First Week With Tiger
A couple of weeks ago I took Paul Thurrott to task for his early review of Tiger. I’m sure he’s still reeling and bruised from that tousle and now I’m going to follow that up with a review of my own. Non-Mac users turn away now if ebullient prose offends you.
Mac OS X 10.4 aka “Tiger” is a major update to the operating system. On the surface, not a lot has changed with the overall look and feel of the OS, save for a few glaring changes to Mail and the new eye-candy that everyone is focussing on. Minor additions and changes have been made throughout the system to just about every included application.
So, now that every Mac user in the world has published some sort of review, I’m going to jump into the fray with both feet and submit my own.
You will note at left, a busy-looking screen with shit all over it. That is the “Dashboard” that has been such a big deal for a lot of people, and a strange bit of unnecessary frippery to about an equal number. Still more people have taken offense that Apple would “steal” the thunder from rogue application developer Arlo Rose’s Konfabulator.
Whatever your take on it, Dashboard looks cool and is even semi-useful. The built-in widgets (as these things have been dubbed) are reasonably useful. The world clock, calendar and weather widgets are all very nice-looking and functional. The dictionary widget, which ties in with the newly-included Dictionary application is good, but I would prefer to have some clipboard copying available to me (and an OED instead of the Oxford American under the covers would also be nice to have). Other built-ins are the iTunes controller, a flight tracker, calculator and address book, to drop some names. Nothing you couldn’t find elsewhere if you wanted to.
What makes these cool, is how easy they are to build. Within days of Tiger being released, dozens were already available to download. The battery status widget by Claudio Procida is a great addition to any ‘book user. I always find myself running out of menu bar space when I start displaying things like battery power numbers and connection times and this reduces some of that clutter immediately. DashMonitors by Gaucho Software is another cool bit of eye candy but I find it somewhat resource-hungry.
This brings me to my next point: each one of these doodads (or widgets, if you insist) take up resources. Some of them are active and appear to do things behind the scenes when you’re not using them and when your dashboard isn’t even active. I object to this and consider this somewhat wasteful, especially since there’s no means to deactivate dashboard (actually, I suspect there is by turning debug mode as I have seen published but am currently too lazy to dig it up). I blame dashboard for the slowdown of my Powerbook (as evidenced by stuttering iTunes visualizations) and for the decreased life expectancy of my batteries.
My final take on Dashboard is that it’s a cool, whiz-bang feature but it should be possible to disable it for power-users. Hey look! The Dow’s tanking right now!
Desktop searching has been on the brains of developers and users for sometime. I’m not sure if Google started it, Microsoft started it or if even Apple started it, but people have been crying for some intelligent means of sorting through their filesystems.
Spotlight is a good first step towards this. After you’ve completed your installation and boot into Tiger for the first time, Spotlight begins indexing your drives for fast lookup later on. This process can take considerable time if you have a lot of data.
Not-surprisingly, many apps are already releasing Spotlight-aware applications that provide indexing on their documents / databases for inclusion in Spotlight searches. Delicious Library has already released an update which does this (and have included a nifty dashboard widget as well). Word documents appear to already be indexed as well as Mail, Address Book contents, Calendars and Bookmarks.
Now that I’ve given the mandatory overview of what Spotlight is, I can comment on what it does. It gives you what you search for – provided what you’re looking for is in one of the pre-determined locations on your hard-drive that Apple has setup for indexing. The contents of Library folders, for example aren’t available to you so if you’re looking for a specific set of preferences, you’re going to waste your time trying to search using Spotlight – time that you could’ve spent opening a finder window and navigating to the correct directory, as any savvy OS X user would know to do.
(n.b.: of course, you can always add hierarchies manually using the mdimport utility on the command line…)
Another improved feature in Tiger is Finder’s ability to do smart searches and to save them as Smart Folders. That I can’t save Spotlight searches in the Finder is a bit of an oversight, in my opinion, but I will just say that desktop searching in Tiger is a many-splendoured thing that will take some getting used to. I have already found myself searching for things more and finding them rather than navigating down twisty tunnels of folders.
One feature I discovered last night was the ability to add tags to files in the “Spotlight Comments” section of a file’s info pane. Unfortunately, this feature is not quite what it should be. There needs to be an easy tagging system with keywords that you can create and apply en masse to a selection of files. Currently, there doesn’t appear to be a way to tag multiple files. Also, having to type in my keywords for every file would get old pretty quickly.
One last comment to make about searching: Like Dashboard, Spotlight is very similar to another piece of software, in this case, blacktree’s Quicksilver. I’ve been hopelessly addicted to quicksilver for months now and am loathe to replace it. Quicksilver has a plugin architecture so it’s not just for rapidly searching for items in your system. You can invoke terminal scripts, interface with other applications (such as AdiumX, iChat, Growl…) and generally become a wizard with your machine. I have found myself using Spotlight more and more for launching applications and quickly finding things on my machines. Quicksilver seems to be relegated to the role of clipboard history and a shelf for quickly slotting items I will require access to at some later time. It remains to be seen what will become of Quicksilver for me. We had such a nice time together…
One of the less-visible improvements to OS X is the update of most of the underlying Unix tools aka Darwin. All of the file-management utilities are now resource-fork-aware, meaning I can cp and mv my nodes to my heart’s content and not worry about things getting ditched along the way.
One of my first discoveries with the new Unix was the realization that cron no longer held the place of honour it once had in the system. Replacing it is the All-Powerful launchd process, which actually takes care of a lot more than just scheduling tasks. It is the task-scheduler so everything that takes place on the system, happens because launchd has started it. Apple’s documentation on the program states that eventually, launchd’s configuration files will replace the contents of the justified and ancient etc.d directories.
Is all of this a good thing? Well, it makes killing a task that launchd wants to run next-to-impossible. For some reason, my PowerMac had decided to run postfix’ master process and since it wasn’t configured to do so, was failing. launchd refused to see this as an error and attempted to relaunch the master process every second. I believe I caught it a couple of days after my install, so it may have been running and generating errors for 48 hours or so, leaving unix poo all over my system logs.
May 1 11:41:10 hitomi launchd: org.postfix.master: exited with exit code: 1
May 1 11:41:10 hitomi launchd: org.postfix.master: -66162 more failure without living at least 60 seconds will cause job removal
May 1 11:41:10 hitomi postfix/master: fatal: fifo_listen: remove public/pickup: Permission denied
There’s, oh, about a billion of those… (actually, there are 385053 lines of text from that error).
Configuring launchd requires the editing of property lists – xml files detailing the specifics of when and how launchd should kick up those files. These are stored in no less than 4 locations. If a process is polite enough, you may be able to kill it using the launchctl program. A word of caution. DO NOT KILL LAUNCHD. You will hang your machine.
I still haven’t figured out where that postfix error came from, but I intend to track it down.
Other Features, Impressions, Conclusions, Blah-de-blah…
I think this “review” has gone on long enough. I haven’t been able to test the 64 bit capability of memory addressing yet, because I’m not sure if I have any “fat-binary” compiled files to play with. I could write one, but that wouldn’t be a very good use of my time.
The new Quicktime is outstanding. iChat AV works very nicely although appears to be broken with the version included in Panther. DVD Player has had some minor refinements, um, and lots of other stuff.
Overall, my impressions of the new system are mixed. I like the new features, I really do. People are saying that the OS is quite responsive, (often termed “snappy” in technical lingo) and it is. But that doesn’t seem to account for the loss of battery life and extra heat my laptop is generating. CPU activity appears to be heavier with the new OS and that’s when I don’t have much running. I had to kill a number of widgets on my dual processor PowerMac because I didn’t like the way it was handling. I haven’t had a chance to test out Logic Pro with any heavy lifting yet but my initial tests appeared positive.
So, I think these are the first growing pains of the new iteration of an excellent OS. The first update will quite likely address many of these performance issues and should provide a more efficient code-base. I would not recommend running this operating system with anything less than 512MB and consider 1GB to be the bare minimum for acceptable use. If you’re a power user, get yourself 2GB.
I like Apple.