Ten days of Tiger

After ten days of use, a few initial thoughts on Tiger, Mac OS X 10.4, and whether it’s worth upgrading.

Spotlight

I don’t understand some people’s excitement about this. I only used the Finder’s Find command once every couple of months anyway, so a better way of searching my files isn’t going to change my world. Maybe I’m unusual in knowing where I put things.

With its Cmd-Space shortcut Spotlight is also useful as a Quicksilver-esque application/document opener. For the user, this is a very different action, but Spotlight seems to treat it like just another search of everything, with the result that it’s frustratingly slow for the purpose. And unlike Quicksilver, it doesn’t seem to learn. No matter how many times I type “tran”, it’s often several seconds before “Transmit.app” bubbles to the top of the list. After the first time, this should be instant a la Quicksilver. You might say I should just use Quicksilver then, but it’d be better if Spotlight in “quick shortcut mode” worked like I suspect most people would prefer it to.

Keyboard

I use a PC keyboard on my Mac and I had to create my own keyboard layout file to re-map some of the keys (such as ” and @, which are swapped). When I saw the new Keyboard Setup Assistant, which lets you choose which type of keyboard you’re using, I thought maybe Apple have finally sorted this problem out. It’s always amazed me that it’s a problem in the first place. Unfortunately it still is a problem — I now need to use my custom file and select the correct keyboard from the assisstant. The correct keyboard being “ANSI (United States and others)”, even though it’s a very British keyboard (with a £ key and everything).

In Tiger my chosen keyboard layout is now ignored in permissions dialog boxes — it ignores my carefully re-mapped ” and @ and, I think, appears to revert to the standard British layout. Annoying for passwords that contain such characters.

On 10.3 I used uControl to remap my PC keyboard’s Alt, Ctrl and Windows keys to Command, Option and Ctrl in the correct Apple order. Unfortunately uControl no longer works in Tiger. But, finally, Apple have made it possible to change these mappings: in the Keyboard & Mouse system preferences, click the “Modifier Keys…” button. Unfortunately, although Apple have once again, ahem, borrowed an idea from a third party, they haven’t quite done it properly: unlike uControl, the mappings aren’t per-keyboard, and affect every keyboard you use. So each time I want to use my PowerBook’s keyboard, instead of the external PC keyboard, I have to re-map the modifier. And again when I plug the external keyboard back in.

On the plus side, it’s nice to have an in-built way to switch Caps Lock off, for those sausage-fingered people who seem to like that kind of thing.

iChatStatus

I used to use iChatStatus to display the name of the currently playing iTunes music in iChat, as did some of my friends. Unfortunately iChatStatus doesn’t work in Tiger, although a comment on VersionTracker suggests there’ll be an update one day.

Apple have (surprise!) incorporated this idea into Tiger, with the option of setting one’s iChatStatus to “Current iTunes Track”. Unfortunately (surprise!) it’s not quite right. First, it shouldn’t be another status — it should be a preference to display the information if iTunes is playing. Otherwise it’s too confusing a choice for users (particularly this user) to make quickly: “I’m back after manually setting my status to ‘Away’… now, do I set the status back to ‘Available’, or am I going to play some music soon, so shall I set it to ‘Current iTunes Track’?” It’s putting two axes of data in the same place (something I’m sure user-interface gurus can phrase in much more impressive jargon). The fact that once-iChatStatus-using friends have stopped displaying iTunes information in their status messages since upgrading makes me think I’m not alone in finding Apple’s implementation clunky.

Any other problems? Yes, the name of the track stays visible even if it’s on pause for hours. And the information is in the (to me) wholly unintuitive format of “Song Name - Artist Name”, which often takes a second glance to interpret correctly.

Backup

Since upgrading, Apple’s Backup application has been even more flaky than usual, which is no mean feat. I’m tempted to crown Backup the worst piece of software the company’s ever shipped, and I dread to think what version 1 must have been like (it’s now on 2.0.2). It was a struggle to get the application to run smoothly in 10.3, with endless errors, many utterly impenetrable. But now it’s worse and I haven’t had the will to fight through the blizzard of scary and opaque dialogs to see if it actually works.

Unfortunately, unless I can get Backup to either clear or resurrect the backup archive on my iDisk, I can’t even open the application. Meaning I can’t change my preferences to stop it running every day. Hopefully I’ve managed this by using the Property List Editor application, tucked away in the Developer tools. Mmmm, friendly.

Opening documents

Some applications, such as Photoshop, no longer seem to let me double-click a document and have it open in the application. No idea why.

Stuffit Expander

Although Stuffit Expander’s an essential application for unpacking downloaded software it disappeared after I did an “Archive and Install” of Tiger. I had to manually download it again, which seems strange.

Palm Syncing

My Palm Vx stopped syncing after the upgrade, and I’ve only just plucked up the nerve to try and get it working. On the plus side, the new iSync appears to talk you through the process of getting a Palm syncing properly — previously it involved downloading a well-hidden file from apple.com. Unfortunately iSync has complained that I need to install Palm Desktop again (there’s some crucial bit of something missing somewhere). And when I download Palm Desktop I end up with an empty folder named “Palm Desktop Installer”. Hmmmm.

Update: Fixed it. First I had to copy the ‘HotSync Libraries’ file from /Library/CFMSupport in my old, archived system and copy it to my new, Tiger, system. Then I installed the latest Keyspan USB Serial Adapter driver. And it works. Life in the old dog yet.

Dashboard

I almost forgot to mention this at all. Although that zooming effect and the ripple are great fun, I’ve yet to find a widget that I want to use. Prior to Tiger’s launch, one of Apple’s Big New Features promoted in the website’s sidebar was that Tiger would have a tile game widget in Dashboard. That should have been warning enough. Let’s not mention the possible dangers of widgets, the inability to remove widgets, or the various interface crimes (beautiful, minimalistic interface anyone?). Hopefully there’ll be some useful or interesting widgets along before long.

Summary

That all sounded rather more grumpy than intended. The problems I’ve encountered are often quite specific to my particular-setup, so you might not have any. Is it worth upgrading? If you want to play with some of the Developer stuff, like Quartz Composer, then yes. Or if you really wish the Finder’s Find command was better or you can think of a use for Smart Folders (I wish I could), then yes. Or if there’s a feature in Safari or Mail that would make your life better, then yes (I don’t use either).

Otherwise, I’d hold on to your money and wait until there are applications you want to use that only run on Tiger, which will no doubt happen before long.

Comments

  • I think Spotlight’s rather more interesting because of how it works than what it currently does. I can imagine a Spotlight plugin for, camera raw images that, as well as indexing any metadata, generates a placeholder JPEG.

    Or something that uses the same hooks into the filesystem to trigger arbitrary automater actions whenever a file’s added to a given directory (and not just when it’s done via the finder, which is how Folder Actions used to work…)

    The potential for automated, filesystem based workflows is enormous.

  • You can fix photoshop by copying the “/Library/ScriptingAdditions/Adobe Unit Types” file and folder from your old install. For some reason this gets missed out at upgrade as its not (i think) a standard library dir.

    On your other points - yeah, backup is *rubbish* and I really expected a new version when tiger launched. Must be one soon, right?

    Dashboard is just not that useful i think - introduces another ‘mode’, which is never a good thing, UI speaking, and the recent flaws just compound this. You can edit other peoples widgets tho quite easily, if you need to right some interface crimes…

    As for spotlight, i think the most zen way to survive with it is to remember it is a search (and deep too - layer names in photoshop documents for example) and not a keyboard launcher for stuff. As you say - just not fast enough for that. Doesn’t even seem to cache your decisions either, which is dumb…

  • Thanks for the Photoshop tip - worked first time!

  • I haven’t switched over yet from Panther but popped in to the Apple store to see how it works. I was v disappointed to see Spotlight only displays the documents which match a string not the place of the string match within each document (like search engines do). Most of the PC hard disk search tools do this - I hope that this is something that will be added to Spotlight quickly…

  • This is totally off subject- why do my widgets disappear after I open word or Safari? They just leave the dashboard. When I click them to open up, they appear on the screen, ripple, and then disappear.