Mac2Windows

Tiger: Lots to Like, But Some Annoyances as Well

- 2005.05.18 - Tip Jar

Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" has been out since April 29th, and the verdict is overwhelming positive: 200+ new features including Spotlight, a fast search function well-integrated with the operating system; performance that continues to improve, even on older hardware; continuing the combination of Unix stability and good Apple design and usability. Even the Windows-press is raving about it, typically comparing it to Microsoft's seeming inability to get its next-generation Windows, Longhorn, off the ground.

While Apple released the last major upgrades to OS X more or less a year apart, it sat on Tiger for 18 months or so; despite this, there are a number of rough edges.

Let's start with the installation process. Many users will simply take the easy install route, and it will probably update their existing system fine and dandy. But try putting it on an older system, especially one that's a little tight for space, and you may start running into problems - problems that should have been easily dealt with.

For example, I was putting Tiger onto my daughter's iBook G3/500; it's been upgraded to a (more or less) reasonable amount of memory but still has the 10 GB hard drive that it came with in 2001. The setup program noted that there might not be enough free drive space, so I opened the custom options to see what features could be left out.

Space Hogs

By default, Tiger installs all foreign language file sets. These look like they can be unchecked, but I couldn't uncheck the optional languages on her system. (Later, when I erased the hard drive and ran a clean install, I was able to uncheck them - I'm assuming they were installed in some previous OS X installation, and the Tiger install can't be used to remove previously installed features).

TinkerTools System
TinkerTools System

After installation, I ran TinkerTools System, which includes an option to remove unneeded language files; it removed some 16,000 language packages containing over a gigabyte worth of files. That's a lot of space on a 10 GB drive. (Another option: the free Monolingual. Once-popular Delocalizer hasn't been updated since OS X 10.2 and probably won't work now.)

Another space hog is printer drivers. Again, Tiger's setup default is to simply install all of them - taking another gigabyte or so. The custom install lets you fine tune that, somewhat. You can choose, for instance, to leave out all Brother or Lexmark drivers if you don't need them. But I have one HP and one Canon printer - and the set up options are all or nothing. Need one HP driver? You need to install them all. As with the language install, Apple seems to be assuming that users all have almost infinitely large hard drives, which was certainly not the case on this system - and probably on many others.

Installation

Installing Tiger on another computer repeatedly slowed to a crawl until I shut down and disconnected an external hard drive. With that shut off, the install ran quickly and smoothly. (Tip: Turn off any unneeded drives or other devices during the installation).

When one system started up after install, there were no drive or folder icons on the Desktop, and the only way to get to the Finder was to click its icon in the Dock. Luckily, that problem went away after another restart.

Another annoyance: The Setup Assistant that automatically runs on the first startup. On a clean install, it let users pick a keyboard language and choose a network. But on upgrade installs, does it actually set up anything? It merely seemed to be an attempt to sell .mac accounts and then register the user with Apple.

Even Microsoft (despite their product activation "feature") gives users an option to not register. If you have a live Internet connection, Setup Assistant will send your information to Apple. Period.

Changes

Every major operating system release seems to cause problems with some third party preferences and utilities. I expect these and don't consider them an annoyance - more just part of the experience of being an early adopter. Keyboard ModifierIn my case, there were Tiger-capable updates for the Unsanity programs I love: FruitMenu and WindowShade X. I used uControl to disable the CapsLock key - it no longer works, but now I can turn that key off using the Keyboard & Mouse system preference's Modifier Keys button. I've heard of people reporting problems with Microsoft's Windows Media Player, but it seems to be working fine for me.

Some users are reporting other glitches, however. I've heard from a user who now has two Help menus in Safari, for instance, and for whom Safari seems much slower at loading pages, and another whose previously quiet PowerBook now has a fan that seems to run much more often and much more noisily. There are other reports of increased problems with Windows networks, but I haven't experienced them.

Not a bug but an annoyance: The new Windows-like nags asking them to confirm what they just asked the system to do. For instance, Safari noting "'NewApplication.wdgt.sitx' may contain an application. The safety of this file cannot be determined. Are you sure you want to download...." How about giving users an option to turn these warnings off?

The new Mail toolbar icons annoy some users; having the Reply/Reply All/Forward icons or Delete/Junk icons grouped together makes it more difficult for some to arrange the Mail toolbar the way they'd like. (And I've heard from a user who was confusing the left and right arrows with the similar buttons in most Web browsers, which do very different things).

In the System Preferences window, the toolbar buttons are simply gone - instead of letting users add icons for their most-used preferences, they're expected to use the search field. Surely it wouldn't have been difficult for Tiger's developers to offer users some control over the toolbar look and feel in both Mail and System Preferences.

Then there's Dashboard. Once you add a widget, it's not clear how to get it off your Desktop. (The solution: click the [+] button, then click the [x] that appears on each widget). Or to tell the weather widget that I'm in Vancouver, Canada, not Vancouver, Washington? (Others have touched on the potential security dangers in Dashboard.) How about some documentation somewhere?

Don't get me wrong - there's a lot to like in Tiger. Many users will find Spotlight alone a reason to upgrade. But there are also more rough edges than I expected - and a little ticklish feeling that Apple is getting a bit too controlling of the user experience for my taste.

I'm hopeful that OS X 10.4.1 will appear soon, hopefully fixing the setup (and other) glitches and making the process a bit more helpful for users with less drive space. And hopefully utilities will arrive soon to let users turn off unwanted messages, get control back over the Mail and System Preference toolbars, and more. LEM

Editor's note: This article was received before Apple released the 10.4.1 update on Monday.

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Alan Zisman is Mac-using teacher and technology writer based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Many of his articles are available on his website, www.zisman.ca. If you find Alan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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