Apple OS 10.4 Tiger review

3.5 out of 5
£89

For

Dashboard, Spotlight

Against

Mail, time of install

With new features galore, there is plenty to Apple’s operating system Tiger, but do all these extra features come at a price of performance and your data?

Aside from the hundreds of backroom upgrades and updates we here at pocket-lint.co.uk feel there are five main new features to Apple’s Tiger; Spotlight, Dashboard, Automator, and an updated Safari and Mail.

The most important addition to Tiger is Spotlight, a new feature that allows you to search all the files on your computer quickly and effectively. Adding a new icon to the top menu bar, the system allows you to search any file on your computer by simply typing in what you are looking for.

Initially from the drop down menu you’ll get the 20 top hits whether they are emails, PDFs, word documents or images with the option to then see all the files that it’s found matching your search criteria. Because Spotlight has been built into the operating system, Apple profess that it’s faster than any of the desktop search applications you can download - ie Blinkx.

As with all indexing programmes, be prepared for that initial indexing, and this as we found can take some time to complete depending on the amount of data on your hard drive. On our test machine we had just over 40Gb of data and it took around 2 hours to complete the indexing and even then over the first couple of days it occasionally had to come back for a refresh.

As for the speed of finding the documents, on the whole it’s pretty fast although on our G4 1.25Ghz PowerBook with 768Mb there was occasional lag and this was certainly noticeable against a demo from Apple on a top of the range desktop G5 that we witnessed a week before.

Dashboard is also a new feature and this is like a second desktop for utilities. To get you started, Apple ships Dashboard with a number of applications, or widgets as they prefer to call them, such as Stickies (desktop post it notes), Calculator, Unit Converter, Weather information and even a Dictionary (yes it is American - type colour and you get “Colour the English way of spelling COLOR). Of those that Apple has supplied with 10.4, probably half require internet access to work - such as the Five Day Weather Forecast or the Stock Ticker. You can of course get more widgets either from third party developers or from Apple’s own website. Currently at the time of writing this review there are over 100 widgets available from an Amazon search tool to a Wifi tracker called Air Traffic Control.

The addition of the Dashboard is like Exposé to 10.3, a stroke of genius, and allows you to have a series of programs running without clogging up your workspace. In our tests, (surprisingly), it did not slow down the overall performance of the machine as we expected it to and something that almost justifies the upgrade itself. We especially like it because its not just restricted to Apple widgets and anyone clever enough will be able to programme a widget to help others.

In addition to Spotlight and Dashboard, Apple has also created Automator. This program allows you to automate certain tasks without having to write apple scripts to do so. Apple believes that this will change how people work and use the operating system, making it easy to automate certain tasks within Apple applications. In reality we don’t really think the average user will use it, but for some it will be useful.

Aside from the new features like Spotlight and Dashboard, Apple has also used 10.4 Tiger to update two of its main applications - Mail and Safari. Mail has had a couple of new features introduced including Spotlight to improve searching and Smart folders which allows to you create a Smart Mailbox by saving a useful search of your mailboxes.

Later, when you click the Smart Mailbox, Mail displays the results of your previous search, but updated to include any new messages that fit the search criteria. Moreover Apple has introduced the ability to view images in a more friendly manner. Now in addition to saving images you can also view them as a slideshow. The slidehow option also allows you to display all the pictures at once—in the same way as Exposé and click another button to send them directly to iPhoto.

Improvements aside, Mail was the only application we experienced problems with during the upgrade. While the initial install was successful, we had major problems importing our mail folders from our previous version of Mail. During this import our machine froze (the first time we’ve ever seen this) and meant that we had to turn the machine off and start again. When we did so, the next time we ran Mail it decided to lose all the account settings, something a tad annoying.

Apple has also chosen to remove the status bar. This is a strange choice and one that is very annoying as you now have no real way of seeing what is going on, whether your message has been sent (you have to check the sent folder manually) and whether or not you’ve got lots of mail to download.

The other updated application is Safari. Apple deciding to finally join the RSS bandwagon has added an RSS feed element to the internet browser. If you now go on to a partnered site, such as the BBC News you will be able to view its feed. The service hasn’t been turned on for every site with an RSS feed, mainly due to concern that all the extra traffic would bring down a site within a matter of minutes unless it had the server capacity to back it up.

Verdict

So should you be upgrading? The simple answer is that it's probably too early. If you happy with 10.3 its probably best to stick with it for the time being. While Dashboard is great, we did experience problems with Spotlight in its constant need to keep indexing our system in the first couple of days.

Likewise, it was a pain that we had to set up Mail all over again after it decided to wipe its memory of our previous details and emails.

Whether we would have experienced the same problems on a completely clean machine is hard to tell, but we very much doubt it.

If you're going to upgrade then our suggestion is to book some time to do it (our install took over an hour) and to make sure you back up your system, especially your email details, before you go ahead with it.