Tools Of The Trade: The Apple Macintosh OS10.4 - Tiger

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The Independent Online

Microsoft's long-awaited upgrade to Windows, codenamed "Longhorn", is expected to go on sale next year. But computer users who want a taste of what Longhorn might look like could do worse than check out Apple's latest operating system release.

Microsoft's long-awaited upgrade to Windows, codenamed "Longhorn", is expected to go on sale next year. But computer users who want a taste of what Longhorn might look like could do worse than check out Apple's latest operating system release.

Tiger includes some features that Microsoft is expected to include with Longhorn - especially enhanced searching - and some, such as the Dashboard, that are unique to Apple.

The search facility, Spotlight, has already attracted much attention since Apple chief Steve Jobs demonstrated it earlier this year. Spotlight adds a small icon to the computer's screen, and typing in a search term brings up a list of anything on the Mac's desktop that contains the keyword. Spotlight is fast - not least because it indexes the user's hard disk when he upgrades to Tiger - and flexible. The clever thing about the facility is that it searches inside documents, as well as for their file names, making it a highly useful tool.

The Dashboard adds features that are either useful or an amusing distraction, depending on your point of view. Some of the more business-focused include quick access to the address book and calendar. Others, such as a flight tracker which can show where in the world a plane is, are fun if you have the screen space for them.

But the Dashboard technology is open, so developers can add more Widgets, as the mini applications are known. Expect to see a greater range of business applications, such as for monitoring large IT networks, in the coming months.

Apple has also moved to enhance its communications options, in particular by adding support for multi-way audio and video conferencing to its iChat messaging client. These technologies compete with services such as Skype and MSN Messenger, but are implemented with typical Apple flair. The iChat application, for example, works best with Apple's own Firewire camera, although there is support for other video devices. Audio works well enough with the computer's built-in speakers and microphone.

One-to-one video calls also work with AOL's instant messaging service, although multi-way video calls are currently an Apple-only option.

These extra functions seem to add relatively little in terms of processing power overheads to the Mac OS. In fact, Apple says Tiger has been rewritten to run faster, and most users will see a modest speed increase. That said, the company does recommend a minimum of 256MB of main memory for the upgrade; 512MB would be better still. Also, Tiger will only work with Macs with Firewire built in, ruling out some older models.

For those with a relatively recent Mac, this is a worthwhile upgrade. Improvements in security, and the Apple Mail and iCal calendar applications will justify the £89 price tag on their own for some people.

Users of older Macs, though, could consider buying a Mac Mini instead, as Apple includes both Tiger and the latest versions of its iLife applications.

THE VERDICT

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pros: useful new features, performance boost.

Cons: older Macs might struggle.

Price: £89 (single-user version); £139 (five-user family version).

Contact: www.apple.com/uk

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