• The Tiger Report: Should You Consider Upgrading?

    April 2nd, 2005

    Whether you believe the claims at some rumor sites that Tiger has gone Golden Master or not, it’s a sure thing that the publicity engines will be turned up real high shortly in advance of its release. There will be rolling out parties and other events at Apple dealers, and lots of early experiences to chew over. At same time, you might wonder why all the fuss about a computer operating system. Isn’t Panther good enough?

    Actually, I still know folks who haven’t migrated beyond Jaguar, or even Mac OS 9. They do not regard an OS as a life-altering experience. They are too busy actually using applications, which is what your personal computing experience ought to be all about. The operating system should stay out of your way if it’s doing its job.

    So what’s the reason for upgrading? Let’s look first on the other side of the computing tracks. It appears Microsoft is going to have to think about that when it finally gets close to the finish line with Longhorn, which is touted as the greatest thing since sliced bread. Or at least the greatest operating system of all time, no doubt. On the other hand, nobody knows how many features will be shed before it is released, or what name it will be known by. Except for the southwest, I don’t think the name Longhorn carries much weight. But the real problem is that Windows XP has stabilized into a fairly decent operating system, if you are well protected against spyware and viruses of course. It took a long time to get there, considering that it first came out in 2001. So getting companies to fall over themselves buying upgrades is going to be a hard sell.

    In Mac land, Panther for the most part has the elements of an enduring system. Most of the quirks have been massaged out of it, an, unless you have an older Mac or one starved for memory, performance is good enough. While some of you take system upgrades as casually as drinking a bottle of pop, it is apt to seem a daunting process to others. Not that failures happen all that often, but there’s the psychological factor of what might happen if things go badly. Then you worry about incompatible software, printer drivers and all the rest.

    So why even bother if everything is perfectly fine as it is?

    Good question, and it’s clear Apple is going to have to move past the eye candy to persuade some Mac users to shell out another $129 for the privilege of upgrading to Tiger. Even though there are supposed to be 200 new features, or at least that’s what Steve Jobs claimed during his last Macworld keynote, from a practical point of view, only a handful of the features mentioned so far seem to having staying power.

    Yes, there will no doubt be lots of under-the-hood alterations, and the improved tools for developers are no doubt compelling, if you write software of course. Core image? 64-bit? What’s in it for me? For the rest of us, the great unwashed masses, it probably doesn’t really matter.

    But when you read over the descriptions of some of Tiger’s new features, there appear to be a few that may have staying power.

    Take Spotlight, touted as a powerful new desktop search tool. Most Mac users become pack rats real fast. Thousands upon thousands of files, and lots of frustration using the existing search features to find what you want. A speedy desktop search feature appears to be just the ticket. The Smart Folder concept is particularly fascinating. Here you will be able to access a bunch of related files without regard to their true location. In fact, location, whether on the desktop or buried in 12 layers of folders, will be meaningless. It will just be there. To be sure, the public demonstrations look real impressive, so this may be one compelling reason to write that $129 check or bill it to your charge card.

    So what’s next? Dashboard? Isn’t that something we’ve seen before? Oh yes, Konfabulator, an application consisting of utilities or widgets dedicated to a single task like, well, the original Control Panels. Apple’s version seems to have the appropriate degree of eye candy, and third party programmers are no doubt busy producing their Dashboard add-ons. So it won’t just be a fast way to look up a phone number, or check the local weather. The possibilities are endless. You want to buy a book for your aunt Nellie, so you invoke Dashboard, and have direct access to Amazon Books. If you’re a news junky, there will no doubt be widgets to deliver the headlines from your favorite paper or news network. Just use your imagination to consider the possibilities, and, according to Apple you won’t have to be a programming genius to build one. The claim is that “if you know how to write content for the web, you can write a Widget.”

    OK, I’m game. Maybe I should try to develop something that will bring up the latest episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. Not I’m not that good when it comes to Web authoring. So maybe I should just open the door and let one of you readers tackle the task. Maybe we’ll give away an iPod shuffle to the winner; not that sounds like a plan. But, really, are widgets enough to make you buy Tiger?

    But here’s something that has plenty of family appeal: Parental Controls. If that name sounds familiar, you are probably an AOL member, as its variation of Parental Controls allows you to configure the proper online experiences for your children. That is, if you’re an AOL member, and that is becoming a lot less common these days, to Time Warner’s chagrin.

    Tiger’s version will apparently also allow you to set boundaries for your child’s Internet wanderings. You will be able to limit their use of Mail, iChat and Safari, for example. If a child gets email from someone not on the approved list, he or she will have to get parental permission to open the message. Oh yes, there are other programs that can be used on the Internet, but you can block a child’s access to unapproved software. From Apple’s descriptions of the process, though, it appears that it will require a fair bit of manual labor to set up, because you have to configure the list of acceptable email addresses, buddies and family-friendly Web sites, and this is apt to discourage parents who just don’t have the time after a long workday.

    You’ll also have to create separate user accounts for your kids, and keep your password secret, for otherwise, they’ll just log into your account, and that, as they say, will be that

    If you’re not sure whether Tiger is for you, you’ll want to take the Tiger Tour and see if you’re willing to part with your money for another Mac OS X upgrade.

    Or maybe just wait till you can buy a new Mac with Tiger already installed. In any case, once Tiger ships, you’ll find a thorough review and ongoing coverage right here.

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