The Adventures of Systems Boy!

Confessions of a Mac SysAdmin...

Tiger Beefs

Apple just recently released Mac OSX 10.4 (and even more recently, 10.4.1). This is one of those releases that seems really cool at first. And then you realize how much is changed (and not always for the better), badly implemented, or just plain broken. Don't get me wrong. There's a lot of goodness to Tiger, and from what I've read, a lot more on the way. But the most highly touted features of the new OS are, in my opinion, it's weakest points. So I've compiled my own particular list of Tiger beefs (as have a lot of folks outside the mainstream media at this point) to offset the hype. At some point I will get around to the great new things about the OS. Until then, on with the beefs!

Perhaps the most loudly advertised feature of Tiger is Spotlight, a new desktop search service. Or I should say THE new desktop search service, as Spotlight pretty much relegates name-only searches to the back of the Finder. Spotlight's intent is to aid you in the finding of obscure or lost files on your hard drive with a simple click-and-type, drop-down interface. That is, by typing something in the search field you "instantly" get a list of "relevant" results. Spotlight could be really cool if A) it was a bit (read: WAY) more customizable; B) it worked well (which it might if it were more customizable). Here are my observations thus far:
• Spotlight is NOT real-time... Sorry, it's not even close...
• Search results are often too broad.
• Not always accurate. (Why is it that the file "file.txt" which contains the text "Michael J Barrom" is not found when I Spotlight "Michael J Barrom?" Actually, I just discovered that after opening the file it now appears in the search. So Spotlight only searches recently opened files? What good is that? My confidence in Spotlight is not particularly high.)
• Search by content (text, for instance) doesn't seem to work: Spotlight find on "Mail Problems:" returns 631 results, but does NOT find this document. WTF!? I can rely on this? I don't think so. (Update: It works now. Was this my firewire issue? Or is it the "recently opened" issue?)
• Also, the list that gets returned is supposed to be sorted by name, but many entries are NOT in alphabetical order (or any other order, from what I can tell).
• I wish I could have multiple Spotlight searches for different categories of files (a la Butler's search engines).
• Spotlight window does not belong to a "switchable" application (it belongs to Spotlight which is a service, not an app), meaning I cannot command-tab to it; selecting it requires a mouse-click. Very inconvenient.
• Spotlight results must be scrolled through and cannot be jumped to by typing the first characters in the file name.This sucks with the long list of files generated by these metadata search results.
• Searches in the Spotlight window, during the search process, sometimes lock up the search field or beachball, preventing complete entry of the term for several seconds.
• I don't know how much I'll use Spotlight, as it generally returns too many results to be useful to me. (Searching "command line" yields 3651 results.) Seems best for "lost" files, but you're never guaranteed you'll find the file you want, and you'll usually have to search through a huge list of files to find the one you think you want (which is a problem if you can't remember the name of it, which you probably can't if you're using Spotlight). Specifying parameters (which you can do by adding "kind:text," for instance, to your search) does help, though, to narrow searches considerably, which is a good thing. You can also limit what types of files are listed by visiting the Spotlight prefs, which could help a lot too. Here, again, is where I'd love to have multiple Spotlight searchers, one, say, for image files, and one for text files, etc. One nice thing about Spotlight is that it remembers the most recent selections of a given find and will return them as the "top hits" the next time you perform the same search. This also seems to cause a problem whereby non-recent files appear to get de-indexed and don't come up in the list. I keep thinking: Spotlight -- a great idea you just can't count on. Maybe it'll get better. For now I'm disappointed.

There are some very nice new features in Mail, and all-in-all my transition to Mail 2.0 has been very smooth (and, yes I do like the new look). Nevertheless, I have some beefs.
• Mailbox list too widely spaced to list all (my many) folders.
• Contents of (IMAP?) folders are not automatically indexed/updated (requires selecting the mailbox). Meaning: If I want to see the response email to someone, and I click the little arrow by the side of the email, it won't find anything newer in "Sent" than the last time the "Sent" mailbox was selected.
• Still can't see subfolders in IMAP mailboxes in contextual menus unless the enclosing folder is open.
• Tabs in are converted to spaces: Add a tab (hit the tab key), arrow back, and your tabbed area is now comprised of individual spaces. Very annoying!
• Mail folders drawer cannot be switched to right side. Permanently stuck in "Entourage Mode."

The Finder:
The Finder is an even bigger mess than it's ever been, and broken -- just plain broken -- in many places. Particularly, though, when it comes to finding stuff, which is largely due to an insistence on using Spotlight. So, of course, I have beefs.
• Finder window "finds" (from the title bar) are buggy, and don't always search the selected folder.
• Finder window "finds" (from the title bar) used to just return a simple list of files, by name. Now I get a list of files based on "metadata." I miss being able to quickly locate a file by name inside a group of folders. Finder window "finds" should be simpler, command-F finds should be complex (IMHO).
• Inspector updates file ownership inaccurately when selecting new files (that is, do command-option-i on a file owned by you, flip open the "Ownership & Permissions" details, then navigate to a file owned by someone else, and then watch everything update but the ownership info).
• ANY find results (except in the Spotlight menubar) require a mouse-click in a window. (Actually, I just discovered that hitting the "escape" key will jump to the list of results. I'm slightly placated now.)
• Finder finds (command-F) always default to "Kind: Any" and "Last Opened: Any Date." ALWAYS! (Almost always, actually -- this varies very inconsistently.)
• Finder "find" (command-F) results must be scrolled through and cannot be jumped to by typing the first characters in the file name. This sucks with the long list of files generated by metadata search results.
• Finds, when searching, sometimes prevent typing into the find field.

Since many of the changes to Tiger are search-related, and since these changes don't really all fit under one application heading, and since searching, IMHO, is one of the biggest kludges of Tiger, and the one that also has the most interesting and useful potential, I wanted to sum up my thoughts on the subject in general. Warning: Beefs ahead!
• Finder window search from the toolbar: This is so buggy and annoying (and worked SO well in Panther) I could scream. Example: I have a Finder window open and I want to search the current folder for a file named "file.txt." The file has 3 items in it; one is called "file.txt." I type the term "file.txt" in the toolbar bubble. Before I can finish typing, the Finder beachballs. When it returns to life, it has gone ahead and searched my entire home directory, NOT the current folder. (Is this a bug? I sure hope so!) I press the button to switch to the current folder. It searches the current folder (which, I reiterate, contains 3 items, one of which is my "file.txt" file), again for about 30 seconds, and, finally finds the file. In Panther this process was flawless and did exactly what you expected to do: searched the folder for the file name. And it was fast as shit. That functionality is gone. I'm pissed.
• Find in Finder (command-F): I'm in the Finder and I want to search by multiple terms, so I type "command-f." This brings up a Find window which is (almost) always set to search by "Kind:Any" and "Last Opened:Any Date." This is fine actually, for the most part. I expect this kind of multi-option search to be a little more high maintenance. I search for the term "video." Of course I get a beachball halfway through typing my search term, but whatever. Here comes my beef: The results window is populated with a huge number of files and folders and is practically un-navigable. You have everything sorted by "type" even though you didn't search by "type." You can't change the display order. Each category only shows the "Top 5 Hits" (which is determined, I guess, by some Apple developer's idea of "relevance") and to see beyond that "Top 5" you have to click on some highlighted text at the bottom of the list). Clicking on a file shows it's file path in a blue bar at the bottom of the window, but god help you if it's a long path because that blue bar (unlike in Panther's search results) is not resizeable, and, thus, not readable. You can, to be fair, roll over the nested unreadable folders to see each one's name individually, but you cannot ever see the entire file path laid out before your eyes. And, you cannot jump to a file by typing the first character of it's name. So you have to scroll through everything with your mouse, or, worse, trackpad. What a nightmare!
• Spotlight menubar search. This may be the best search function of all now: Simple to the point, and, if you're lucky, might actually stand a chance at findin' you some files. Command-Space (default) brings up the search field, type your term, you can even limit the search by typing, for example, "kind:text." The search results listed by category and are arrow-key navigable. Command-arrow will jump to the different categories. Click a file or press return, the file opens. Not too bad except for the occasional interrupting beachball.
• Spotlight Window: Also not too bad. But at this point I'm stymied by the sheer number of different styles of "find" windows. I mean they all seem to do essentially the same thing with vaguely different options and features. They couldn't have combined this into one "find" mechanism that also combined all the functionality of the three "find" windows we now have? I guess not. This one is similar to the "find" from a Finder window toolbar, except it will let you sort by kind, date, etc, or by "Flat List" which usually (though not always) sorts in alphabetical order by file name. Still, I can't jump to a file by typing the first few characters, so I am, once again, stuck scrolling through an inordinately large number of files to find my one file. And in this window there is no way to see the file path.
• Conclusion: Simple finding of files is gone. It's been replaced (not added to, unfortunately) by what I find to be numerous, overly complex methods for finding files. The worst part is that none of these methods yields very useful or refined results. It seems like once you've done your search, searching the results is almost as difficult as if you'd just gone ahead and searched through your folders in the first place. I would like it if there were 2 types of search windows, one for complex searches by metadata or attributes or whatever, and one for simple searches by name in a specific location (which, actually, there was in Panther). Alas, those days are gone.

• Preview no longer treats PDF files as images, and it won't open non-image files in a single window. So, if you're like me, and you like to grab a bunch of images and open them all in on Preview window and toggle through them, Heavan help you if the images are in PDF format: They will all open in their own, individual windows. Argh!

System Preferences:
• System Preferences no longer shows the Favorites Toolbar, favoring -- what else? -- Spotlight and its seach bar. But what if you don't want to search? What if you know what you want? Or what if you want to jump from, say the Sharing pane to the Network pane? The toolbar made this easy. In typical fashion, Apple has decided to replace features with new features instead of adding to the existing feature set. In the future, when Apple boasts about the 200+ new features they've added to the OS, try and remeber that there will be about 50 or so features they've removed and subtract that from your total. It will save you some, though by no means all, disappointment.

QuickTime 7:
QuickTime 7 is not purely Tiger-related as you can install it in Panther as well. Still, since we're here, why not register a beef or two for the record?
• QT7 is nice! (Eventually.)
• Initial problems with the pro version required switching languages to fix.
• Recording with QT7 is cool, but limited. You cannot record at 720x480 frame size, for instance, even with recording quality set to native. This will produce 640x480 files with a DV camcorder. They will have to be converted or rendered in FCP, and you'll lose a generation. How is that "Pro?"

Automator is another new Tiger feature whose purpose is to -- yep, you guessed it -- automate stuff. It's pretty neat, and I'm hoping it will get stronger in the future. If it does it will be really useful, and fun and easy to use to boot. Until then: A few Beefs.
• Not nearly enough actions to do things I would like to do.
• Apple's released this cool new Automator, and this cool new version of QuickTime that can finally export multiple movies. Why is there no Automator action to leverage more of this stuff. The first thing I wanted to do with Automator was batch export a bunch of movies as Sorenson. Nope can't do it... Guess I'm stuck with Cleaner...

There are also many cool new features to Tiger's Safari application. I did have few problems, though, and of course, beefs.
• Sure seems to crash a lot.
• Scrolling (with scroll wheel) is erratic: fast initially, then slow or perhaps "dynamic," but not in a useful, and actually in an irritating, way.

Dashboard is a background service (?) that, when activated, brings up a bunch of mini-apps called widgets. It's mostly eye candy, so I won't dwell on it for too long. Just wanted to register a few little beefs.
• Meh... The thrill is gone...
• There are better implementations for most of the things currently available as widgets. Maybe I'd like this more if I made my own widgets (which, I understand, is kind of the point).
• Double-clicking a widget opens but does not necessarily install it in the proscribed location (as with something like, say, preference panes).

Overall the new UNIX stuff in Tiger is really quite awesome. But I do have one, tiny, little, very very minor beef.
• Some commands (scp, rsync) require a special flag (-E) to copy resources, some don't (cp, mv). Cool, but confusing!

Tiger has introduced some not-totally unexpected networking bugs, or as I like to call them, beefs.
• About 99.9% of the time, my closed Airport network is disconnected rather strangely upon wake from sleep. I get bars, but no actual connection to anything. Re-entering the Airport password via the Network Diagnostic utility (new to Panther, quite nice, and now permanently in my Dock because of this problem) seems to fix the connection. This seems to be limited to my home network as it does not happen at SVA. Still, it worked fine before Tiger. Pffft!
• Actually, I've determined that my wireless disconnections were due to an apparent bug in Tiger that breaks wake-from-sleep when using WPA authentication over wireless. This all worked fine in Panther. In Tiger, switching to WEP authentication was the workaround for me. Just for the record, I have a weird Airport setup: Linksys PCMCIA wireless card in a G4 Powerbook connected to a closed network with other non-standard configurations. Still, again, it worked great in Panther. What can I say?

There are my general beefs about Tiger, in case you hadn't guessed.
• Supposedly, Tiger is faster than Panther. I don't see it. This may be due to the "Archive Install" process. To be fair here I'd do a clean install, but I may be too lazy to attempt this.
• ProTools (and possibly other audio programs) is not compatible with Tiger, so I can't use it on my production machine.
• Password field at login window no longer accepts arrow key input, so if I make a mistake typing my password (which I often do), I have to retype the entire thing.

There are a few really cool things about Tiger -- like bullet lists in TextEdit, bookmarks in Preview, RSS and bookmark finds in Safari. These are nice little touches that I really like. Also, from what I've read, there are some really great core improvements to the operating system -- things you don't readily see, like the new implementation of (Cocoa) QuickTime that allows for all the cool new eye candy and multiple exports of video, or the new libraries that allow standard UNIX tools to handle resource forks, or the new kernel libraries that will allow Apple to tweak the kernel much more effectively, and launchd, which certainly speeds boot time (not that I ever need to reboot). But it seems like for every cool new feature in Tiger -- particularly the most prominent ones, Dashboard, Spotlight, Automator -- there is a problem or a drawback. Spotlight is often buggy and unintuitive, Dashboard is really just eye candy I'll never use, Automator is too limited. Not to mention, problems in and changes to the Finder and Mail really disrupt my workflow. For me (my files are fairly well organized) the new Tiger finding technologies in many cases work worse than the old, simple Panther ones, which have been completely replaced rather than augmented. Using Tiger actually makes me realize what a great release Panther was (and still is).

That said, I think once the new Pro Apps (Final Cut, DVD Studio, etc...), which should really leverage the low level changes to the operating system (like the Quartz improvements in QuickTime), I will be motivated to upgrade. Until then I can see no truly compelling reason to do so. For now I'm having fun playing with the new system. The transition (despite all my bitching) has actually been very smooth, and most things really work quite well. The ones that don't I'm sure will be fixed quite soon (the Inspector and Network problems are particularly glaring). It's not that I'm not deeply disappointed with Tiger, I'm just not overwhelmed. And there will be Panther niceties I'll miss. But then, what else is new?

P.S. If you're looking for a great, in-depth review of Tiger, you should check out the ars technica review, if you haven't already.

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