Mac users can upgrade their current machine for $129. All new Macs will come with Tiger.
The most interesting new feature is definitely Spotlight - a new desktop search function that instantly locates any file, email message, contact, image or application based on any word or phrase contained in the document.
Spotlight is not the only product to do this. There are a number of PC applications, including free products from Google and Yahoo that perform similar functions. But because Spotlight is integral to the Mac operating system, it is not only faster than those Windows add-on products; it's also more elegant and easier to use.
I remember writing an article about Lotus 1-2-3 back when the product was released during the 80s. That article, along with thousands of others I've written in the past 23 years is stored on the hard drives of my Mac and Windows machines.
It may have been nearly two decades since I wrote that column, but it took Spotlight less than 2 seconds to find it. I pressed command space bar, typed in Lotus 123 and there was the file on my Mac's hard drive. Spotlight is equally adept at finding contacts from Apple's address books or stored email messages
Spotlight is so easy to use that I found myself using it, instead of the Finder, to locate and open files. Of course, we're still a long way from software that can analyze photos to figure out who is in them, but when I entered my children's names, Spotlight did find pictures where their names were included in the file name or tags that can be added to digital photos. It was also able to find my digital music files based on the artist and song data that is stored within MP3s and other music file formats.
Spotlight searches can be saved to "Smart Folders" which look like any Apple folder except their contents are dynamically updated as new material is added. You could, for example, create a folder with the name of a friend or business associate that would automatically list all documents with that person's name. If you created a new document about that person or got or sent an email to him or her, that link would automatically be added to the folder. Smart.
Installing Tiger was very straightforward, although it did take about an hour to upgrade the operating system and about another 40 minutes for Spotlight to index the contents of my hard drive. I couldn't use Spotlight during that time, but I could use the Mac. The amount of time it takes for your system will depend on the files that you have.
Another new feature, called Dashboard, is useful but hardly revolutionary. Dashboard is home to what Apple calls "widgets," small little utilities that pop-up quickly to perform small tasks. The operating system comes with a simple calculator, calendar clock and weather report program. You'll be able to download more widgets for such tasks as checking stock prices, tracking flights or looking up words in a dictionary.
Advanced users who have the time to configure it will appreciate Automator, which Apple bills as "your personal automation assistant." Automator lets you automate repetitive tasks by setting up scripts or "workflows" that carry out a sequence of steps for you. Unlike some after-market automation products, this one is pretty easy to configure, although it does take a little time to fully appreciate how to use it.
Apple is also taking more advantage of Internet connections, especially now that the majority of its users have access to broadband. The .Mac sync feature allows you to use Apple's optional .Mac service (www.mac.com) to synchronize more than one Mac or share your Apple iCal calendar with others.
It may not make headlines, but, for families, one of the most important new features is a parental control allowing parents to choose not only which web sites their kids can visit but also certain applications such as e-mail, chat and even what words can be viewed in the dictionary.
The e-mail and chat controls, for example, allow you to determine with whom your child can communicate. Apple took a very conservative approach to its web controls, filtering out all sites (except Apple's home page) until a parent specifically approves the site by entering in a password.
If you are going to use a filter, I strongly prefer those that are preconfigured to let in good sites and just filter out sites that are inappropriate with parents having the ability to modify the settings.
Apple also upgraded some of its existing built-in applications. The Safari web browser now lets you subscribe to "RSS feeds" which means faster access to ever changing news and information. This is not really a big deal: the Mozilla Firefox browser that runs on Mac, Windows and Linux, already has this.
Apple's AV Chat program has been upgraded with better video and audio and the ability to have an audio chat with up to ten people and have four people in a video conference.
This new operating system, along with the $499 (and up) Mac Mini that was introduced in January, is yet another reason why people should seriously consider Macintosh the next time they shop for a computer.
Still, don't expect Apple to suddenly reserve Microsoft's better than 10 to 1 lead in users.
For most PC users, Windows is "good enough," and the cost and hassle of switching, especially for corporations and other large institutions, is not insubstantial.
Nevertheless, for the typical consumer who does typical things with computers, the Mac is now a very attractive choice.
A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
By Larry Magid