10 things to know about Tiger

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6. Automator: AppleScript for everybody

You may not know anything about it yet, but trust us—Tiger’s new Automator feature will save you a lot of time by handling all of the dull, repetitive tasks currently weighing you down.

In some ways, Automator is AppleScript for people who can’t even look at the word AppleScript without breaking into a sweat. AppleScript has always been a fantastic way to create little programs that perform repetitive tasks—say, downloading a gallery of images off the Web and using them to generate a DVD slide show. But to benefit from that automation, you had to write AppleScript code —too much to ask of most users.

With Automator, you don’t have to write a single line of code; instead, you build a flowchart. On the left side of Automator’s window, you can pick from a large collection of actions—Apple is supplying more than 100, and developers can add even more—which you drag into the Workflow area. As you drag items in, they connect to one another. By building up a series of actions, you can create a complex series of tasks that incorporate various Mac programs.

Once an action is in the Workflow window, you can set options that define exactly what that action will do. For example, if you dragged in a Resize Image action, you would use the Workflow window to define the specific size of that image. After you’ve created an action, you can not only run it but also save it for when you have to perform the same task again.

Not all Mac users are going to hand off their workflows to Automator, but the ones who do will save so much time, they’ll be way ahead of anyone who doesn’t.— Jason Snell

7. Core image, video: Hard-core graphics

Previous versions of OS X introduced Core Audio and Core MIDI—underlying sound technologies, built-in at the system level, that allow for faster and easier ways to work with sound. Tiger does the same trick, but with sight, not sound. The updated operating system has two new technologies that make powerful tools available to users throughout the system: Core Image and Core Video.

Core Image and Core Video take advantage of the fast memory and powerful GPUs (graphics processing units) of today’s speedy video cards. Tiger’s Core technologies give developers easier access to pixel-level effects than they had in previous versions of OS X while offering a new way to create such effects. By relying on the video card, Core Image and Core Video can quickly apply filters using floating-point calculations to produce detailed and accurate color without taxing your Mac’s processor.

Just as Core Audio features Audio Units, Core Image and Core Video utilize Image Units and Video Units, respectively; Tiger will ship with dozens of these units, including blurs, transitions, color adjustments, sharpeners, and compositing and gradient filters. Developers will be able to create applications that tap into these built-in units without having to write their own versions of common effects and transitions.

Core Image and Core Video depend heavily on graphics processing; as a result, they’ll require Macs outfitted with the latest generation of ATI Radeon and Nvidia GeForce graphics cards that are capable of pixel-level programming for optimal results. But Apple promises that the technology scales for systems with older graphics cards, so any Tiger-compatible Mac should be able to use Core Image and Core Video.— Jonathan Seff

8. Safari 2.0: Safari, summarized

RSS—that’s Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication, depending on whom you ask—has simplified many a Web surfer’s life. So it makes sense that Safari 2.0, arriving with Tiger, would add support for RSS feeds. After all, Safari’s entire raison d’être is to streamline browsing.

RSS technology lets Web publishers generate small text files containing basic information about Web content. When it’s paired with a program that can process RSS files—such as an RSS reader like Ranchero Software’s NetNewsWire —RSS can radically change the way you deal with information on the Internet, by giving you a summary of all the latest news and information on your favorite RSS-friendly Web sites.

The new Safari RSS feature integrates RSS right into Safari itself, bringing the strengths of RSS to a bunch of users who may not otherwise know that RSS exists.

With Safari 2.0, if you go to a Web site that offers an RSS feed, a blue RSS badge appears on the right side of Safari’s address window. You can click on the badge to read the RSS feed, a simplified view of the site’s content with headlines and story descriptions. You can also view more than one feed at a time, creating your own personal channels full of, say, news stories from the New York Times, BBC, and ESPN Web sites.

Apple also added an RSS search box, similar to the Google search box, to Safari 2.0. Type a query into the RSS search box, and Safari will search the contents of all your bookmarked RSS feeds. It’s a quick way to find information on a topic without having to scour the entire Web.

But RSS isn’t all that’s new in Safari 2.0. The Start Private Browsing command under the Safari menu basically makes Safari black out, forgetting everything that it’s doing while you’re browsing privately. So the pages you visit, the passwords you type in—you name it—won’t be cached while you browse privately.

Fans of Microsoft Internet Explorer’s excellent Web Archive feature, which lets you save a Web page (including embedded images) to disk, will be happy to know that Safari 2.0 will let you save out Web archive files as well. Using this feature, you can store old Web pages on your own computer and view them safely even if the Web site that posted those pages disappears forever.— Jason Snell

9. H.264: Highly defined

OS X’s big picture is about to get a whole lot sharper, as the new H.264/AVC video compressor and decompressor, or codec, appears in Tiger.

Also known as MPEG-4 Part 10, the H.264 codec produces extremely high-quality video at relatively low data rates. In fact, the DVD Forum—the trade association that brought you the DVD—has adopted H.264 as a video format for the upcoming HD DVD standard (along with MPEG-2 and Windows Media Video 9’s VC-9 technology). H.264 can reproduce full 1080i high-definition content at roughly the same data rate—7 to 9 Mbps— as today’s standard-definition DVDs, because the codec is much more efficient and intelligent than MPEG-2 compression.

Another benefit to H.264 is its scalability; it works as well for content on 3G cell phones at 50 to 160 Kbps as it does for HD content. So content creators can choose different settings to make different versions of video by using only one codec. As part of Tiger’s QuickTime multimedia architecture, the H.264 codec is also available to applications that are based on QuickTime, such as Final Cut Pro and iMovie—so you’ll be able to export your movies directly, using H.264. The new codec will also be used for iChat AV and should allow for much better image quality without increasing bandwidth requirements (see “iChat AV: Three’s Company”).— Jonathan Seff

10. Voiceover: The last word

Unlike other features debuting in Tiger, VoiceOver actually appeared to Mac users long before Steve Jobs gave the world a first look at the updated OS during the Worldwide Developers Conference in June. Earlier in 2004, Apple announced a new technology—then called Spoken Interface—that would combine speech, audible cues, and keyboard navigation to help people with visual impairments work easily with OS X. The company planned to add this functionality to the next major update of its operating system (see “Speaking of Access,” Mac Beat, June 2004).

VoiceOver is part of OS X’s Universal Access features, and it’s integrated into the OS’s interface, giving you another way to access your Mac. With VoiceOver, you can have Web pages, Mail messages, and word processing documents read aloud; you can also get audible description of your workspace as well as any activities taking place on the Mac. One voice can provide every description, or you can opt to assign unique and personalized voices to the six different types of information—commands, content, item descriptions, item types, spoken menus, or echoed text—that VoiceOver provides.

VoiceOver also offers keyboard commands for navigating through OS X’s interface or controlling application and system commands. A new tool called viewfinder lets you control what the Mac says and lets you interact with items on screen via just your keyboard. Using VoiceOver, you can press buttons, drag sliders, select and deselect options, scroll, and operate other on-screen controls that would otherwise require a mouse.— Philip Michaels

In Automator, you can automate repetitive tasks by building a flowchart out of supplied actions instead of writing AppleScript code.
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