The next major version of Mac OS X is codenamed Tiger, joining Cheetah (10.0), Puma (10.1), Jaguar (10.2) and Panther (10.3) in Apple’s big-cat collection. Apple demonstrated a handful of the promised 150 new features during its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, held from June 28-July 2. Tiger, scheduled to debut in the first half of 2005, will compete with Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows upgrade, codenamed Longhorn – which isn’t expected until late 2006. “We think Tiger is going to catapult us even further ahead and drive the copycats crazy,” said Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
Like Jaguar and Panther before it, Tiger will cost £99 (including VAT). Many of the 150 new features will be under-the-hood technical stuff that will improve your work no end, but will be too geeky for most of us to care about.
But it’s the big one-word techs and apps that make us shell out the readies yet again for another faster, more stable OS X with jaw-dropping features to impress Panther users and Windows people. Here, we take a closer look at what Apple has announced for Tiger so far – expect more details in the coming months.
Spotlight: smarter searching
Apple believes that Tiger’s new Search technology, called Spotlight, is going to revolutionize the way we use computers – in fact CEO Steve Jobs predicts that many of us will no longer need to go to the Finder again.
Apple didn’t need to create Spotlight from scratch, as it had already developed it for iTunes. Have a play with the search in iTunes (not the Music Store, which has to access the Internet) to get an idea of how Spotlight will work in Tiger. Apple’s claims that Spotlight searches will be “lightning fast” and “close to instant” are certainly borne out by the iTunes Library searches.
Spotlight can find email messages, calendars and contacts along with documents, movies, images or any kind of file simultaneously. Spotlight results are displayed in easy-to-understand categories that help you browse, pick and click. New Smart Folders in the Finder, Smart Mailboxes in Mail, and Smart Groups for contacts let you categorize and organize important information into logical groups automatically.
Spotlight encompasses not only files, folders and documents but also messages in Mail, contacts in Address Book, and iCal calendars. Instead of waiting to see them after you’ve hit Enter, you’ll see results as soon as you type the first letter. And Spotlight has a laser-like view – it will find words in multi-page PDFs, in the middle of emails, in addresses, etc.
Spotlight search results are always up to date – Spotlight is hooked into the kernel, so it will get file-related notifications “as they happen”. This should mean that the hard drive won’t need to be re-indexed periodically to keep the search results right up to the minute.
You can use descriptive search words to get finely targeted results. For example, to find portrait-formatted images, simply type “Image” and “Portrait”. To find everything from one colleague, simply type the person’s name. Spotlight returns every document he or she authored or edited, every image emailed, messages written (and messages that you sent to them) and their contact information. Results are shown in sorted, automatic categories for easy browsing, picking and clicking.
You can save searches – that are then kept updated – in smart folders. For example, you could keep a smart folder of “Birthdays in the next seven days” via the Address Book.
Tiger’s Spotlight works via an intelligent metadata engine that indexes the descriptive informational items already saved within files and documents. Metadata describes the “what, when and who” of every piece of information saved on a Mac: the kind of content, the author, edit history, format, size, and other details.
Most documents – including Microsoft Word docs, Photoshop images, and emails – already contain rich metadata items. By using this indexed information for searching, Tiger’s Spotlight gains pinpoint accuracy in refining search results.
The engine automatically takes all the metadata inside files and enabled applications and puts the data into a high-performance index. This process occurs transparently and in the background, so you should never experience lag times or slowdowns during normal operation. When you make a change, such as adding a new file, receiving an email or entering a new contact, the metadata engine updates its index automatically. According to Apple, results of search requests are displayed “virtually as fast as you can type your query”.
The metadata engine uses special importer technology to open and read heterogeneous file formats. Tiger includes importers for some of the most popular file formats. The metadata engine can be extended to any new file format, automatically adding an application’s information to search results.
Spotlight doesn’t stop with the metadata search engine. Whenever you perform a search, you will also be searching a powerful content index that uses the full contents of files to find matches. Even documents without any metadata are included in searches.
Developers can enhance their apps with additional searching and organizing capabilities.
Dashboard & widgets
Integrated with Panther’s Exposé, the Dashboard is called up by hitting a single key – and can be hidden just as quickly. Sick of journeying to the Dock to access the Calculator? Call up Dashboard, and all your favourite mini-apps are right there for you to view and use.
Like OS X’s bouncing, magnifying icons, Dashboard Widgets promise to add even more colour to your desktop. Many old-timers and power users decry the Dock as yucky – a desktop full of Dashboard widgets is going to require a strong set of sunglasses. However, Dashboard should clean-up the desktop – by being invisible when unused – rather than cluttering it with retina-aching eye candy.
The examples that Apple has shown certainly look fun – taking OS X’s bright Aqua user-interface to even more colourful extremes. Widgets can keep you up to date with timely information from the Internet, such as share prices, calendars, clocks, or the pictures from a webcam. They will provide quick and simple access to frequently used applications such as the Calculator, a playback controller for iTunes, and a contact look-up for Address Book.
Dashboard is a semi-transparent layer that “zooms” across the Desktop with a single button click, similar to the way that Panther’s Exposé works. To put the Dashboard away, you simply press the function key again and you’re back to where you started, without having to click to the Desktop or move down to the Dock.
If the Dashboard looks kinda familiar, you’re probably thinking of Arlo Rose’s popular Konfabulator tool – see News, pages 14-15.
Tiger will come with a bunch of Widgets to start you off, including Datebook (a calendar that will likely interface with iCal); Stock Ticker; a basic Calculator; Address Book; Video (to display Web cams); Stickies; World Clock; and iTunes Controller.
When current widgets are launched they appear with a water-ripple effect on the desktop. To change the colour or font preferences of a sticky note you simply click on the rotate button and the sticky flips around to offer preferences controls on the back.
Safari RSS: Tiger’s personal news feed
Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a lightweight XML format designed for sharing headlines and other Web content. It’s becoming an increasingly popular format for syndicating news and the content of news-like sites, such as Macworld, the BBC, news-oriented community sites such as Slashdot, and personal weblogs. It’s not just for news; pretty much anything that can be broken down into discrete items can be syndicated via RSS. Once information about each item is in RSS format, an RSS-aware program can check the feed for changes and react to the changes in an appropriate way.
Apple has announced that OS X 10.4 Tiger will build RSS functionality directly into its Safari Web browser. Safari RSS will consolidate the most recent news and information from thousands of major news organizations, community Web sites and personal
Web logs into simplified, ad-free listings – so you can quickly find the latest stories on favourite topics by searching easy-to-use listings rather than having to browse individual Web pages. Apple calls it “your own personal news service” that compiles only articles and stories that you want from any number of sites.
When Safari RSS encounters a RSS feed, you view a page with every headline and article summary right in the browser window. To read the complete article, click on the headline or summary to retrieve the complete Web page. Most RSS users currently access their headlines via a dedicated news-reader, but it makes more sense to use a Web browser.
Safari RSS has a slider control for customizing the displayed length of each article summary, as well as controls for sorting and filtering displayed articles by Date, Title and Source.
Smarter yet, Safari RSS lets you know if you’ve landed on a site that offers an RSS feed by displaying an RSS icon in the address field. Click the RSS indicator icon for Safari to automatically format the feed and display it in the browser. Bookmark the RSS feed so you can quickly return to it later.
Safari RSS is compatible with all the RSS feeds on the Internet because of its standards-based support for RSS 0.9, RSS 1, RSS 2 and Atom.
Apple has also announced other new features for Tiger’s Safari. Identity protection will make Safari one of the safest Web browsers out there for Internet banking and shopping. A new archiving feature will mean you can view Web pages long after they disappear from the Web, complete with images and links. Archiving will save short-lived Web pages such as articles and personal receipts. Links embedded inside the page will continue to work as long as their destination Web pages still exist. New bookmark searching lets you find and organize bookmarks with greater speed and accuracy, claims Apple. You will be able to search on page titles, URLs, domain names or any other information saved with the bookmark.
Automator: script robot
Performing the same series of tasks over and over again is one of the most frustrating things in our computing lives. The answer on the Mac is AppleScript – an English-like language used to write script files that automate the actions of the computer and the applications that run on it.
AppleScript can “think”, making decisions based on user-interaction or by parsing and analyzing data, documents or situations. Customizable automation tools enable us to be more productive.
Apple provides a variety of AppleScript examples via download from the AppleScript Web site, including script collections for the Finder Toolbar, QuickTime Player, iTunes, iPhoto, and iDVD.
In addition, Mac OS X 10.3 Panther ships with dozens of pre-installed useful script tools. The trouble is that writing scripts is still way too daunting a proposition for the majority of Mac users. So in Tiger Apple has created a special robot to do the hard stuff for us.
Automator is an easy-to-use personal automation assistant to streamline the most challenging repetitive manual tasks without programming. Apple calls it ‘visual scripting’, as you no longer have to write any code – instead linking Actions together to complete the required task. It’s AppleScript ‘for the rest of us’.
Automator contains a library of over 100 Actions. Each Action is designed to perform a single task, such as finding linked images in a Web page, renaming a group of files or creating a new event in an iCal calendar. Each Action in the Workflow corresponds to an individual step that you would normally do to accomplish your task.
Create custom Automator Workflows simply by dragging items, pointing and clicking. The top left-hand side of the interface is filled with icons representing regular categories – for example: Finder; Chat; Internet; text; utilities; movies; iPod; and pictures. Below the icons are the Actions associated with those categories, with its description. You then drag the required Action to the right-hand side workflow area, and make choices from the preference options displayed with each. The results of one action are passed to the next action.
After creating a Workflow you execute it by clicking the Run button in the Workflow document window. Automator performs each step in the Workflow in order until your work is done. And you can incorporate Tiger’s new Spotlight search into Workflows to identify items automatically.
iChat: time to party
Despite some snooty remarks about chatting with “buddies” being only for kids when it first appeared in OS X 10.2 Jaguar, Apple’s iChat has become a favourite application for many Mac users. The addition of audio and video in iChat AV, especially combined with the neat iSight webcam, took the technology into far more mature and professional areas.
The most requested feature from iChat AV users has been multi-person audio and video chatting – and Tiger comes up trumps. Now you can video conference from your desktop with up to three people, or audio conference with up to nine others.
Apple claims that iChat AV doesn’t sacrifice quality for quantity. New H.264/AVC (Advanced Video Coding) video technology – also known as MPEG-4 Part 10 – in Tiger’s QuickTime “dramatically improves picture quality, while high-quality, full-duplex audio delivers natural-sounding conversation”. H.264/AVC delivers a sharper picture and improved colour accuracy.
The company also claims that iChat AV uses bandwidth as sparingly as possible, thanks to the new H.264 video technology and innovative new bandwidth management. If one buddy has a fast connection, that buddy’s computer automatically becomes the manager of the entire multi-way conference, speeding things along. Now, that’s worth talking about.
An innovative three-dimensional virtual chat-room interface keeps video conferences organized. This works like a virtual conference-table, in which attendees are oriented so it seems they’re talking to each other. Buddies’ images are even reflected in front of them, as if they were sitting around a highly polished conference-room table. Of course, iChat AV is not just for business meetings. It offers fantastic opportunities for family get-togethers and face-to-face chats with friends.
All you do is talk talk
On the audio-only side up to 10 participants can participate in audio conferences. High-quality audio compression techniques ensure “crystal-clear” conversations, according to Apple – while full-duplex sound lets everyone speak naturally. Personal sound-level meters are a handy visual cue to let you know who’s speaking, so people don’t have to announce themselves.
OS X’s Quartz imaging engine allows more of the graphics processing to be completed by the video card’s Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), freeing up valuable G4 or G5 processing effort that is better spent crunching through your data. In Tiger Apple has created a new tech architecture to make it easier for developers to utilize this feature of Quartz to create ultrafast, hardware-accelerated and pixel-accurate filters, effects and transitions.
Today’s GPUs process more than 6 billion pixels per second – a rate doubling every six months. Harnessing this power required in-depth knowledge of pixel-level programming. Apple claims that Tiger’s Core Image technology allows developers to easily leverage the GPU for “blistering-fast” image processing that can eliminate rendering time delays. Effects and transitions can be expressed with a few lines of code, says Apple. Core Image handles the rest, optimizing the path to the GPU. The result is real-time, interactive responsiveness as filters are applied.
Core Image is powered by floating-point calculations, which produce fine colour accuracy on a pixel-by-pixel basis. As it is bound up with Quartz, Core Image works with text as well as images. It joins Apple’s popular Core Audio technology, released in 2001.
Core Image provides a plug-in style architecture for accessing filters, transitions and effects packages called Image Units.
Image Units provide centralized management for image-processing plug-ins that can be shared across host applications. Developers create their own Image Units by describing filters and effects in simple expressions compiled at runtime. They can also freely access over 100 Image Units bundled in Tiger, including blurs, colour adjustments, distortions, edge sharpeners and transitions.
In addition, Core Video lets developers apply all the benefits of Core Image to video – fast performance of filters and effects, per-pixel accuracy and hardware scalability. Core Video – based on the same technology as used in Apple’s Motion software – provides a modern foundation for video services. It provides a bridge between QuickTime and the GPU for hardware-accelerated video processing. According to Apple, this optimized pipeline for video increases performance and reduces CPU load, freeing up resources for other operations.
Performance gains and features supported by Core Image depend on the graphics card. Cards capable of pixel-level programming – such as those currently available in today’s PowerBook, Power Mac G5 and both the 17-inch and 20-inch iMac – deliver the best performance. Core Image automatically scales as appropriate for systems with older graphics cards.
Tiger’s synchronization engine is fully built into .Mac, so you can seamlessly sync information from apps to iPod, mobile phone, PDA and .Mac account on multiple Macs across the Internet. The preferences and controls for what, when and which devices you want to sync appear inside applications such as Safari, iCal and Address Book. You can tailor and set syncing preferences within the application that needs to be synchronized instead of in a separate place. Tiger syncing can be set to take place transparently in the background.
If you have a .Mac account you can sync multiple Macs across the Internet. Your home and office Macs can share the same, most up-to-date phone numbers, addresses, calendar events, and more. If a Mac or portable device ever gets lost or stolen, valuable data remains safely in the .Mac account. .Mac sync lets you choose which Macs – as well as the type of information – you’d like to keep synchronized via a series of checkboxes in the System Preference. Tiger can be set to sync as often as you like: once a day, every hour, day, week, etc. Tiger’s new Sync Manager (below) shows an overview of all sync-related activity.
You can configure applications to sync different types of information with .Mac on individual schedules, or sync all of your data instantly using just a single button click. A Sync Now button can be placed in the menu bar for easy access.
Apple claims that Tiger synchronizes data continuously and transparently in the background in small chunks, keeping sync times short. System-wide availability of sync services means that developers can now easily incorporate extendable syncing capabilities into their applications.
Apple announced this Tiger feature back in March, as it faced legislation to make Mac OS X more accessible for people with visual and learning disabilities. VoiceOver increases access
through speech, audible cues and keyboard navigation.
It reads aloud the contents of documents such as Web pages, Mail messages and word processing files – providing a comprehensive audible description of the workspace and all the activities taking place on a computer. It includes a rich set of keyboard commands that lets users navigate the Mac OS X interface and interact with application and system controls. The keyboard commands remain the same no matter what program you’re using. Full keyboard access navigates items such as the Dock, menu bar, window tool bars and palettes. Direct VoiceOver uses a feature called the Viewfinder, which lets you control what’s spoken and allows you to interact with items on the screen using only your keyboard. You can press buttons, drag sliders, enable/disable check boxes, select radio buttons, drag, scroll bars and many other on-screen controls. MW