Installation, performance, and headline features
Installing Mac OS 10.4 (Tiger) was a breeze – certainly the only time I have been surprised by the ease of installing a major OS upgrade on top of an existing installation. Because of the simultaneity of my RAM upgrade and the installation of Tiger, I can’t discuss the performance effect of the new OS. In aggregate, the iBook runs like a whole new machine. While it used to creak and complain when running just Fetch and iPhoto, it now runs Firefox, iTunes, iPhoto, Photoshop, TextEdit, and Fetch without any trouble. Indeed, 321 megs of RAM are still inactive with that collection, as a Dashboard widget informs me (along with weather forecasts for Oxford, and the all-important Canada-England exchange rate).
Another widget (pearLyrics, suggested by Jessica) is adding lyrics to my iTunes tracks as they are played, though it is oddly myopic when it comes to absurdly popular songs not released in the last ten years (most songs by Pink Floyd and The Beatles seem to stump it). This is a particularly useful function for me, as I am prone to either ignore lyrics entirely, focusing on the tone of a song, or spectacularly misinterpret them. I will leave the specific examples to my friends, for use in mocking me at parties.
Spotlight hasn’t proved terribly useful to me yet, mostly because I already have all my information sorted for easy location. That is not too unusual, however. All advanced search tools – from Google to Oxford’s OLIS – take time to become familiar enough to be really beneficial. Next time I am digging around for a particular file not viewed in months, it may prove its worth.
I have not used Automator yet, but I eventually want to create a workflow that takes an image file from iPhoto, opens it in Photoshop, resizes it to either 1024 pixels across for horizontal shots or 768 from top to bottom for vertical ones, lets me adjust the levels, lets me apply an unsharp mask, then creates a 320 pixel across the long axis thumbnail version, and uploads both versions to my server using Fetch. Ideally, it would then create an appropriate block of code to paste into WordPress, but this is all a project for a less hectic time.
Newly usable software
One of the reasons I decided to upgrade to Tiger was the desire to use the free application WriteRoom. The essence of simplicity, it is just a black screen onto which you type. Unlike almost all Mac applications, it can be made to take up the whole screen. There is no formatting – though there is optional spell-checking – and the simplicity seems to contribute to my ability to concentrate on the topic at hand. At a stroke, it becomes more like writing a letter than writing an email, which is clearly a valuable transition in a world where enough attention is rarely paid to written expression.
As soon as I can get my Airport card to work in passive mode with packet injection capabilities, the new version of KisMAC seems likely to be quite useful. It is already rather better than the standard Mac OS WiFi interface, in terms of detecting networks and revealing their characteristics.
Less obvious improvements
Another unexpectedly good feature of Mac OS 10.4 is the Grapher utility, which does both two and three dimensional graphing in a useful and attractive way. I may not have enormously much cause to use a graphing calculator these days, but it can be good to play around in an attempt to remember some fraction of what once I knew about trigonometric functions and calculus.
A few welcome improvements have also been made to Safari, though I have yet to open iCal (I use Google Calendar, though iCal would be grabbing the data from there and copying it to my iPod, if my iPod wasn’t broken again), Mail (I use Entourage and GMail), or Address Book (same). The improved PDF functions built into every Print dialog definitely look useful for anyone who does any sort of document publishing or collaboration.
PS. Unrelated to Tiger, but Apple-related: If you call Apple about your broken iPod using a scratchy enough Skype connection, they will call you back at their expense. Since spending time on hold at 30p a minute cell phone fees is among the most tooth-grinding of human experiences, this is good to know.