Editorial: Little big things
By David Leishman,
Next week, Apple will preview Tiger, the next version of Mac OS X, at its annual
Worldwide Developers Conference. Macworld’s Jason Snell is already on record with his
feature “wish list,” and a
follow-up list from his readers. I’m looking forward to the unveiling, too, but I’ve recently gained a new perspective: Don’t forget to think small.
Long ago and far away, in Mac OS X 10.1 days, I investigated the Summarize function in the Services offered in the Applications menu. Its results were pretty poor, so I filed and forgot it. But an article by Katie Hafner of The New York Times, about the
hidden features of operating systems and electronic devices, mentioned the function and I thought I’d re-try it.
I’ve had a longish article in my “to read” pile, but couldn’t make myself wade through it. I opened the 2900 word document in BBEdit, summarized it at the default level (about 20 percent), and got a reasonable digest of the article, which even included a couple personal vignettes that added flavor to the result.
I then set the summary size slider to one percent and got a paragraph that described the “first and most important step” in the article. Admittedly pithy, but after finally taking the time to read the whole article, I determined that Summarize got the main bit of information.
I then tested Microsoft Word X’s AutoSummarize tool on the article. While the default-sized version was comparable but different, the minimum-sized version (ten sentences) didn’t match the on-board OS X version for getting to the nut of the article.
Given the amount of information we all need to keep up with, Summarize could be a real treasure and — whether we know it or not — many of us already own it. Ken Bereskin, Apple’s director of OS X product marketing, told Ms. Hafner, “”There are so many hidden gems,” and pointed out another: included in the functions of the calculator is a currency converter that automatically updates conversion rates.
Small potatoes, I know, but they indicate the level of fit and finish that Apple has applied to its operating system. So, kudos to Apple for providing such useful tools and a modest “shame on you” for not giving them a little marketing push.
(Things could be much worse. As Hafner points out, you could own a recent IBM laptop with a light-up keyboard and never know it. There’s no switch to turn it on, and unlike Apple’s portables, it doesn’t automatically respond to the amount of ambient light, but rather requires an odd key combination to bring it to life.)
When he introduces Tiger next week, Steve Jobs will undoubtedly unleash a function (or two) that’s as breathtakingly simple and useful as Panther’s Exposé. But just as that OS provided a less-heralded but great update to the Preview application and Summarize, I’ll also now be looking for the “little” tools and improvements that Apple has hidden away.
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