6 Years with Tiger
Apple released Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger six years ago. It would become the longest lasting version of OS X ever, not replaced by a newer version until 10.5 Leopard shipped in October 2007 - 30 months later.
Tiger replaced 10.3 Panther, which had been on the market for 18 months and had been the high water mark for features and Classic Mode performance. Tiger was even more powerful, more sophisticated, and better at running Classic Mode. It was also the last version of OS X to include support for Classic Mode, which allows you to run apps for the pre-OS X Mac OS while running OS X on PowerPC Macs.
Tiger would also become the first version of OS X available for Intel Macs, which first came to market in January 2006.
Apple upped official hardware requirements from a 233 MHz G3 with 128 MB of memory for Panther to 256 MB of memory and a Mac with built-in FireWire support, which made the 300 MHz Blue & White Power Mac G3 the oldest and slowest supported model. Tiger shipped on DVD, which eliminated the CD shuffle necessary when installing previous versions of OS X. Although the 350 MHz slot-loading iMac doesn't include a FireWire port, Tiger is supported on it. However, because it has a CD-ROM drive instead of one that can read DVDs, installation can be a real challenge.
In short, Tiger dropped support for the Beige Power Mac G3 (233-366 MHz), Lombard PowerBook (333-400 MHz), and all tray-loading iMacs (233-333 MHz). Thanks to XPostFacto, an alternate installer, it is often possible to get Tiger running on these unsupported Macs.
The two most important new features in Tiger were Spotlight and Dashboard. Spotlight is a systemwide search engine designed to read, catalog, and help you dig through the contents of your hard drive. It was far from perfect, but it was a big step up from the Finder's Find File command, which could only search by file name.
Dashboard made widgets - essentially mini apps - a standard OS X feature. Widgets let you have a layer of tiny apps that can be called to the foreground at any time, partially obscuring your other apps. Widgets include a calculator, weather panel, iTunes control, calendar, and a host of additional mini apps from Apple and third party developers.
For those on low-end systems, the overhead of Spotlight and Dashboard - both in terms of system memory and CPU cycles - would make overall performance worse with Tiger than it had been when running Panther, so utilities for disabling either or both of these features became popular.
For the first time ever, Mac OS X shipped with only Apple's browser. Safari had been introduced when OS X 10.2 Jaguar was current, but Apple continued to include Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 with the OS X installer. No longer with Tiger, which shipped with Safari 2. Just as well, because Microsoft had abandoned IE development for the Mac almost two years earlier, and version 5.2.3 was the final revision. (Interestingly, IE 5.2.3 still runs on OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, although it looks and feels incredibly dated. As a PowerPC app, it won't run in OS X 10.7 Lion.) Safari 2 included an RSS reader.
With iChat AV 3.0, Tiger users could carry on 4-way video conferences and 10-way voice conferences.
Mail 2.0 had integrated Spotlight support and introduced "smart" mailboxes.
Tiger also included limited support for 64-bit addressing on G5 Power Macs, but 64-bit addressing wouldn't become a significant feature until the release of Snow Leopard in August 2009.
The "unified" user interface in Tiger makes previous versions of OS X feel dated, even more than the updates in 10.3 made 10.2 feel clunky.
Tiger was the first version of OS X to hit the .10 revision mark, which caused problems with some software installer that saw it as version 10.4.1 rather than 10.4.10. The final revision of Tiger was version 10.4.11, released in November 2007. Apple continued to offer security updates into 2009.
End of the Road
Mac OS X 10.4 users are increasingly being left out in the cold, especially those still using PowerPC Macs. iTunes 9.2.1 is the last version for Tiger, which means users need to upgrade to Leopard for full support of an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. The latest - and probably last - version of Safari for Tiger is version 4.1.
When Leopard was introduced in October 2007, Apple raised the bar on hardware significantly - no more support for G3 Macs, and the installer would nor run unless you had an 867 MHz G4 or better, although those with slower Macs soon found workarounds for that requirement. Leopard was the only version of OS X where the same version could be installed on PowerPC and Intel Macs, and part of the price paid was the loss of Classic Mode.
Between the loss of Classic Mode and the lack of support for G3 Macs, Tiger remains the most popular version of OS X among PowerPC Mac users*, and we continue to use it daily at Low End Mac - alongside our file server running 10.5 Leopard and our Intel Mac mini running 10.6 Snow Leopard.
Although we're being increasingly left behind as newer versions of software drop support for Tiger and/or PowerPC, for those with G3 Macs and those who need Classic Mode, OS X 10.4.11 remains the last and best option. Although it's a bit dated and growing more so month by month, it will continue to meet the needs of many longtime and low-end Mac users for years to come.
* Current stats: 44.5% of Low End Mac visitors using PowerPC Macs are running Tiger, 38.7% Leopard, and 16.8% are using OS X 10.3 or earlier. Compare this to 82.4% of Intel Mac visitors running Snow Leopard, 14.7% Leopard, and just 2.9% on Tiger. Including Lion testers, just over 83% of Mac users visiting LEM are on Intel Macs, leaving a bit under 17% on PPC.
Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.
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