posted by David Adams on Thu 28th Apr 2005 07:05 UTC

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The new Mac OS has just enough flash to get people's attention and make you feel like you're getting your money's worth, while the real value is in the "200+" minor improvements across the board. I think that Tiger is a lot more like Windows XP was to 2000 than SP2 was to SP1, despite what anti-Apple nay-sayers proclaim. Of course, there are many people who still believe that Windows XP wasn't that much of an improvement over Windows 2000 (or was a step back), and I think the same could be said for Tiger, but honestly, you're not going to find people in six months pining for Panther. Tiger is all around better.

On the other hand, there's nothing earth-shattering here, and Panther is still a pretty good OS, so there's no reason to rush out and buy it unless you're like me and have to have the latest and greatest. Are you planning on buying a new Powerbook when the next crop comes out? You might want to save your $129 and just wait to get it for free with your new computer. Likewise, if you've been on the fence about buying a new Mac Mini, you might just want to buy one now, and get Tiger thrown in with the deal.

So is Tiger the end-all-be-all perfect OS? Hardly. As I'd mentioned before, the barrier is still set pretty low, so Tiger does look pretty good in comparison, but there is still plenty of room for improvement, in usability, performance, and functionality. Faster as it may be, it's still not as snappy as the BeOS, or possibly even Windows Server 2003 for that matter.

It also still has some annoying usability quirks and I'm not talking about matters of UI dogma like universal toolbars, but rather some lapses in the Finder's otherwise excellent usability, such as the dock that's still too big, too centered, in the wrong place, in the way, that performs too many roles, and fails to differentiate between them properly. It's all easily solvable by making it smaller, pinning it to the right bottom of the screen using Tinkertool, and only using it as a small visual indicator of open applications, with Launchbar/Quicksilver/Spotlight as the way of opening new ones, but why should I have to fight the defaults and use two or three separate hacks just to make application selection work right? And the Finder is still choked with superfluous functions that I rarely if ever use, file browsing is still a little clunky, and support for previewing multimedia files in the Finder is still a bit weak compared to Windows. And did I mention the ugly brushed metal interface and how it seems to be implemented willy-nilly for no reason?

What I really can't figure out is why, when Apple has been so eager to pillage the shareware world for nifty eye candy like Konfabulator/Dashboard, why are there still aspects of everyday usability that aren't build into the OS? How about a good, transparent backup utility, for example? Is that not one of the most important things that a typical computer user never ever does? How about support for more IM protocols in iChat? And why isn't there more capability to customize the look and feel of the Mac experience? I'd like to remove or move around some of the menu options, get rid of the dreaded brushed metal, and, you know, make the place my own. Right now it's half mine and half Steve's. Steve, it's time for you to move out. And will you just make an Apple-branded two button scrolling mouse, for goodness sakes! It's already fully supported int he OS! Jeez!

In conclusion, Tiger is a great OS update, precisely because it's focused on a raft of incremental improvements rather than ambitious, flashy, ultimately useless features. You may not need to run right out and buy it, but if you do, you won't be disappointed. It doesn't solve all of my gripes with the Mac OS, but would it ever? You just can't be all things to all people, but you can try to build something with a commitment to excellence, and that's what Apple has done here. I give it a 9/10, knowing that the day an OS earns 10/10 the sky will fall.

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