Friday, May 13, 2005

Everyone's awed and inspired by you

I finally upgraded my G5 PowerMac, Columbia, to OSX Tiger this week. In one word, meh. First, everything seems very much more blue, which is pleasant enough, I suppose. The Dashboard and its Widgets underwhelm me, as I've been using similar ones from Konfabulator, even back in Windows. I don't use Mail, iCal or the Address Book, preferring instead to deal with all three in a single program with Microsoft Entourage, so the improvements to that are somewhat lost on me; ditto Safari, as I can't stand the behaviour of its tabbed browsing, compared to the more functional (albeit far less pretty) Firefox. iChat AV, despite tentative steps towards interoperability with other IM protocols, can do so only indirectly through the Jabber protocol and third-party servers, which makes the prospect of switching from MSN Messenger (where all my contacts are, most of them being non-Mac users) more trouble than it's worth. Automator is nice, but I don't do a great deal of repetitive tasks that aren't subtly different enough to make scripting them pointless. That leaves Spotlight, as far as the major improvements go. Now, granted, it is just plain spiffy, but unfortunately restricted in its usefulness, what with how I don't use Mail. I can see it being useful for having a huge e-mail archive, or otherwise scads of plaintext to mine for some phrase, though; it's certainly better executed than Find is in Windows, anyway. The peripheral, similar feature of Smart Folders is also fairly neat; I've used it to put an "Edited Today" folder on my sidebar, which is handy. One minor complaint, though: The Boolean Not function isn't very user-friendly. Say, if I want a query to include all files not containing 'bar' in the name, but I don't want to restrict it to files that do include 'foo', as in the syntax foo(-bar). That should be one of the options - for the Name value in the Smart Folder criteria, at the very least - instead of just Contains, Begins With, Ends With, and Is. That wildcards don't seem to work correctly unless used with a partial query doesn't help, either, or I'd just make the search "*"(-bar). The lack of a Not operator was annoying enough in iTunes, but nesting smart playlists was an easy enough way to get around it; here, however, there isn't even that option. At least, that's what it looks like, if I'm reading Apple's developer release notes correctly. One thing, though, for which I deeply appreciate Tiger: Fixing my optical drive problem - or, rather, making me notice a workaround. I use a USB/DVI KVM switch, which unfortunately disables the top row on the numeric keypad, including the eject key. Dragging CDs to the trash to eject is fine, but opening the tray in the first place was annoying; I ended up writing a four-line Applescript to have a software tray-opening option handy off the desktop, an inelegant solution. Tiger, with its default assignment of the F12 key to the Dashboard, led me to discover that holding it down would also open the tray. (On further investigation, that function is in fact mentioned in Help. It's my fault for not investigating further, I guess. But, to be fair, any kind of keypress or OS-based software command to open the drive tray remains awfully obscure and arcane compared to the inclusion of a physical eject button on the drive itself. Form should follow function, not vice versa.) I mean, it's not a bad upgrade; not at all. I can appreciate the massive and greatly unseen conceptual changes to the filesystem, as well as the great potential to be had from further development of Spotlight from those changes. But for how I use my computer, right now, this was far less momentous than any incremental upgrades I've previously experienced in Windows. I'm thinking I probably could have survived with version 10.3.9 until 10.5 came along, and saved $89 to boot.

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