One of the nifty features in Tiger that hasn't generated much buzz yet is Automator. Now, the Mac OS has always had some powerful automation capabilities thanks to the powerful but misunderstood Applescript. But I'm about as experienced a Mac user as you can get and every time I've tried to do anything meaningful with Applescript it's ended in frustration. Automator takes a lot of the capabilities that have been there all along and integrates them into an easy-to-understand drag and drop environment. Not only can you automate file-management and other OS tasks, but also most actions in the standard Apple applications, such as Mail and the iApps. I guess you can say it's Xcode for non-programmers. While it may not prove to be quite the tool that Perl is to Unix hackers, I'm waiting eagerly for an opportunity to need Automator for something.
iChat AV has some cool enhancements, like audio and video conferences with multiple participants, but I don't have an iSight, so I didn't try the multi-screen videoconference. Thanks to Quicktime 7, iChat and other A/V applications have various under-the-hood improvements for higher quality audio and video. iChat also now includes support for Jabber as well as AIM.
Apple touts Tiger's "200+" new features, and they're not lying, though many of them are more along the order of small tweaks. There are some useful new network utilities, new functionality for Mail, Address Book, iCal, and other integrated apps, and some under-the-hood improvements like secure WebDAV, improved SMP capabilities, 64 bit VM, and some cross-platform networking improvements, to name a few.
The only problem that I had doing the upgrade from Panther was with one of these "improved" applications. I did an "archive and install" upgrade, preserving my settings, but when I booted into Tiger and launched Mail, not only were my several years of organized messages not properly imported into the new version of Mail, the Mail application was sluggish and refused to quit when asked. I was forced to trash the mail database and re-import my messages manually, from three different repositories, associated with different email accounts. Everything seems to be working well now, and it's probably a result of my convoluted setup with five years of archived mail that had been imported from Entourage a while back. The new Mail version has a new look, and a bunch of new features, apparently, but none that I need or use.
Since the announcement of Tiger, some have been quick to complain, yet again, that Apple is charging another $129 for a new version that doesn't seem to be all that much different than the old one. Is Tiger as much of an improvement over 10.3 as Longhorn is supposed to be over XP? Well, we'll see what features Longhorn actually ends up having before we answer that. Frankly, I think that all of the myriad non-sexy, under-the-hood improvements that result in modest speed and functionality improvements the OS and its included utilities and apps like Safari would qualify Tiger for major-release status by themselves. The nifty new applications like Spotlight and Dashboard are just icing on the cake.
Back on the subject of bloat, why does bloat happen anyway? It's because consumers become obsessed with receiving flashy new features for their upgrade dollars instead of demanding basic, incremental advancements in the core functionality. I guess it's the same reason why the redesign of a car's sheet metal exterior excites much more passion than a 15% increase in efficiency and horsepower and several minor new safety features would.