OS X Tiger – Bouquets and Brickbats

So Tiger is now launched on the public stage and those of us who have been bound by our non-disclosure agreements can talk about what we have seen in beta for the last six months or more.

The first thing I’d like to say is how unsurprised I am by the number of people who have grabbed the wrong end of the stick with Dashboard and widgets. There is a great deal of talk about comparing widgets to desk accessories in previous versions of the operating system. Lots of people asking why widgets when you can have applications. Users might want widgets on their main screen rather than a separate pane.

Hey guys, look at what you need to know to develop a widget. HTML, CSS and JavaScript gets you a widget – sure you can add extra functions using Objective-C if you want, but you don’t need it. So widget development is little more than web development, just on a user’s machine rather than a server. So Dashboard isn’t a move backwards towards desk accessories, it isn’t about a type of application. It’s all about making development easier and faster. It’s all about delivering web services to the desktop.

Then Automator. The Macintosh has seen two great attempts at providing a user level programming tool in HyperCard and AppleScript. Both had major flaws, in reality they both tried to do too much. AppleScript also suffered from the ad-hoc way applications made known the commands they exposed and what the parameters for those commands were. Automator seems to overcome both problems, first by concentrating on just workflows – the major reason users would like to program – and by making the possible commands easy to discover and use with obvious inputs, outputs and parameters. I think that once a few applications, particularly the major ones, adopt Actions we will have a major win for the Macintosh.

Now for a brickbat. Well, perhaps half a brickbat. Spotlight is a marvelous technology. The ability to quickly search for a file using its contents and some metadata will make it a useful tool. Tiger also introduces an entire system for reading and writing arbitrary metadata for a file. Unfortunately Spotlight totally ignores that metadata. Unfortunately Spotlight is entirely file centred so it runs into problems with software that uses entries in a large file. Spotlight is also restricted to a single importer for a file. This means that if, for example, the Photoshop Spotlight importer (when Adobe get around to releasing one) is used for a JPEG image file you create then your snazzy project management importer doesn’t get a chance to tell Spotlight that the file is part of your “website” project.

Here’s hoping that Spotlight and the current file metadata system are works in progress and Apple see fit to address these problems quicker than the two year wait they are talking of before the next major Apple operating system.


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