• The Tiger Report: Anticipating Your Favorite Features

    April 16th, 2005

    Did you have a chance to test drive Tiger at an Apple event? Or maybe you have spent hours combing through the information Apple has posted on the subject. Perhaps you’re poised to join the party on the evening of April 29th when Tiger hits the ground running.

    Regardless of how you’ll regard Apple’s latest and greatest, no doubt you’re anticipating the value of some of its 220 features. Of course, at this early stage, with a product that is not yet released, it’s very possible something you have high hopes for will prove disappointing and that features you didn’t expect to like will dominate your attention.

    Well, I’ve been distilling all of the available information, and not on the Mac rumor sites, ever since Steve Jobs announced Tiger at last year’s World Wide Developers Conference. Talk about giving you advance warning, but then again, the release date was a vague first half of 2005 until Tuesday, which itself was a little surprising, given the narrow window of opportunity.

    In any case, I am already considering the value of Smart Folders. This is going to change the way many of you organize your Macs. Now folders, of course, are an abstract, a visual metaphor that allows you to put a file in a specific container. But it can also be downright confusing, because you might accidentally drop a file into the wrong place one day, and the next create a new folder that’s buried somewhere and never seen again. But all you really want to do is get to your stuff as quickly as possible.

    You might consider Smart Folders an extension of the desktop search feature, Spotlight. You search for something, perhaps a set of files for a business proposal, and then save that search request in the form of a folder. Call it an active search, for you can always click on the folder and see the end result, even for newly added files. No more concerns over where you put that file, and believe me today’s organizational structure confuses experienced folk as much as novices. I still have folders nestled in other folders that I don’t remember making, ever. Yet those folders contain files I need, or will need some day. Or at least I think I’ll need them.

    Now my personal organizational scheme was probably set up back in the 1980s, when I first discovered Macs. As I bought newer models, I simply transferred my stuff and created new stuff. In fact, if I look at my Power Mac G5 today, I’ll find things that date back to the early part of the last decade, still, although a lot of it has been backed up to CD. My wife considers me a pack rat, and sure enough, I examined the contents of a folder labeled Correspondence, which serves an obvious purpose, and found stuff in there dated 1992. Really! I’m sure all that data was archived long ago, but I keep it.

    The arrival of Spotlight and Smart Folders isn’t going to change my organizational habits so much as make it a lot easier to get when I need, when I need it. So perhaps this will be feature number one, but, of course, I’m assuming it’ll work as advertised. And let that be the qualifying statement for all that’s to come.

    Another feature that I think is going to be valuable isn’t among the Top Ten, as it were. It’s the new Stealth Mode for Mac OS X’s firewall. Why is that so important? Well, it means that Internet vandals will not be able to find evidence that your Mac exists. Now maybe that’s not so important today, but it’s a sure thing that as the Mac gets a larger market share, and that seems inevitable, at least for now, it will become a more compelling target. But if they can’t find your Mac when you’re online, you have less to worry about. Of course, if you have a router set up between your broadband modem and your computers, this won’t be such an issue, as the best of those routers will hide your the IP address of all your personal computers from the outside world.

    But a little extra help isn’t so bad an idea.

    The other feature I’m looking forward to is version 2 of Font Book. Apple’s first attempt at a font management utility was strictly bare bones. If you’re into desktop publishing or graphic design, you no doubt have lots of fonts lying around. My collection exceeds 10,000, from my days in the prepress industry. Most of them are no longer installed on my Mac, but I keep around, say, 1,500 or so for a rainy day. Up till now, I’ve used such applications as FontAgent Pro and Suitcase to sort this mess out. While I don’t necessarily expect Font Book 2.0 to end the need for those programs, it does have a few features that are worth a second look. One is the ability to verify a font before it’s installed. Damaged fonts have been a great source of annoyance for years. They can cause application or system crashes, and make it impossible to print a document. But if you know the font is damaged, you’ll either pick something else or replace it with a good copy.

    Another intriguing Font Book feature is the ability to create font libraries without placing them in one of the operating system’s Fonts folders. You’ll be able to access them from both your own Mac and across a network. This is a feature that mirrors the capabilities available in those commercial font managers. About all we seem to be missing is auto activation, the ability of a font menu to update as soon as a font is added, without to quit and relaunch an application.

    Or at least Apple hasn’t said anything about such a feature. If it’s there, I’ll be pleased as punch. But some software publishers aren’t going to be so pleased, though it’s also true that, for example, Suitcase has had a very long run and if it is destined to be retired, there should be no apologies. Apple’s font management has, for years, been pitiful, and, as Font Book gains new features, it’ll help cure lots of headaches.

    Is there more? Sure, a lot more. I haven’t weighed in on Dashboard yet, for example, but I look forward to putting it through its paces, and I’m curious to see how quickly third party developers latch on with widgets of their own.

    Note to Readers: Our May 2nd newsletter will include my first official Tiger review. You won’t want to miss it.

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