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    Unix foundation helps Apple's new Tiger roar

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver July 5- 11, 2005; High Tech Office column

          Unix foundation helps Apple's new Tiger roar

          by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver July 5- 11, 2005; High Tech Office column

          Were you one of those who pondered whether Certs was a breath mint or a candy mint? Even if you never cared for such deep philosophical questions, you might wonder about Apple. Is it a software company that happens to make stylish computers and music players or is it a hardware company that also makes the software needed to justify a high-priced niche for those Macs and iPods?

          Take the company's OS X operating system. While Microsoft inches toward a long-promised replacement for 2001's Windows XP, Apple has rolled out new versions of OS X every year to 18 months. This spring, it presented Apple users with OS X 10.4, aka Tiger ($149).

          Like earlier OS X incarnations, Tiger is built on top of a Unix core, meaning it offers a level of security and stability that Windows users can barely imagine. But unlike other Unix-variants, Tiger is designed to be usable by mere mortals, while still including under the hood all the tweak-ability prized by the über computer-geeks.

          Like Windows, each new OS X version gets bigger, packing in more features. Unlike Windows, each new version of OS X has somehow managed to run faster than its predecessors. Tiger is no exception. Apple is shipping it on a DVD disc (though CDs are available if needed). Despite the added bulk, it runs at least as fast as last season's OS X 10.3 Panther, with some features, such as display of PDF files, noticeably faster.

          Apple lists some 200 new features, though not all will be obvious to most users.

          Worth checking out, even if you're not a Mac user:

            Spotlight appears as a little magnifying glass in the top-right corner of the menu bar. It's a system-wide search tool. That doesn't sound too exciting. Macs and Windows systems have had built-in search for years. Spotlight, however, is fast: results start to appear before you finish typing. Searches are configurable in a variety of ways; you might want to find all the documents you worked on in the past week using Microsoft Word that included the word "competition." Spotlight searches the content of documents, e-mails, calendar and contact data and more. And you can save the results as a continually updated "smart folder," perhaps showing you everything you've worked on over the past seven days, making your work impossible to lose. Spotlight is also integrated into other operating system features like Apple's Mail application.

            Dashboard is a set of little programs ("widgets") running in the background. Click on an icon (or press a hot key) and the set pops up, offering your choice of time, calendar, weather, stock prices, dictionary definitions and more. Hundreds of additional widgets are available. Many are free, letting users get local traffic reports, track courier deliveries, find song lyrics, access the Wikipedia online encyclopedia or watch a cartoon hula dancer. Another press of a hot key and the widgets all return to the background. Fun and potentially productive.

            Automator, as the name suggests, is a tool to automate repeated tasks. While the gurus amongst us have long been able to write batch programs or scripts to run a series of chores at once, Apple has made Automator usable by the rest of us. (Automator is easy to miss; it's not in your face the way Dashboard and Spotlight are. That's too bad. It has the potential to be a real productivity enhancer).

            Support for RSS news-feeds within Apple's Safari Web browser. Multi-party video chat (at least on G5 hardware). High-definition wide-screen video support in QuickTime.

          New ways for the visually impaired to control their computers using voice. Built-in parental controls for home users; 193 more new and improved features.

          Next time: Apple's a hardware company. What's with this deal with Intel?

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan