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The Tiger Report: The Last One?

With so much attention devoted to Apple’s latest efforts, you can easily forget that there is actually another product that’s bundled with every new Mac, still available on the store shelves, which you may be taking for granted these days. That’s Tiger.

Tiger? Well, yes. After all, Leopard is still just a dream and not a real product, and won’t be out until the spring of 2007. And that’s assuming that Apple has established a realistic schedule to get the thing done. Although they have been able to meet or exceed their deadlines in recent years, nothing is precise when it comes to software development. Microsoft might be an extreme case, of course, but that’s another story.

When Tiger first came out in 2005, I felt it was unfinished, that it had been rushed to market with a few too many bugs. The most serious stuff had to do with networking, particularly connecting to private office networks. Here Apple’s built-in tools were broken, and third party stuff had to be updated for compatibility. There were other troubles too, which is why we’re at 10.4.7, with rumors of a 10.4.8 and even another one or two additional updates over the next few months.

However, that didn’t stop me from recommending Tiger to most people, and I haven’t been second guessed very much. In fact, I really never had most of the problems people talked about, although I’m certain most of the complaints were valid. I work in a home office, so I don’t need the tools that left some of you irritated that Apple didn’t wait a few more months for Tiger to come out.

What isn’t mentioned as often as it should is that there are, in fact, two distinct versions of Tiger. They look the same, they work the same, but they are quite different, with one compatible with a PowerPC Mac and the other designed for the Intel-based version. True they may now have synchronized development cycles, but you can’t get a single, Universal installer for both. Or at least not yet.

That may not seem to be a huge issue, but it is a significant irritant in a company where both types of Macs are being used. You can’t, for example, create a unified installer disc or image for everyone, so you’re left with two versions, labeled PowerPC and Intel for clarity. Or you have another DVD to lose if you just file your installation media somewhere in case you need to reinstall something.

On the positive side, Tiger remains the operating system to which you still compare Windows Vista. Both have fancy user interfaces, although you need some awfully powerful hardware for the latter to get the best, or at least most blatant, visual special efforts to appear.

When Apple demonstrated the most obvious resemblances during the WWDC keynote in August, you had to wonder what Microsoft was thinking. After all the delays, and features being cast aside, the Vista interface designers gave you the impression that they developed a spreadsheet (Excel of course) with Tiger in Column A and Vista in Column B. Microsoft simply added a few things to make their stuff look sort of different, and made everything more complicated to create the illusion that you could do more. In fact, it just took longer to do the same thing.

But, when you come down to it, the best computer operating system is one that should get out of the way, more or less, when you want to get some work done. It shouldn’t intrude, call attention to itself, or behave erratically when you are rushing headlong towards an important deadline.

When it comes down to it, Tiger, while far from perfect, is really a superlative operating system. After all of Mac OS X’s growth pains, Apple is going to have to work awfully hard on Leopard to provide a follow-up that will truly make you want to upgrade without a second glance.