A New Feline is on the Prowl

Apple’s latest major operating system upgrade, Tiger, is being released to the world at large today. Those of us lucky enough to own Macs get to enjoy the benefit of a truly modern computing environment.

(Windows users will have to wait almost two more years before Microsoft pulls them out of the XP Stone Age with “Longhorn,” the next major Windows upgrade).

Tiger features over 150 new features and I’d say most revolve around two themes: integration and openness.

In Tiger, Apple has made familiar Mac applications intrinsic elements of the operating system itself. This means that, instead of having to go to a specific place to do something, like find a file or synchronize data, you’ll be able to perform the function anywhere in a more contextual manner.

And because these services are so integral to the Mac, Apple has also made them available to developers of software for use in their own applications.

I’m most looking forward to “Spotlight”. This is basically a system wide search engine that will enable you to find content no matter where it’s hiding on your Mac. Spotlight can prowl through word processor files, databases, PDF documents, email messages, address book contacts, and even photo and video files, turning up results as fast as you can type in search terms.

Unlike most desktop search utilities, though, Spotlight can really dig up the dirt. It’ll be able to search for stuff like who created a file, who modified it, when something was created or altered, file content, even the shutter speeds that digital photos were captured at.

Plus, you can “save” your searches; so with a single keystroke, you’ll be able do something like search for all of the Word documents you’ve received from a particular colleague in the last two months.

What’s more, because Spotlight is built right into the system, its capabilities can be used anywhere. One smart example of this will be in the System Preferences application, where you customize your Mac and tweak its behaviour to your preferred version of perfection.

Say you’re not quite sure how to change your Mac’s desktop background. In Tiger you could just go to System Preference and type something like, “desktop”, or “picture”, or even “wallpaper” in the search field.

The embedded Spotlight technology has a sense of fuzzy logic and would throw spots of light (yeah, real spotlights, no kidding) onto the preference items that are related to changing your desktop background.

One of my favourite features of the Mac OS is its built-in video and audio communication capabilities. Called iChat, I rely on it to stay in touch with my family and friends around the world.

Tiger is going to pump up iChat considerably, turning it into a full-on conferencing environment. With Tiger’s iChat you’ll be able to include up to 10 people in an audio conference, and up to 4 in a video conference. There’s no service fee attached to this capability, as it’s based on the same system used by Instant Messaging clients like MSN Messenger, so you can essentially make long distance calls for free.

The new iChat is going to use new compression technology to improve video and audio quality. This will be fantastic, I already find the picture and motion quality in iChat video sessions to be phenomenally smooth and fluid.

If you’re familiar with the pain and agony that is Palm’s HotSync software, you’ll be happy to know that Apple has perfected data synchronization and is pushing it to the limit in Tiger.

For the last few years, iSync has handled the impressive feat of maintaining near-perfect synchronicity of Address Book contacts, web browser bookmarks, and calendar event information. And unlike Palm’s pithy HotSync, which barely manages a simple PC-to-PDA relationship, iSync masterfully maintains a perfect set of data between multiple Macs, web sites, iPods, cell phones and PDA’s.

Tiger is going to take this one step further by, again, integrating the technology right into the operating system. So you’ll be able to do things like synchronize application preferences between multiple Macs (so your home and work desktop and screen saver settings can remain identical).

Apple’s also going to open iSync up. So developers of other applications, like Word and Photoshop, will be able to leverage iSync to help users maintain settings across multiple computers and devices.

All of this barely touches on the massive positive impact that Tiger will have on Mac users. I didn’t even mention the new version of Apple’s web browser, Safari, with its advanced features that make Internet Explorer look like a fossil, or the new “Automator” application that will make it as easy as selecting a few menu items to turn common repetitive tasks into home-made desktop applications.

Mac users should rejoice at Tiger and seriously consider upgrading. You can’t get this much software value for $150 anywhere else. Windows users, well, you just might want to consider dumping your virus-ridden heap of third party hardware and head over to the light. As one recent switcher said to me the other day: “My Mac just works – and it looks cool!”

Andrew Robulack is an IT Business Strategist and Architect based in Whitehorse.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, April 29, 2005
Copyright 2005 Andrew Robulack