And although it will be some time before the beast finally pounces, it has started to show off some of its stripes. The next major update to OS X, Tiger, has a lot in common with its predecessors, Jaguar and Panther—from its feline-inspired nickname to the promised addition of 150 new features and enhancements. But in one key area, Tiger represents a departure—it’s the first major update since OS X’s 2001 release that won’t appear in the fall. With Apple slowing down the rapid pace of OS X development, Tiger is expected to ship sometime during the first half of 2005. Still, Tiger isn’t completely shrouded in mystery. We examine how each of the announced additions and enhancements will affect the way you use your Mac, and whether they will make Tiger the king of Apple’s cats.
1. Spotlight: Searching’s New Focus
Of all the no-hassle tasks you can do on a Mac, finding a song amid your iTunes library may be the simplest. Just go to the iTunes search bar and start typing what you’re looking for, whether it’s the name of the song, the artist, or the album. With every keystroke, the list of displayed songs is whittled down, until you’ve found what you were searching for.
Apple plans to integrate the ease of iTunes-style searches throughout Tiger. The systemwide search feature—dubbed Spotlight—promises to look through documents, Mail messages, iCal calendar items, Address Book contacts, and other files, producing search results as quickly as you can type in queries.
Tiger adds a magnifying-glass icon to the far right corner of the menu bar. Click on it, and a drop-down search field similar to the one in iTunes appears. As you type your query, a live list of search results appears, with results sorted by type (Mail messages, PDF documents, and HTML files, for example).
Spotlight searches aren’t confined to file names. Because Spotlight looks at information about your files and any text contained within them, it can search based on who created a file, who modified it and when, file type, and even individual words in a document. All your files are indexed in the background, so there aren’t annoying pauses when you type in searches.
Spotlight searching appears in other parts of Tiger, too. Take System Preferences, which replaces the old list of toolbar icons with a search field. Type in a keyword, and a drop-down list of related preferences appears; at the same time, the relevant preference pane is highlighted. For example, a search for
will highlight the Desktop and Screen Saver icon. Search terms don’t need to be exact—if you search for
for example, Spotlight will recognize what preference pane you’re searching for and highlight its icon.
The Finder’s search field will also undergo a Spotlight-powered renovation. In addition to the usual searches for file names, you can search by keyword—the kind of file, the date it was last viewed or modified, and other properties. You can even search for multiple properties—say, every PDF you’ve viewed in the past week. A Save button in the Finder lets you save search results based on specific criteria into Smart Folders. Much like Smart Playlists in iTunes, Smart Folders update in real time whenever you add or remove documents. Mail and Address Book add similar functionality, with Smart Mailboxes and Smart Groups, respectively.—
2. Unix enhancements: Bits with bite
Many changes in Tiger will take place below the surface, in the Unix kernel, in the Unix user space, and in the OS X development environment. These additions won’t wow you as much as Spotlight will, but they’re among the most important improvements you’ll find in Tiger.
64-bit Memory Addressing
Although the PowerPC G5 is a 64-bit chip, limitations in current versions of OS X restrict the amount of memory it can allocate to any one user process to “only” 4GB. While this seems massive, researchers working on tasks such as DNA sequencing require more—their data sets are huge, and computations happen quickly in RAM. Tiger’s support for 64-bit memory addressing means that these applications can now harness up to
4 billion times
as much memory as their 32-bit counterparts. But those 32-bit applications will also get a boost under Tiger, thanks to general improvements in the OS’s code.
Tiger will include XGrid, software that distributes complex tasks among a number of networked machines. This addition should lead to more applications designed to take advantage of networked Macs for CPU-intensive operations. You’ll never use XGrid when writing a Microsoft Word document, but the feature will come in very handy if you work with huge amounts of experimental data or render complex animations on video files.
Access Control Lists
In the current OS X, you define access to files and folders by setting permissions for the file’s owner, the group to which the file belongs, and others (anyone who isn’t the owner or a member of the defined group). In Tiger, you can use Access Control Lists (ACL) to set permissions—any file or folder can have an associated ACL. For example, an associated ACL would allow you to give your spouse access to your Pictures folder, without going through complex group or permissions tricks.
Resource Fork Support
In Tiger, many common Unix utilities, such as cp, tar, and rsync, will function properly when dealing with files that have resource forks—which is where, historically, Mac programs kept things such as icons, images, and sounds. OS X 10.3’s Unix commands are, generally, not resource fork-aware, so using the copy (cp) command on a file results in the loss of the resource fork. Thanks to a documented interface in Tiger, developers will also be able to add resource-fork support to their own Unix programs. The support for resource forks at the Unix level should lead to more GUI apps that take advantage of Unix tools without endangering the resource forks in Mac files.—
Harking back to the early days of Mac OS, Dashboard mixes the classic Mac’s Desk Accessories with OS X’s Exposé and then adds a dash of Web savvy, to create a completely separate layer of the Mac interface.
Apple bills Dashboard as “Exposé for Widgets,” and, indeed, Dashboard wouldn’t make a lot of sense were it not for its integration with Exposé. Essentially, Dashboard lets you run small programs (which Apple calls widgets) on an invisible layer within Exposé. When you press a key (F12, by default), the Dashboard layer zooms and fades in, as though it had been hiding somewhere just behind your head all along. Clicking on a button to change a widget’s preferences causes some graphical flash—the entire widget spins around to reveal a preference pane on the “back” of the widget itself.
Don’t expect to do your word processing or spreadsheet calculations in Dashboard—the programs that live there are meant to be tiny. But smaller tasks that should get in your face only for a few seconds (for instance, the Desk Accessories you used to stash in your Apple menu back in the day, such as Calculator and Scrapbook) are ripe for Dashboard.
If you’re curious about Dashboard, you can give Arlo Rose and Perry Clarke’s $25
4. .Mac sync: In sync, systemwide
Tiger’s entrance marks iSync’s exit; Apple is dropping future development of the synchronization utility. But that doesn’t mean an end to synchronizing data with your cellular phone, PDA, or .Mac account. In fact, Apple plans to integrate synchronization right into Tiger.
Much of Tiger’s synchronization features work through .Mac, Apple’s subscription-based bundle of Internet services. Consider it Apple’s way of giving you more reasons to spend $99 a year for a .Mac account. But syncing in Tiger doesn’t end with .Mac.
Unlike iSync, Tiger’s synchronization engine is open to the rest of the world. Users of third-party address books, calendaring apps, and the like can rejoice—if the developer of your particular program adds support for Tiger’s new synchronization engine, you’ll be able to sync your data with anything the synchronization engine can talk to. (According to Apple, Tiger will synchronize with the same sorts of things that iSync supports: .Mac, iPods, mobile phones, and PDAs. There’s no indication whether Tiger will sync to other kinds of devices or directly with other Macs without using .Mac as an intermediary.)
More important, synchronization under Tiger is no longer limited to bookmarks, address books, and calendars. Any program can synchronize any sort of data. For example, if the developer of your favorite launcher-palette utility adopts Tiger’s new synchronization engine, you’ll be able to synchronize the contents of various docks, tabs, or palettes. Make a change on your desktop Mac, and those changes would be automatically synchronized with the copy of the utility running on your PowerBook.
If you’ve ever been frustrated because the settings on the various Macs you use tend to drift apart on different computers, syncing can put them back together. Apple applications in Tiger that will support this new syncing technology include the Desktop & Screen Saver preference pane, Exposé, and the Dock—potentially enabling your Dock items to follow you wherever you go. You’ll control it all from Tiger’s .Mac preference pane, which lets you choose the applications you want to sync and how often that synchronization should occur.
Will this new syncing engine solve every data-synchronization problem Mac users face? Probably not. But because Apple is opening synchronization up to third-party developers with Tiger, many more of those problems will get solved than have ever been solved with iSync.—
5. iChat AV: Three’s company
iChat AV allowed far-flung OS X 10.3 users to chat face-to-face. With its updated version of iChat, Tiger will make sure that more Mac users can join in the conversation.
The instant-messaging application first introduced in Jaguar received audio and videoconferencing capabilities in Panther. But those chat sessions were limited to one-on-one conversations. iChat’s boundaries expand in Tiger—audio chats can now include as many as ten people, and videoconferences are expanding to include a total of four users.
Apple promises high-quality audio compression techniques for iChat AV in Tiger, so audio sessions will come through loud and clear. Audio chats will retain the same look they have in Panther—a panel that lists the other chat participants’ names, as well as a sound meter. For multiparty chats in Tiger, the sound meter adds a second purpose—it not only lets you know whom you’re talking to, but also provides a visual cue that lets you know who’s talking.
Videoconferencing, however, gets a substantial visual overhaul. The interface offers a three-dimensional view, with the two video screens on either end tilted inward toward the third video screen in the middle. The image of each chat participant is reflected beneath their screens, in a look that Apple says is reminiscent of a conference-room table. However, Mac users of a certain age might notice more than a passing resemblance to the Council of Elders scene from the opening of
Whether you use the new iChat to collaborate with far-flung colleagues or to condemn General Zod to the Phantom Zone, you’ll benefit from the H.264/AVC (Advanced Video Coding) video codec that improves the messaging app’s picture resolution (see “H.264: Highly Defined”). iChat also has improved bandwidth management: the chat participant whose computer sports the fastest Internet connection automatically becomes the manager of the entire multiparty chat session.
Even with enhanced bandwidth management, it’s unclear exactly who will be able to use the revamped iChat; Apple hasn’t announced system requirements yet. To video chat using iChat AV 2.1, you need a machine with at least a 600MHz G3 processor and a cable, DSL, or broadband Internet connection. With the processing oomph required for multiperson chats, the system requirements for iChat in Tiger could be more stringent.
Don’t expect to take this new version of iChat out for a test spin. Unlike iChat AV—which appeared as a Jaguar-compatible beta before it was released as part of Panther—this new version won’t be released as a separate beta.—
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
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.—
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.—
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
—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.—
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”).—
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,”
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.—
In Automator, you can automate repetitive tasks by building a flowchart out of supplied actions instead of writing AppleScript
10 Tiger features we’d like to see
Ten down, 140 to go. Apple probably has plenty of other features it plans to unveil between now and Tiger’s estimated early 2005 release. But just in case Apple programmers are stumped, here are a couple of ideas we’ve gleaned from staff, our contributors, and users of the Macworld.com forums on what might make for other nice additions to Tiger.
Location Management: OS X already has some smart capabilities, such as autosensing the appropriate network connection. Wouldn’t it be great if the OS could also change a number of different settings—your default SMTP server, your default printer, and even your iChat status—just by knowing the name of the active 802.11 base station or your Mac’s current IP address?
Users And Groups: A return of this OS 9-era control panel would make it easier to control file sharing and permissions on your home network.
Spring-Loaded Folders in the Dock: Sure, it’s fun to drag an item on top of a folder in the Finder and have that folder automatically open. How about the same effect if you drag an item onto a folder in the Dock?
Adopting from XP: Not every idea to come out of Redmond is a bad one. Windows XP sports Open and Save dialog boxes that allow file renaming and deletion. Perhaps Tiger should, too.
Sherlock, Revisited: Remember Sherlock, OS X’s built-in app for displaying customized information in content-specific windows? Well, Apple seems to have forgotten it. And Tiger provides an opportunity for better integration between Sherlock and other apps.
Label Fixes: When labeled folders show up in the sidebar and Dock, it’d be nice if their assigned colors did too.
External drive support: Wouldn’t it be great if you could tote your entire user folder around easily on an external FireWire drive? And wouldn’t it be even better if you could plug that drive into another Mac and log right in, just as if it were your own?
Quick Access to Files: OS 9 had the Apple Menu. Windows has the Start Menu. Why not create a dedicated user-editable menu for quick file launching within OS X?
Smarter Trash: After years of having a one-Trash-for-all-volumes approach, OS X could let users control-click on the Trash and choose to only empty files from particular volumes.
AirTunes Everywhere: How about extending the new AirTunes protocol so that
application, not just iTunes, can target its audio output to speakers that are driven by an AirPort Express?