• The Tiger Report: The Last Wish List?

    February 19th, 2005

    If Steve Jobs was right last month when he said Tiger is “on track” for shipment in the first half of this year, no doubt Apple is in the late stages of development. I am not saying this because I have any inside information. It’s simply a logical assumption based on the promise of on-time delivery. In order to have Tiger on sale by June 30th, a shipping or Golden Master version would have to be ready by late May or the first week of June at the latest, to give time to duplicate CDs and ship the boxes to dealers.

    So there’s not much time left, and that may mean any wish list at this point doesn’t make much sense. At the same time, not all of the promised 200 new features for Tiger have been revealed. Yes, we know about the Spotlight desktop search engine, Dashboard, the Automator instant scripting capability, plus the various technologies that only programmers will be able to appreciate. But try as I might, I can’t count 150 new features, the original claim, let alone 200. Now it’s quite possible that figure includes minor interface updates, which could swell the list big time. Regardless, I’ll take Apple at its word until I hear otherwise.

    At the same time, I do hope that some of the unannounced or secret features will address a few of my long-standing concerns. And if they don’t make the cut for 10.4, maybe they’ll appear in a future maintenance update. I don’t know that I have the patience to wait for 10.5, considering that Apple’s Mac OS X development schedule has slowed considerably. In fact, I doubt if Tiger’s successor will be out before the middle of 2007, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.

    My hopes and dreams for Tiger at this point largely consist of fixes for things that still don’t work properly in Panther, plus an extra feature or two. It may even be true that all or most of these concerns have already been addressed behind the scenes, and are among those 200 improvements. Regardless, here’s the short list:

    • Smart system migration: Apple more or less answered my request for a migration tool in recent Panther updates, but it doesn’t go far enough, and doesn’t seem to have been visibly changed in the current literature about Tiger. In order to move the files from your old Mac to your new one, you have to set the old Mac in FireWire Target mode. That makes the computer act as a FireWire drive. It connects to your new Mac via a FireWire cable. All well and good, and it usually works quite well. But think about the Mac user with an early generation iMac or iBook, or even an older model. No FireWire. And certainly it doesn’t make sense to expect you to investigate possible third party updates to get FireWire. What about, well, Ethernet, and turning on file sharing on your older Mac? Surely Apple could do something to accommodate that setup routine.
    • Smart help for novices: My favorite bugaboo. Too many useful system features go unused simply because many Mac users have to study books or deep inside Help menus to find them. Better to let you set a user level in the Setup Assistant. Based on a simple description, you declare yourself Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced. The help system acts accordingly. If you’re not too experienced, the system will put up helper screens (no, not Balloon Help) to suggest a better or at least more efficient way to accomplish a task. I’m not thinking of something akin to those awful Wizards that pollute Windows. Just something simple, elegant, in the Apple tradition. And if you don’t like it, there will be a little checkbox that lets you turn them off, and a way to turn them on via a System Preference. Will it make the cut for Tiger? Apple says nothing about it, but it’s a feature that ought to be standard issue. No, I don’t want to put those book writers out of work, and I have, as you know, written many of those books myself. I just think that Mac OS X should be more proactive about such things.
    • Automatic maintenance: Like any Unix-based operating system, Mac OS X is designed to run 24 hours a day. But it hardly makes sense for regular people to keep their Macs on when they’re not being used. Why waste electricity? If you’re not a stockholder in a power company, you engage Sleep mode. But the early morning maintenance routines don’t run if your Mac isn’t awake. Yes, there are third party programs that can, in effect, automatically play catchup. If a scheduled maintenance session is missed, these programs initiate the session the next time your Mac is running. But this is something Apple should have long ago addressed. Mac OS X should, as advertised, “just work,” and that means we shouldn’t be forced to learn Unix or look for a third party helper application to help the operating system do its thing.
    • Clean up the Finder: The Mac OS X Finder is controversial. Some suggest it doesn’t match the performance or ease of use of the Classic Mac Finder. I’m actually quite used to it, and I find it’s actually more efficient, at least for me. But it’s still a bit of a mess. It doesn’t always remember View settings, for example. One common scenario: Set the Finder to Column view. Switch one folder to List view, and the folders inside that folder revert to Icon view. Go figure. Over four major releases of Mac OS X, Apple should be able to tame the Finder. Will it happen in Tiger? Right now, the addition of Spotlight seems to be the only apparent change. I do not count Dashboard, since those widgets float above the desktop, Finder and application windows. There’s nothing to indicate that the Finder works any better, more reliably. All right, this is not a feature; it’s a bug fix, so it shouldn’t count against that 200 figure.
    • Make System Preferences smarter: You set up a brand new Mac with an LCD display, and the Display panel sets the font smoothing to Standard, which is optimized for a CRT display. I hear that an Automatic setting might be forthcoming, and I can only hope it’s true. As I said, the system should figure things out for you. In addition, I’d like to see a better way to calibrate your display. Right now, you have to do the job manually, but this chore was actually done automatically with some of the older Apple CRT displays. Yes, automatic! That’s the ticket. Yes, I know that graphic artists will prefer to use more elaborate tools for this chore, but the basic settings should be done without user intervention. Apple might even build a properly calibrated library of presets for its own displays and a set of popular third party models; basic profiles don’t count. Why ask you to do the job for the operating system that is supposed to “just work.”

    Is that the end of the list? Not by a longshot, but I’d hate to have to wait for 10.5 to see these hopes and dreams fulfilled. How about you?

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