So you have your copy of Tiger - and now what? Based on an exclusive hands-on test of the final version, here's a special guide to what you should do, and expect, from the newest version of Apple's operating system.

Crucially: before you install, back up your important files. Really. It's always a good idea, and this is the best time. Save your home directory (complete, if you can; or separate the music and pictures, from the documents and Library).

Next: disable ALL third-party utilities, especially those which add things to the menu, or change appearances. Tiger has a lot of changes underneath, and those will conflict: I thought my DVD burner had died. Instead, it was a third-party disc ejection utility. Tiger works. Only re-install things that have been updated for Tiger. (Users of St Clair Software's Default Folder in particular should upgrade to the new, free version 2.0.)

Restart, and you'll notice the machine boots up much more quickly. Log in, and you'll find that everything works a bit quicker; some developers claim up to 50% faster processor work. (My CPU stats suggested it had more idle time.)

Eight key features will delight you in Tiger:

  • Spotlight, for finding stuff
  • Dashboard, where "widgets" give you an extra work (or play) space
  • Smart Folders in the Finder, which can show any files matching more than 100 criteria (Mail 2.0 has them too)
  • Burn Folders in the Finder, offering a quick way to burn a disc
  • Automator, a Lego-like approach to automating tasks spanning a range of programs
  • Safari's new RSS feature, which makes it easy to keep up with news and views without laboriously visiting web sites
  • Integration: everything fits much more tightly together
  • Security: more of it, spread all across the system.

And there on the top right hand is the magnifying glass icon - Spotlight. (You don't need your mouse; the keyboard shortcut is Cmd-space. You'll use it a lot.) Spotlight is everything you've heard, and more. You'll discover wonders, as well as stuff you'd forgotten about. Can't find an application? Downloaded something but can't find it now? Spotlight will sniff it out, across your home directory or the computer (though not other users' files.) It's clever, and updates immediately: even as I wrote this piece it added it to a Spotlight search I had up.

System Preferences also has Spotlight built in, so if you can't remember where the firewall setting lives, just start typing in the "Search" bar at the top right.

Crucially, Spotlight now is only a patch on what it will become, as developers write plugins for their applications to make their full content available to Spotlight. For instance, the news aggregator NetNewsWire, for instance, doesn't yet have such a plugin, but Spotlight indexes the raw XML files, which appear in search results. (Kudos to Flying Meat's Voodoopad, whose Spotlight-enabled version came out earlier this week - the first, I think, with this capability.)

Tiger's Spotlight is thus going to get better and better - and developers will make it so.
Dashboard is like the window-hiding function Exposé, with something extra underneath. Press a key combination (you can change this in Keyboard Preferences), and the main window darkens and a new set whip in. By now, dozens more widgets - in essence, tiny web pages - will have appeared on Apple's site, and at sites all over the Net. They're excellent ways to do a quick calculation, convert units, check the weather somewhere, look up an address... and of wasting time. A tile game is included, but dozens more games from independents will join it. Though as one developer wearily told me, "Probably 90 per cent of them will be RSS readers." Well, they are web pages (though they can link, weakly, to programs in your user space).

Again, Dashboard now is just the beginning. In 18 months' time, it'll be an entire ecosystem.
Smart Folders have been implemented by blinkx for older OSX versions, but that's not necessary now. Like iTunes's Smart Playlists, a Smart Folder will update automatically as things come along that match its parameters. Looking for songs emailed to you on a particular date, or camera pictures taken with flash? Smart Folders will find them. Indispensable, and fast. And it doesn't gather the items; the "contents" of a smart folder are aliases to the actual files or folders, so anything can be in multiple Smart Folders simultaneously. Mail has also acquired them for mail messages.

Burn Folders are a corollary of Smart Folders; in this case, smart enough to know, when you put some items in and click "Burn", how large a disc you'll need. Takes all the guessing out. Brilliant for regular backups.

Automator is what one developer I spoke to calls "the sleeper hit of Tiger". Bored with doing the same things each day? Yes, me too. Automator takes the Lego approach to programming, and about time. The only thing it lacks is an "if" clause, and a way to make it run at a particular time or if a condition is met. But you can build fabulous workflows with this. Again, developers will build it up by writing "actions" for Automator. A great tool for professionals, just as good for amateurs.
Safari is much the same as before - though it now spots when a site has an RSS feed, and brings up an icon in the right-hand side of the address bar. The RSS reading is simple, and a terrific introduction, though it won't put the better aggregators, like NetNewsWire out of business. Possibly, quite the opposite.

There's tons more, which you'll find for yourself, but two more things. Panther went over the whole of OSX and updated it. Tiger tightens the bolts, taps the wheels, polishes. Take the better integration. Control-click on an image in Safari, and besides the usual ones you get extra options of adding it to iPhoto or downloading to your regular download folder. In the Finder, you can create a slideshow by selecting some images, and send any of them to iPhoto; or create an Automator "workflow" directly using them. Everything fits together, tightly and reliably. It's how an operating system should be.

And security, already one of the hallmarks of OSX, now runs through it like a river. Safari warns you if it spots that something you're downloading may or does contain an application - because, Apple says, most security breaches occur because you don't know what you're doing. Similarly, the first time you open any application, Tiger will ask you. There may be no viruses, but "exploits" are still feasible. Tiger makes them more remote.

With each release, Apple has made the case for OSX increasingly compelling over every rival, including its own predecessors. Tiger does it again, with another leap ahead of the competition.
And the really important thing is that Spotlight, Dashboard and Automator will be enhanced hugely by developers, developers, developers. Hmm, catchy phrase - I'm sure I've heard it somewhere before. And you know what? That's what makes an operating system successful.

Charles Arthur writes for The Independent. His blog is at

Ten great Tiger treats you might otherwise overlook

  • If (like me) you hate the Caps Lock key, you can now change it to do nothing, or behave like any of the "modifier" keys (Cmd, Option, Alt).
  • If you're any good at Applescript, you can write your own Automator plugins. You can also email them to people.
  • From a set of pictures sent to you in Mail, or chosen in the Finder, you can create an instant slideshow, and add any of them to iPhoto.
  • Tiger offers "secure virtual memory", which protects your password from even clever hackers
  • System Preferences includes words that Windows switchers will use
  • Finally, "Help" does - and segments results into information on your machine, and online. And it's much faster than before.
  • Mail 2.0's "Connection Doctor" is a godsend when you're struggling with a mail setup.
  • Mail 2.0 is smart enough to know when it's connecting to a secure SMTP or POP server - and adjusts settings accordingly.
  • You can stop Spotlight nosing around in your private files by nominating folders it can't index.
  • A fabulous addition, Voiceover, navigates the entire screen by voice. Excellent for the partially-sighted, and for just having some fun.

Ten nasty Tiger traps - spot them before it's too late

  • If you have tweaked the Apache web server or Postfix mail server on your machine, their settings will be overwritten by Tiger
  • Spotlight indexes lots of file types, but web developers will be disappointed to find it doesn't look at .php or .html files.
  • Spotlight doesn't index your Safari cache. (Apple says this is "too tough" at the moment). Someone might write a plugin which will, though.
  • If you're using Airport, you may think that the reception has suddenly improved because it shows more bars in the menu icon. Not so. Apple says "we revised the Airport indicator so it better indicates the performance you should get with your current connection. In this case more bars means faster throughput." My tests suggest the signal strength remains the same, but there's less noise.
  • You can't create a Smart Folder inside a Burn Folder for an easy backup (eg "files modified since 29 April 2005"). The disc burnt would only contain the instructions for the Smart Folder.
  • Four years after "classic" Mac, the number and style of window styles is multiplying. There's now "brushed metal", "plain" and "other". Mail 2.0 has different icons from any other app; the Finder is still brushed metal. And Dashboard's widgets have no set style at all - it's chaos.
  • The keyboard shortcut to move between tabs in Safari has been changed, to Cmd-Shift-}. (Though on my upgraded system the old one (Cmd-Shift-right arrow) still works.)
  • Mail 2.0 uses a different format and has to import your old mail. Crashes can happen. (Your old mail survives.)
  • To use Safari's RSS detector to subscribe to a site's feed, you have to bookmark the site - rather than dragging the RSS icon (which seems more obvious) to your bookmarks.
  • Spotlight isn't exactly an application, more a system function - which means its windows are hard to navigate to if you're a keyboard fan.