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Mac OS X 10.4 'Tiger' in depth

Part One: Spotlight and Widgets

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Review I've been running Mac OS X 'Tiger' since the day after its release, on 29 April. At the time, hundreds of reviews of the operating system were published, but I didn't want to be a part of the herd, since many of them were little more than lists of the new features. I wanted to spend some more time with Tiger before getting off the fence.

So did The Register's Andrew Orlowski, and you can read his thoughts on some of Tiger's key components here.

Over the coming weeks, I'll be looking at 10.4's new features in depth, and exploring what Apple's done with some of the older components that have been evolving right from Mac OS X's Public Beta release, such as AppleScript, and the utilities bundled with the system software.

Spotlight

Spotlight is a work of genius. I first saw Spotlight demo'd by Apple, and it was incredibly fast, clearly by virtue of having been suitably configured beforehand. At home, on a much slower system, and launched fresh, it's rather less rapid. Over time, though, it picks up speed, and you can help it along by opening as many of your old files as possible, allowing it to incorporate their metadata and content indexes into its database.

As someone who began using computers long before the advent of built-in hard drives, this notion of replicating data - copying what's already in each file into another file - makes me twitch. It seems a terrible waste of storage. But we live in an era of machines with hundreds of gigabytes of storage, so who but me is going to mind? And since it's in part what gives Spotlight its speed, perhaps I shouldn't either. With its own database, it only has to look in one place to generate the results list. It's also tied into 10.4's kernel-level file handling code, so whenever files are read or written, Spotlight's database is updated. Modify a file, save it, and it appears straight away in Spotlight's listing.

Click for full-size picSpotlight is not only quick, but it works, and works well. Sure, there's no indication of whether a document contains one mention of the word 'fintlewoodlewix' or a hundred - results are listed by name, file-type or modification date - but what information it does provide was usually sufficient to jog my memory as to the document's relevance. The way Spotlight ties in with so many applications, and how it highlights the search string within the file is impressive - though it only works in certain, Spotlight-savvy apps like Apple's own Preview.

I like the way images can be presented as a slideshow, though the Exposé-style thumbnail code proved a little slow on my 867MHz PowerBook G4. I originally decided I wanted this feature to be directly available at the folder level, in Finder, as it is in Windows. But then I started using Spotlight's own folder view - selected with Command-Shift-Space, or by selecting Show All from the Spotlight menu's search results list - more and realised that Finder is now almost redundant.

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