The Pounce Retort

by Chuck Toporek

Last week, in the Washington Post's Fast Forward column, reporter Rob Pegoraro took some pot-shots at Mac OS X Tiger in his column, "Mac's Tiger Gives Panther Owners Little Reason to Pounce". What you'll find below is Rob's original article, which I've annotated with my comments. With some things, Rob was accurate, and with others, he didn't quite hit the mark. Read on...

Note: My comments appear in boxes like this throughout.


Washington Post


Mac's Tiger Gives Panther Owners Little Reason to Pounce

By Rob Pegoraro

Sunday, May 1, 2005; F06

Since the debut of Mac OS X in March 2001, Apple has been cranking out new versions of its operating system as if they were movie sequels. Its new OS X 10.4 release -- which Apple also calls Tiger -- took longer than any other OS X update and still showed up barely 18 months after its predecessor, Mac OS X 10.3 Panther.

Um, and it still beat Longhorn out the door, so what's your complaint? Microsoft's been talking about Longhorn for how long now, 2-3 years? And it's coming out when? Maybe late 2006?

Granted, I'm not saying that rushing an operating system out the door is a good thing, but still, at least Apple has been able to deliver new and improved versions of the operating system, even if a bit premature in form.

This pace of updates can't have been good for the sleep cycles of Apple's developers, and it certainly has taken a financial toll on users who have kept up with them all. With a purchase of Tiger, $129 ($9.95 if you bought a Mac after April 12), the total bill for OS X updates tops $500.

Very true; there's no denying this point:

  • Mac OS X 10.1: $129

  • Mac OS X 10.2 (Jaguar): $129

  • Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther): $129

  • Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger): $129

Total: $516

And if you have more than one Mac you've installed Panther or Tiger on and you've purchased the Family Pack that allows you to install the system on up to five Macs, your total goes up to $656. That's about what I paid for my Mac mini.

While I can't comment on anything about Apple's internal developers (mainly because the ones I know like their jobs and don't say a peep anyway), most of the third-party developers I know seemed relieved that there was no hard, set release date for Tiger right from the start. They knew they would have time to develop their apps for Tiger and not be rushed to get something out the door.

Each of those earlier releases justified its price with added features and functions. Tiger should as well. But Panther is already very good on its own, while this release exhibits a few rough patches -- meaning Tiger doesn't quite have an immediate, must-buy-now appeal.

Eh, I don't really buy that; you could say the same thing about the upgrade from Jaguar to Panther. After all, Jaguar was pretty stable with 10.2.8, and Panther was definitely premature; it wasn't "stable" in my eyes until the 10.3.3 release. So, you could go back to his comment and say:

"But Jaguar is already very good on its own, while this release
exhibits a few rough patches -- meaning Panther doesn't quite have
an immediate, must-buy-now appeal."

Just as Panther added speed improvements and a bunch of new features, so has Tiger. Tiger is more than just a performance upgrade, though; for example:

  • Tiger installs and boots faster than Panther, just as Panther was faster than Jaguar, and Jaguar was faster than... :^)

  • Tiger offers improvements to iChat, just as Panther offered improvements to Jaguar's iChat

  • Tiger adds Spotlight, Dashboard, Automator, VoiceOver, and Grapher

  • Tiger has Smart Folders and Burn Folders and Smart Mailboxes

  • Address Book gets Smart Groups, AB sharing (requires .Mac, though), and lets you set up a birthdays calendar in iCal (although, iCal doesn't let you configure the settings for that calendar; stupid oversight, if you ask me)

  • Parental Controls for managing users on your system

  • VoiceOver for accessibility (also comes in handy for giving presentations)

  • etc.

For one thing, it can't be loaded on many computers that could run 10.3 -- Tiger requires a Mac with a built-in FireWire port and 256 megabytes of memory. Given how halting and sluggish Tiger ran on a 256 MB Mac Mini, doubling the memory seems wise.

Tiger's requirement of a FireWire port is mainly for FireWire networking or booting into Target Mode; you can't do either without a FireWire port.

As for the RAM issue, Mac OS X has always needed at least 256 MB RAM. There's no denying the system is a memory hog, but think what that memory is doing for you that it wasn't in Mac OS 9. With OS 9, apps shared memory space with the system, which meant if one app crashed, it often took down the entire system.

But with Mac OS X, apps and the system are allocated their own memory space and they hang on to that space as long as they're running. This means the system gets its big chunk for everything it might need to do and just holds tight, and other apps get their memory and hold on to that, too. But if an app crashes in Mac OS X, it doesn't take down the system; the same applies to Finder freezes, since it too is just an app.

So, yeah, Mac OS X requires more RAM, but that's nothing new. I wouldn't run Tiger (or Panther or Jaguar) on a system with less than 512 MB RAM because once you get a few apps going, you're going to notice a performance hit as apps start using the hard drive for swap.

For another, while Tiger features some remarkably powerful capabilities, they're not all provided in the most effective manner.

Tiger's highlight is Spotlight. This search tool provides most of the capabilities of such add-on Windows programs as Google Desktop -- except that Spotlight's integration into the operating system lets it index your files as they change, not minutes or hours later.

And what came first? Spotlight in the Tiger betas, but then Google Desktop came and was publicly available a couple months later. And (presumably) because of Spotlight, Google decided not to offer Google Desktop for Mac OS X.

It also makes Spotlight searches easier to start; click the blue magnifying glass <...snip...>

Or use Command-Space...

...icon in the top right corner of the screen or use the search form included in every Finder window and file dialogue box. It even pops up in the System Preferences window; instead of wondering which control panel affects what setting, just type what you want to do and Spotlight will find the right one.

Yep, Spotlight does pop up in the System Preferences window, but that's a good thing because it means you can configure Spotlight's settings. For example, have a folder that you don't want Spotlight to index (such as Mail's Junk mail folder), you can add that to the Spotlight preference's Privacy tab and it won't be indexed.

Also, the System Preferences application in Tiger offers a search field (backed by Spotlight) that lets you search for the right preference panel by keywords. Want to set the desktop "wallpaper", type that into System Preferences' search field and it highlights the Desktop & Screen Saver panel; hit return to open the panel up. This is a really helpful feature to have, and will certainly come in handy for those who are coming over to the Mac from Windows, or who are finally making the transition to Mac OS X from Mac OS 9.

Out of the box, Spotlight already indexes the contents of nearly every file on a Mac -- e-mail messages, Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, PDF files, address-book entries, calendar appointments, digital music, and even comments embedded in digital photos. (Spotlight's vocabulary can be expanded with downloadable plug-ins.)

The one thing I like about Spotlight's metadata searching is that it also lets me search for phone numbers. For example, I've got Caller ID on my phone, but sometimes the numbers come through without a name. I can go to Spotlight (again, use Command-Space to pop open the search field) and type in part of the number (say 707-827-7) and Spotlight displays any records in my Address Book that start with that number sequence. Very handy, and is something you couldn't do in earlier releases of Mac OS X.

But Spotlight is missing one of the most useful options of other desktop search utilities: the ability to index the contents of Web pages you've visited.

And why would you want to do that anyway? Does the average user really want or need to keep an index of every web page they've visited?

While Spotlight is Tiger's most sweeping change, Dashboard is its flashiest addition. This array of small "widget" programs for such quick tasks as address and weather look-ups whooshes into view at the tap of a key, then whisks itself out of sight when you're done. Tiger includes 14 widgets, with more offered online by Apple and others.

Dashboard is the candy coating for Tiger. Out-of-the-box, the Dashboard Widgets you get with Tiger pretty much mirror the Sherlock channels, yet Sherlock still ships with the system. Why? It's only a matter of time before someone develops a movie locator Widget to replace that Sherlock channel, and then Sherlock should die.

If you're looking for an eBay Widget, you can find one HERE.

Apple's three core Internet programs -- Mail, the Safari Web browser and the iChat instant messenger -- gain new roles in Tiger.

Mail now runs much faster, incorporates Spotlight searching and lets you create "smart mailboxes" that function like iTunes' Smart Playlists, grouping messages by matching preset search terms. But the criteria available to build a smart mailbox are oddly limited; for example, you can't have Mail show only unanswered messages. (You can create similar automatic-search folders in the Finder and in the Address Book program.)

His point about not being able to configure Mail to show only unanswered messages is true, and seems like an option that would be pretty easy for Apple to add to Mail. Sure, you can flag a message with Shift-Command-L and then set up a Smart Mailbox to show all flagged messages and use that as a workaround, but it doesn't really solve the problem.

There's also no visible way to set a priority for a message, something that Mail's been lacking all along. Sure, in Tiger you can use the Message -> Mark -> As [Low|Normal|High] Priority menu options when you've got a new message window open, but you'd think this would have some sort of built-in widget in the new message's toolbar. Instead, you can set keyboard shortcuts for these, but users really shouldn't have to do that. (And it's funny, once you use one of those keyboard shortcuts, a widget for the priority options appears. Someone definitely forgot something on the development side.)

To see how to create these keyboard shortcuts, see Tiger Tip #6 on my O'Reilly Network blog.

Mail works outstandingly well with IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) accounts, but remains clumsy at managing more widely used POP (Post Office Protocol) inboxes. It also lacks the screening for fake "phishing" messages now offered by the Eudora and, soon, Thunderbird mail programs. Finally, the space-wasting, pointlessly quirky toolbar slapped onto Mail's windows needs to go.

I haven't noticed any problems with Mail and how it handles IMAP or POP mail, and as for the interface, I like this one a lot better than the Mail client with Panther.

Also, if the "pointlessly quirky toolbar slapped onto Mail's windows" really bugs you so much, just click the clear-rounded button at the upper-right corner of Mail's main window, and on the new message window. This hides the toolbar so it's out of your face, and if you ever want it back, all you need to do is click that button again.

Safari's major addition is support for the "news feeds" many Web sites publish; it usually finds them automatically, allowing you to subscribe to one with two clicks then easily sort through its headlines. A "Private Browsing" option ensures Safari will store no records of your use, handy if you're borrowing a stranger's computer.

Or if you're browsing stuff at work you shouldn't. :)

But other parts of Safari now look a bit creaky. Although this browser will block pop-up ad windows, that option is turned off by default. Its notification of the secure encryption used at real financial sites (but not at the fakes set up by phishers) is way too subtle, compared with the obvious cues offered by Firefox and Opera.

Huh? You get a little padlock in the interface that shows you when you're on a secure site. Maybe it's not in the same location as it is in Firefox, but really, what more does he want?

Apple's iChat instant messenger now allows group video conferencing, but you'll need a high-end Power Mac desktop to host one.

Yes, this is very true, and is one of the things that Apple's been promoting quite rabidly and yet also holding back critical details about from consumers. The whole iChat video conferencing with more than one person does require a G5 system, but you never heard Apple say that in any of the promotional stuff before Tiger released. Only later, after Apple announced Tiger's release date, did this tidbit of info come to light. I can see where this one might come back to bite Apple.

A more consumer-relevant feature, support for the MSN and Yahoo IM networks, goes missing.

iChat supports AIM and Jabber natively in Tiger, and you can tweak Yahoo! and MSN addresses so you can work with them over Jabber in Tiger's iChat. Granted, it doesn't work right out of the box, but it's still doable, thanks to mighty Jabber! For details on how to do this, see Melvin Rivera's blog entry:iChat to MSN through Jabber.

Jabber's new for Tiger, BTW, but it's been around since the late 90s.

Tiger expands Panther's limited parental-use controls with options to restrict a child's online use to designated Web sites, e-mail addresses and IM chatters.

Tiger's Parental Controls are a vast improvement over the way earlier versions of Mac OS X let an administrator manage other users on the system, and yet, this is all he could say about them? Parental Controls are one of the big improvements for Tiger and he totally downplays it.

One of Tiger's most promising components is easy to overlook. Its Automator program makes it drag-and-drop simple to instruct your programs to perform repetitive tasks. Not having to master programming syntax makes this a huge advance, although many programs can't yet be orchestrated by Automator.

That should be "many third-party programs can't yet be orchestrated by Automator". That part is true, because in order to be controlled by Automator, an application developer must supply a set of Actions. Most of the apps, and some of the utilities, that come with Mac OS X Tiger can be controlled by Automator, and a lot of application developers are working on adding Actions for their apps as well. The same, however, was true with AppleScript; an application developer needed to build-in hooks so the application could be controlled by AppleScript. (My guess is that it's probably easier to build Automator Actions than it is to make your app scriptable.)

Tiger is prey to as many viruses and spyware attacks as Panther -- none. But Apple missed a chance to augment OS X's already strong defenses: When a program's installer asks for an administrator's password, Tiger still provides no details about what will happen next, leaving users to hope for the best.

There is an installer log and BOM files, you know... :0

And while he chooses to rabbit punch Tiger, he's completely side-stepped Tiger's new security features, such as the ability to:

  • block UDP traffic

  • enable firewall logging

  • enable stealth mode to mask your Mac on the network

Stability has always been a core virtue in OS X, but I did see one serious system crash in five days of testing on three Macs.

Like Panther, Tiger is premature. My guess is that it won't be until we see a 10.4.2 or 10.4.3 release that Tiger's legs are sturdy enough to run with the other cats.

Why the rush? If Apple had until the end of "the first half of 2005" to release Tiger, why not clip its claws and clean it up a bit before throwing it out to the wild? One can only guess why (um, stockholders and market analysts), but that doesn't necessarily mean it's right to throw a kitten out into the jungle. Get it locked down, take developer feedback seriously, fix the bugs, make the improvements regular users are asking for (even if they seem small or trivial), refine the system a bit more, then release it. We're talking what, another month or two? Seriously, I could wait that long.

I also spotted several bugs, some merely cosmetic (overlapping controls in a Mail window) and others more serious (a new .Mac synchronization utility failed to copy all of the e-mail settings to a second Mac that it said it would). And Apple neglected to address such long-standing OS X issues as the runaround needed to erase rewritable CDs and DVDs and the painfully slow Finder performance when copying large sets of files.

  • .Mac Sync isn't everything it could be, that's for sure, but I've sync'd with four different Macs and haven't encountered a single error.

  • I can't comment on the CD-/DVD-RW thing because I haven't tested that out.

  • Finder. Yeah. With Spotlight, you really don't need the Finder anymore to open apps or files, but you do need it for creating and managing folders. My guess is we'll see the Finder wrapped up into Safari at some point. Oh wait, wouldn't that get us to where Microsoft went with IE?

Flaws and all, Tiger still beats Windows soundly, from its smooth, nag-free installation (save a brief but heavy-handed promotion of Apple's $100-per-year .Mac online service) to its sleek, shimmering graphical interface. But it's not such a huge leap past Panther to merit upgrading today. Some cleanup work from Apple could fix that.

I totally agree with his last point: "Some cleanup work from Apple _would_ fix that."

If the management there can hold off on starting the next big OS X project, there should be plenty of time to do the job right.

Yes, true, but we haven't seen Apple hold off on releasing a version of Mac OS X yet. Once it's deemed "good enough" internally, someone spit-shines it a bit and declares it releasable. But is "releasable" the best Apple can do? No, it isn't. If they paid as much attention to the OS that they do to the iPod product line (their cash dog-cow), we wouldn't be seeing Tiger for another couple months. But in today's marketplace, where Apple must answer to shareholders and respond to market analysts that know squat about technology, they're forced to push the next version of the system out there to make the analysts happy. But once you've made them happy, they're not really happy at all, at least until you start talking about the next thing. Probably goes something like this:

  Apple:   Here you go; here's our next [system, iPod, application suite], doesn't she look perty?
Street: Thanks, but it isn't all that I wanted, and this is broke.
Apple: But I got it out there ahead of schedule, and when I said I would, unlike Microsoft. Doesn't that make you happy?
Street: Yeah, it's out. Great. Woo. But it still isn't ready, aren't you worried about a consumer backlash?
Apple: All your base are belong to us.
Street: Huh?
Apple: These aren't the droids you're looking for.
Street: Huh?
Apple: Kwyjibo.
Street: Huh?
Apple: Kwyjibo Extreme!
Street: Okay, we'll wait another couple years for that.

Maybe for most there isn't a compelling reason to "pounce" on Tiger right now, but I can see its appeal and like it way more than Panther, even at its 10.4.0-ness. Fresh out of the box, Tiger is better than Panther, but is there a reason to upgrade right now? No, not really. If you don't need something in Tiger right this moment, wait a couple months; wait for a 10.4.2 release, because you know 10.4.1 is just going to fix the goobers that should've been fixed for 10.4.0.


So, what did you think of Rob's article? Accurate and balanced? What are your thoughts on Tiger?


2005-05-11 17:30:54
I think you misspelled "KWYJIBO". See the episode guide for confirmation. Bart added up the points wrong, though ... it's 26 points, not 22.
2005-05-11 17:35:31

Fixed now.

2005-05-11 21:31:29
Kind of a weak retort, I think
You dispute an article titled "Mac's Tiger Gives Panther Owners Little Reason to Pounce" by summing up with "Maybe for most there isn't a compelling reason to 'pounce' on Tiger right now" and "is there a reason to upgrade right now? No, not really."

It seems you basically agreed with his final point, and just took a slightly different route to get there.

2005-05-11 23:26:56
My re-retort
Thanks for the attentive read. If I may answer some of your comments and complaints:

* I did find Panther a must-buy upgrade, in large part because of Expose. It constantly bothers me that there isn't any equivalent to that on my Windows box at work.

* Your what-came-first musing about Spotlight and Google Desktop seems to assume that I was criticizing Apple for being late to the game. Not so; it's obvious to me that something as deeply integrated as Spotlight has been in the works for a long time.

* "Does the average user really want or need to keep an index of every web page they've visited?" I suspect most people would like to be able to find that page that they vaguely remember reading last week about [topic of personal interest], and a browser-history search that looks no farther than page titles won't do for that.

* Mail and POP accounts: Unlike Eudora (among others), Mail can't delete a selected message off the server. If you never get spam and never have to check your e-mail from more than one computer, I suppose that's fine. (IMAP makes more sense for that scenario anyway, but most consumer ISPs don't even know how to spell IMAP.)

* Safari's indication of SSL encryption: I'm guessing you haven't used Firefox lately--instead of parking a small icon at the top-right corner, it highlights all of the address bar in gold and display the site's domain name in the status bar. You'd have to be massively oblivious to get fooled by a phishing site in Firefox. Can you say the same about Safari?

* Parental controls: Having them built in is a big advance, yes, but the procedure for restricting Web browsing is laughably unintuitive. So I didn't see a good reason to trumpet this accomplishment.

* Security: If you think that sentence was a "rabbit punch," you should see what I've written about Windows! The only major weak spot in OS X's security is trojan-horse attacks, and Tiger doesn't bolt that door any tighter than Panther or Jaguar.



2005-05-12 05:22:39
My re-retort
Yes, I thought the blow-by-blow commentary was a bit defensive. Perhaps understandable with so many ill informed people writing on newly-cool-again Apple subjects, and that's not including the people who have some kind of inexplicable personal grudge against all things Mac. But this article (i.e. Rob's original column) was not only well informed but very even handed with all the info that a general audience would want about Apple's new offering.

I think perhaps Chuck was wanting to see the kind of in-depth analysis that Mac owners (like myself) want to read about the exciting new possibilities of Tiger or even a bit of outright evangelism and therfore misinterpreted a lot of the praise (e.g. the regular release schedule, compared with Longhorn at least, and who did what first claims about search) as implicit criticism, probably because several other writers have taken that exact angle and are willing to jump on real flaws in Tiger (and there are several) to write Tiger off completely in favour of the mythical Longhorn.

The only thing I'd really take issue with is the needlessly provocative title, adding "yet" or "immediately" would have changed it from trolling to good sensible advice with ease, though I suppose 'pounce' does hint at immediacy.

2005-05-12 08:26:22
Comments on comments on comments
Regarding upgrade pricing, if I remember correctly 10.1 was a free upgrade from 10.0.

Regarding the priority widget in Mail 2.0, there is a way to turn it on without keyboard shortcuts or Terminal commands. Start a new message, and look to the left of the Subject input box (or, really, the last line of the message header area -- if you have multiple accounts, look to the left of the Accounts drop-down). There is a small drop-down widget, whose default entries are BCC, Reply-To, and Customize. Choose Customize, and turn on the priority widget permanently. Close (or send) the message, and you're done. The next time you start a new message, the priority widget (along with any other customizations you made) will show up.

Regarding the new Mail UI, there are two third-party apps that will help you modify Mail's appearance, Cage Fighter and Mail Fixer. FWIW, I use both at the same time, since they do slightly different things.

2005-05-12 10:14:14
My re-retort
> * "Does the average user really want or need to keep an index
> of every web page they've visited?" I suspect most people
> would like to be able to find that page that they vaguely
> remember reading last week about [topic of personal interest],
> and a browser-history search that looks no farther than page
> titles won't do for that.

That would be a very helpful feature. I can't count how many times I can recall that I read a page recently that talked about something, but can't remember where.

2005-05-12 17:58:15
Deleting email from server
Actually, Apple Mail 2.0 may be hiding the functionality that you're looking for. Take a look at this:

* Control-click on the account you want to review (or use the "gear" shortcuts menu)

* Select "Get Info"

* The first tab allows you to show messages on the server. You can select either all messages, messages that have been removed from your Mac, or messages that have been downloaded to your Mac.

* Information listed is From, Subject, Date, Size.

* You can select any of these messages and remove them from the server.

I think I just found this via exploring, although it may have been in a hint somewhere -- I've been reading a lot on Tiger recently. :-)

2005-05-12 21:42:45
Man, that was harsh.
This is what I don't like to see...a microscopic deconstruction of a decent article as if it was penned by a Mac enemy, when in fact it was written by a Mac-friendly journalist. I've read some of Rob's past articles and what I like is that he will call them as he sees them. He isn't biased against the Mac, but he won't hesitate to call "BS" on Apple when it's called for, unlike the blind Apple fanboys. I think if you're going to beat up an article, it should have been one by somebody else.

Of course Tiger is better than Panther, but from the user point of view, Panther was a bigger jump up from Jaguar than Tiger is from Panther. Jaguar had some real problems and inconveniences that were fixed in Panther; just the changes to networking and application switching (not just Exposé) made a night and day difference in value. In comparison, my complaints about Panther are either far more minor or still not fixed in Tiger. Panther is more than a great place to stop and wait for 10.4.1 before committing to Tiger.