Tiger, Tyger, Burning Bright…

So now I’ve been using Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger” for a couple of weeks, and I think I’m finally ready to spout off on it.

Since I have no intention of going to the depths that John Siracusa over at Ars Technica has on his review, I am going to try instead to give an impression of how the latest update feels in daily use, for better or worse.

The test machines are almost as varied as you can get and still run OSX. Two of my computers are Macs: an iBook G4 (14″) and an aging but still reliable “sawtooth” G4/400, from the first G4 line to use an AGP slot. Both had plenty of RAM and the desktop had been upgraded with the first AGP Radeon card for the mac.

Let me cover the “ugly” first: those things which disappointed me.

Major disappointment number 1: spotlight does not by default index mounted network shares. Given that everything except email, iPhoto, and current-project files are shared on a linux server, that particular fault means spotlight, while still useful, is a lot less useful than I thought it would be. I understand the technical whys of this. At home it may not make much difference but imagine dozens of computers indexing a server… but it’s irritating nonetheless.

Disappointment number 2: Mail. While going three-pane was an improvement over having a pull-out drawer that always seemed to hide or switch sides at the most inopportune time, they removed the familiar icons in the toolbar. Without the visually distinct shapes to guide you, it takes more effort to figure out which button is reply, which is forward, which is delete, etc.

That said, there are things to like in plenty.

First: Spotlight. Sure, it didn’t do one thing I really hoped for it, and as Siracusa notes, it would be nice if it could easily do more complex searches, but it’s already been an absolute godsend in tracking down emails from clients. It’s also saved my butt several times digging up obscure client-related info.

Widgets. I’m less enthusiastic about this one, but not having to open up weather.com in a web page is a definite plus. So is having wikipedia, airline info, and the yellow pages at your fingertips.

I can’t say much about the RSS. It works, and will gather up headlines for you. The best way to gather them is into your bookmarks bar nested into topic-based folders. It seems to be about as useful as any of the other free RSS readers out there and was easier to pick up on and use effectively than the RSS features built into Firefox. Me, I use the Pulp Fiction RSS reader client to gather, bookmark, store, and otherwise skim through my news.

I also haven’t applied the user restrictions in an ongoing, real-world basis, but I have looked through them. They get some results that are ridiculously difficult even in XP pro, such as controlling user access to applications on a program by program basis. They also allow control of websites visited (with logs), approved email and IM buddy lists, IM logs, and other similar features, most of which cannot be done in Windows without buying often flaky third-party software or setting up proxy servers.

Other than that, the biggest improvement is simply that it runs smoother, even on my aging desktop (is it five or six years now?).