Sunday, May 1, 2005

Tiger first impressions

It's been about a year since I switched to OSX. I've
been very pleased with it, and have been looking forward to a number
of the new features announced for Tiger. So, like a good Mac devotee,
I went out to the Mac store on Friday night, along with hundreds of
others, and picked up a copy of OS X version 10.4, aka Tiger.

Overall, it's very good. The feature I was most looking forward to,
Spotlight, delivers on those high expectations. It's fast, it works
and is integrated throughout the OS. The interface is frequently
awkward, incomplete or inconsistant, but it works so well, and with a
few exceptions, it works the way you want to that these flaws are
forgivable. Within smart folders (whether in mail or in Finder), you
can create reasonably though not arbitrarily complex queries.
However, in the search bar, there is no syntax (whether with parens,
"+" and "-" symbols, or something else) for more complex queries.

I've already found Spotlight quite useful, but there have already been
occasions where I've wanted to do a structured restriction of a query.
Switching to a Smart Folder for such a query isn't too bad, but it
would be nice to be able to add it to the tex queries in some way
similar to the way google has the search qualifiers like "link:" and
"site:". The ability to add "comments" to files which will then be
found in Spotlight is nice too, though I'm not sure I'll use it a lot.
One of the nicest accidental Spotlight surprises was that Adium, a
very nice IM client, stores its logs as HTML and these are
automatically indexed. They simply show up as "Documents", rather
than their own category, which would be nice, but still, very slick.
Sadly, Stickies are not indexed, which seems like a dumb oversight.

Dashboard, I wasn't particularly looking forward to. It seemed
like it was a bit more sizzle than steak. It turns out, that's only
partiallly true and the sizzle is really really nice. It'll take a
bit more use before I determine if it is actually useful in the long
run, but for now, there are several useful widgets and having very
fast access to them is convenient. Plus, they are pretty.

Automator is a bit of a disappointment, but I didn't have high
expectations. All of the first several "workflows" I wanted to create
turned out to be impossible because of either missing actions or the
lack of multiple inputs on existing actions. Further, the ones that
are possible are not always straightforward to build. There's also
some weirdness with other application interactions (see below about
Mail). I'll have to try it a little more to be sure, but my gut says
that until there's a much wider corpus of "generic" actions, I won't
find it so useful.

Mail has a few changes, the biggest of which is "Smart
Mailboxes", which is really a spotlight feature. Smart Mailboxes are
great. I love being able to filter and slice up my mail and Smart
Mailboxes dramatically improve this capability. Key to this
usefullness is their speed. Most smart mailboxes come up effectively
instantly. A couple of the very large mail boxes (roughly 20,000
matching messages each) take a few seconds, but that's clearly related
to the display of the messages, not the underlying query. Another
smart mailbox, which relies on the 20,000 message box as a qualifying
condition, but further narrows the list substantially, loads
instantly. Mail added some other nice Spotlight features, including
improved searching within mail and easy quick Spotlight searches of
senders, names, and the like. The user interface of Mail has also
changed and I'll agree with the href=>Ars Technica
evaluation that mail has been "beaten with the ugly stick".

One more Mail weirdness. In all of the smart mailbox filtering, there
is no filter for read versus unread messages. Annoying, but
manageable. However, if you go into Automator, you can create an
Automator workflow which selects unread messages and then you can tell
Automator to display those. They pop up as though they were their own
mailbox, but they really exist only ephemerally. There is no mailbox,
even though you have on selected, the message list corresponds to
those selected by your Automator query. A little weird. Overall
though, other than the ugliness, the new mail features are very
powerful and useful.

Preview now allows you to, among other things, annotate PDF
files. I like this idea a great deal. It remains to be seen if I'll
use it much, but I think I might.

Overall, I like it a lot. The system speed seems better, if
anything and Spotlight remains the star of the show, but it's
amazingly well integrated.

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