.5-inch floppy drive, and an Image Writer II printer, or a black-and-white Mac Plus with 1 MB of RAM.
Yep, I bought the IIGS.
I know, I know. But I really wanted the color screen, and the IIGS did feature a Mac-like user interface. More important, the IIGS hardware was simply elegant. It was a work of beauty, allowing the Apple II line to go out on a high note, even as the company basically abandoned the product. In any event, I often wondered what might have been had I adopted the Mac 20 years ago. Would I have stuck with it?
Well, we'll never know for sure. What did happen was that I eventually moved to various Amiga systems and then, faced with Commodore biting the Big One in the early 1990's, I moved, unhappily, to the PC. I did everything I could to avoid Microsoft for two years, opting for IBM's doomed OS/2 for a while. But with Windows 95, Microsoft finally got its act together, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Speaking of history, I've always been interested in the computer industry and have devoured every computer industry book and news report that's been published over the past 20 years. I followed Steve Jobs' horrible flop at NeXT, but was amazed by the software that company created and then supplied only to the very rich. I followed John Sculley's rise and awful fall at Apple. And then I watched, shocked, as Steve Jobs returned to Apple.
Back in 1996, I wouldn't have chosen Jobs and NeXT for Apple. Indeed, I had hoped that the fascinating Be OS and its enigmatic leader, John-Louis Gassée, would lead Apple into the 21st century. My initial opinion of this situation, however, was wrong: Jobs brought both his software--which became Mac OS X after a few fits and starts--and himself to Apple, and both have proven irreplaceable to the company's recent successes. My history with Mac OS X
Excuse me for skipping over the early years of OS X, which included bizarre missteps like "Yellow Box" and "Rhapsody," and even included a PC-based early alpha build that somehow ended up at more door step back in, oh, 1997 or so. For me, and most Mac followers, Mac OS X started on March 24, 2001, when Apple shipped the initial version (10.0) of Mac OS X. That first version was as fascinating as it was limited. Like subsequent versions of Mac OS X, version 10.0 was based on a UNIX core but included a PDF-based graphics engine that enabled a stunning-looking user interface. Mac OS X 10.0 also included a few flops, which continue in the product to this day, including the reviled Dock, which is used to switch between running applications and, confusingly, non-running applications. Conspicuously, Mac OS X didn't even include a DVD player application, and performance was miserable.
I purchased my first-ever Macintosh in August 2001, a 12-inch 500 MHz iBook G3, with 384 MB of RAM and a 6 GB hard drive (later updated to 30 GB). I purchased the iBook specifically to test Mac OS X, and did so for about three years with that machine. Since that time, I've also purchased a 17-inch iMac G4 (1 GHz, 1 GB of RAM, since sold) and a 12-inch 1.33 GHz PowerBook G4, with 768 MB of RAM and a 60 GB hard drive.
I've used each Mac OS X version, in turn, as they've been released, and have watched the system improve steadily over the years. In late September 2001, Apple shipped Mac OS X 10.1 ("Puma," though that name was rarely used), which was, at least, a free update for people who visited an Apple Store the day it shipped (otherwise, it was a $19.95 upgrade for previous users). 10.1 added performance improvements, DVD movie playback, a new Capture application for digital cameras, and Finder-based DVD burning. Mac OS X 10.2 "Jaguar" shipped in August 2002, with a new Mail application, iChat instant messaging (IM), a new Address Book, Quartz Extreme graphics, and other features. Jaguar was a $129 upgrade for all Mac OS X users.
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. Let's take a look. Major new features in Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger"
Contrary to Apple's hyperbolic claims of "200 new features," Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger includes, in my opinion, only two major new features, Spotlight and Dashboard, and both were clearly influenced by other existing products and services. In this section, we'll examine both of these major new features. Spotlight
One of the coolest features in Apple's highly successful iTunes media player is the instant search capability: Simply select the search box, start typing, and iTunes will dynamically limit the song list in the player to match your search text. The iTunes search feature was so well-done, in fact, that Apple decided to adopt a similar approach in various places throughout OS X Tiger--including the Finder, Mail 2, and elsewhere--providing Mac OS X users, for the first time, with true instant search functionality. Similar in execution to the instant desktop search feature Microsoft plans to ship in Longhorn next year, and to third party Windows products like MSN Toolbar Suite and Google Desktop Search, Spotlight works as advertised. It delivers near-instantaneous search results from the places you'd most often need to find files or other information.
Finder-based Spotlight access is a good example. Complementing the Apple logo on the Apple menu at the left end of the system menu bar, Apple has created a corresponding Spotlight icon (a magnifying glass in a blue circle) that sits on the right end of the menu (Figure). When you click that icon, a colorful Spotlight drop-down window appears, allowing you to type in search text. And as you type, the drop-down window expands to display search results (Figure). As noted before, the results are supplied nearly-instantaneously, and they dynamically change as you edit the search text. You can click on document names in the search results to view the corresponding file, folder, mail message, or contact, of course (Figure).
Spotlight search boxes appear elsewhere in Tiger as well. For example, a Spotlight search box appears in Mail 2, in Help, System Preferences, and Address Book. You can also create something called Smart Folders, which is basically a stored search, similar to the Search Folders that debuted in Outlook 2003 back in October 2003. To create a Smart Folder, navigate to the Finder and choose File then New Smart Folder. This will display the New Smart Folder window (Figure), which provides a visual query builder similar to the playlist query builder in Windows Media Player. Once you've fine-tuned the Smart Folder, simply click the Save button and your new Smart Folder will be saved where you want it (Figure). Double-click on the folder and your results--dynamically generated, mind you--will be instantly displayed (Figure).
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.
Not coincidentally, Microsoft is working on similar, if further-reaching, technology for Longhorn. Apple's solution, however, is here right now and it appears to work quite well. Score one for Apple. Dashboard
In the previous version of Mac OS X, version 10.3, Apple introduced a feature for power users called Exposé that seeks to help manage the multiple applications and windows one typically opens in the course of using a Mac. But Exposé is a weird solution, requiring you to hit various "hot keys" (read: A function keys) in order to trigger its display, kind of a throwback of sorts to the early days of DOS-based applications. Anyway, Apple apparently decided that Exposé was so cool, they added another Exposé-like application to Tiger. It's called Dashboard, and it's gotten the company in a bit of trouble because it so closely mimics a third party solution called Konfabulator.
It's hard to classify Dashboard. Basically, it's a separate environment or screen within Mac OS X that contains mini-applications called widgets. There are four widgets loaded into Dashboard by default: Calculator, World Clock, Calendar, and Weather (Figure). You access the Dashboard environment by hitting F12 on the Mac keyboard: The desktop is grayed out, and then you can access the Dashboard widgets. When you're ready to return to the normal Mac desktop, hit F12 again.
Um, right. Since PCs and Macs have had tiny utility applications since the early 1980's, it's unclear why Dashboard widgets can't simply work on the normal Mac desktop (which is how Konfabulator works, incidentally). Having to move into and out of the Dashboard to perform these tasks seems a bit unnecessary. Why segregate them like that?
That said, there are quite a number of widgets available with Tiger, and my guess is that Mac developers will quickly supply quite a bit more. Out of the box, Tiger also includes Address Book, Dictionary, Flight Tracker, iTunes, Phone Book, Stickies, Stocks, Tile Game, Translation, and Unit Converter widgets. Other new features in Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger"
Once you get past Spotlight and Dashboard, Tiger is chock full of a wide range of small new applications and updates to existing applications and technologies. In this section, I'll highlight a few of those minor updates. Safari RSS support
Apple's Safari Web browser is excellent, offering speedy performance and excellent Web rendering. In Tiger, Safari is updated to include integrated support for Real Simple Syndication (RSS) and Atom feeds, technologies that many blogs now use. When Safari hits an RSS or Atom-backed Web site, like the New York Times, you'll see a new "RSS" button in the Safari address bar (Figure). Click this, and the site's RSS feed is displayed, using a clean Apple-created design that features a right-mounted frame for controlling the amount of information you see and various sorting options (Figure). This screen is not otherwise customizable per se, but it is gorgeous and well-designed. RSS feeds can thus be bookmarked like any other Web page, which is exactly the way it should work, when you think about it.
Overall, I've always been a big fan of Safari, and I'd use it rather than Firefox or IE if it were available on Windows. It's an excellent application. iChat AV
Apple's IM solution, iChat AV, is now compatible with the open source Jabber IM service, as well as with AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), which was previously available. The big deal with the Tiger version of iChat AV is a new teleconferencing feature that lets you perform high-quality video chats with up to three other participants. I wasn't able to test this feature because it requires a PowerMac G5 or dual processor G4 (1 GHz+) system to initiate such a chat, but I did test normal chatting and one-on-one video conferencing with an iSight video camera. The results are stunning, thanks to the quality of the camera (which is Firewire-based and supports 720 x 480 video) and the new H.264 video codec (also known as MPEG-4 Part 10) (Figure).
Apple's iChat AV is a great IM solution that has only gotten better in Tiger. I'd like to see it open up to more IM services--like Yahoo's and MSN--but , ah well, it will get there. Mail 2
Apple's Mail application (sometimes referred to as Mail.app because of it NeXTStep heritage) has been significantly updated in Tiger, though I'm a little unexcited about yet another user interface style being introduced in OS X. You may recall that the original OS X version featured a "pin stripe" user interface. I hated it, which is OK, because it's largely (but not completely) gone now. After testing the so-called "brushed metal" look in QuickTime Player, Apple began applying that style of UI to many (but not all) OS X applications, including iTunes and Safari, which I feel was a mistake. Meanwhile, the applications that might have otherwise used the pin stripe style where changed in the previous OS X version to use a more subdued, cleaner look. Well, in OS X Tiger, that's all changed yet again. The brushed metal apps are still there, but the pinstripe style has been replaced, for the second time, with the "plastic" style. The token plastic application, incidentally, is Mail 2, though it does appear in a few other places, including Help.
User interface issues aside, Mail 2 is a nice update (Figure). The awful sliding draw found in previous versions has been replaced by a more traditional column of mailbox folders, such as what you would see in Microsoft Outlook, making the application look more professional. The toolbar buttons, however, are bizarre looking and unlike the icons found in any other Mac OS X applications, another case of Apple trouncing all over its own user interface conventions. It's astonishing to me that Mac fanatics let the company get away with that.
Any, from a functional standpoint, Mail 2 features Spotlight searching, which works as you'd expect (Figure); Smart Mailboxes (which are indeed a copy of the Search Folders feature, allowing you to save mail searches); and .Mac synchronization, which lets you synchronize all of your email accounts, rules, signatures, and Smart Mailboxes to all of your Tiger-based Macs using the .Mac service (which you must subscribe to for $99 a year). Nice. But wait, there's more
I've only highlighted the new features that are obvious and meaningful to me in this review. But don't be dismayed. Tiger includes a slew of other new features too. QuickTime Player 7 features high-resolution H.264 support, though Apple strangely only provides Tiger customers with the free version of the player (Figure): You have to pay to upgrade to the Pro version, like everyone else. That's cheap.
Though Tiger is a 32-bit operating system, it will support 64-bit address spaces on 64-bit capable Macs such as the PowerMac G5. This will enable high-performance, data-intensive applications on G5 systems with massive amounts of memory. What's not included in Mac OS X "Tiger"
Contrary to a popular misconception, Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" does not include Apple's vaunted iLife '05 applications--iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD, iTunes, and Garage Band--nor does it include the iWork '05 productivity applications, which include Pages (a weird word processing/page publishing hybrid) and Keynote (a presentation package). Tiger also does not include the AppleWorks productivity suite, an aging set of applications that is somewhat similar to Microsoft Works. You do get most of these applications--but not the iWork suite--when you purchase a new Macintosh, however. Installation and upgrading
Apple touts the ease with which you can upgrade your existing Mac OS X installation to Tiger, or perform a clean install. But if you're not really paying attention during Setup, you can quite easily do the wrong thing, especially if you want to do a clean install. In the third phase of Setup ("Select Destination"), there is an Options button that's quite easy to miss. However, if you want to do a clean install, you'll need to click that button first, and not the Continue button. Otherwise, you'll simply upgrade your existing install by mistake.
Apple also supports an interesting option called Archive and Install, which basically performs a clean install but retains the user settings from the previous install, which is quite handy.
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.
After the system reboots, you're presented with an updated Getting Started sequence, featuring new music, which walks you through such things as configuring your wireless network and setting up your .Mac/email account. Aside from the new music and some updated graphical flourishes, this process is almost identical to that in previous OS X versions.
In two installation tests on a 1.33 GHz PowerBook G4, one an upgrade and one a clean install, it took roughly 45 minutes to perform Setup and boot back into the desktop. So what's the big deal all about?
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. The marketing that accompanies Tiger's release is no different: Described by Apple as "a super-modern operating system" and "the newest major release of the worlds most advanced operating system," Tiger will, in Apple's words, "change the way you use a computer." That, of course, is completely untrue. Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" is, in fact, a minor upgrade to an already well-designed and rock-solid operating system. It will not change the way you use your computer at all, and instead uses the exact same mouse and windows interface we've had since the first Mac debuted in 1984. That isn't a complaint about Tiger, per se: It's a high-quality release. But Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) was arguably a similar advance over the initial release of XP compared to what Tiger offers over Mac OS X 10.3. My issue here is with marketing, not with reality.
The problem is that Apple must trumpet each release as loudly as possible, in order to derive as much immediate upgrade revenue as possible from Tiger. Unlike Windows, Mac OS X doesn't ship on over 50 million PCs a year, so Tiger's retail success is far more important to Apple than Windows' retail success is to Microsoft. Fortunately, Apple fans have always proven themselves to be suckers for the latest and greatest: I expect millions of Mac users to upgrade immediately to Tiger. Ka-ching.
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 for end users--primarily Spotlight and Dashboard, neither one of which exactly changes the competitive landscape very much--there's very little real meat in Tiger.
This is particularly problematic for Apple's goal of getting Windows users to switch to the Mac. In my opinion, the coolness factor of Apple's iPod and Mac hardware is far more compelling than Mac OS X itself. The Mac mini and iMac, therefore, will likely cause more people to switch (or at least use both Windows XP and the Mac) than any improvements in Tiger. Don't get me wrong, please: Again, Tiger is a solid release. It's just not a major upgrade that's worth the $129 price tag. Surely if Apple can violate its "every other release is free" policy, it could charge $50 or less for Tiger. After all, Konfabulator and Google Desktop Search are both available for free. Availability and licensing
Apple Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" will become publicly available April 29 and sold only on DVD, though beta versions were available both in DVD and CD formats. My sources tell me, however, that Apple will swap the Setup DVD to CDs upon request for a small charge. Tiger costs $129 for all users of previous Mac OS X versions, contradicting promises from the company that every other OS X update would be free. Apple also offers a 5-Mac "Family Pack" for $199 that lets you install the system on up to 5 Macintosh systems, though there is no copy protection or activation scheme in the single Mac version that would prevent you from installing a single copy on multiple machines. If the past is any indication, Apple will release numerous fixes for Mac OS X 10.4 within days of the software's release. My sources on the beta tell me that testers were shocked Apple decided to finalize the software when they did. Apparently a lot of problems still exist in the final code. I didn't experience any major issues in my own testing, however, and found Tiger to be quite stable. Conclusions
Apple Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" is the strongest OS X release yet and a worthy competitor to Windows XP. Though it is marketed by Apple as a major release, Tiger is in fact a minor upgrade with few major new features for end users (though developers will be interested in some of the low-level work Apple has done with Core Image, Core Audio, and other technologies. That won't stop Apple fans from flocking to Apple Stores on April 29 and standing in line to buy it, even at its inflated $129 price. That's fine, I guess: Tiger performs well, looks great, and offers many modern OS features. Tiger builds on the rock-solid foundation of previous OS X releases, adds a few major new features, and applies a nice spit polish to hundreds of other small features. Tiger may lack some of the niceties that make Windows more appealing to new users, but it does reward those with existing computer skills with a minimalist yet elegant user interface that, as advertised, "gets out of the way" and lets you get your job done. If you can look past Apple's corporate bravado, you'll see that Tiger is one impressive cat. And unlike Longhorn, it's shipping now. What a concept.
I believe the fossilized bones of a Commodore 64 were recently unearthed in Montana.
bump for later
May be of interest to you.
ping!--Now tell me what I should do--LOL!
SP2 was a major release to fix major bugs and security holes!
And even then, XP is still the least secure thing out there.
I swear, if it wasn't for PC gaming, I'd be a Mac user now.
One feature of the Macs which I have not see emphasized is that they will work on any power available in the developed world if you can plug into it.
I keep one (now aging) PC for gaming but for serious work I only use my Powerbook.
MAC RULEZ !
Me too. I have a rev. A model and the only reason I'd get rid of it would be to replace it with a newer version. Maybe once my Applecare runs out.
Unfortunately, I need Windows due to my classes. If I can get away with OS X one day, I will.
I'm hacking away
to get Tiger running on
my Timex Sinclair . . .
I have a family of four still producing Commodore 64's... My major problem is to keep their rubber soft. It's also not real easy to find 5 1/4" disks now, either.
I strongly believe that in 2005 & '06 we will see most software that is released for Windows being immediately developed for Linux, and as a result OS X, too.
The time for software developers to support the rising Linux market is now.
are becoming as bizarre
as the Mac's dream time!
You haven't been keeping up with the times.
When several Fortune 500 firms have decided to change to Linux, and major laboratories have changed, and almost half of servers (and growing) are Linux, the wheel has turned.
Linux has come of age. Only those who are in major denial continue to be oblivious.
I've got plenty of floppies, but I've been looking for an 80 column card for my Apple II+. And when are they going to get the Visicalc upgrade released? Seems like years since the last one....
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.