On Tiger and Mail and Automator and Dashboard…

05/01/2005

A new operating system and a Bank Holiday on the same weekend. It’s like fate. And it means that all around the country there are geeks fiddling and installing and reinstalling and losing serial numbers and going “oooh” pretty much in synchrony. I’ve been playing my role too! Exploring all the little nooks and crannies of my brand new shiny computer.

Some first impressions – Spotlight is pretty awesome and a positive move in desktop search. The fact that it usurps most of the functionality of Launchbar without being quite as focused on launching apps is a bit annoying, but not unpredictable. There’s a lot of the Flickr aesthetic (steal from the best!) in this release.

It took me a while to get my head around the new version of Mail, but I’m getting more and more quietly impressed. The smart folders angle (and the spotlight searching) makes the whole thing much more useful – I love the idea that I can keep all my mail in the same big dustbin and have query-focused folders to find my way through it. My long-standing problem with the app remains though – why the crap isn’t there an option to reply to an e-mail with the e-mail address it was originally sent to? I would have thought that was bloody obvious functionality to have, and yet almost no bloody mail app I’ve used in years has had it. The behaviour of this version appears to be closer to my ideal than the previous version, but not by much… If you’re outside the Inbox, then things start getting screwy…

Elsewhere, there are all kinds of neat things lying around in Quartz Composer, but I’ve not had much time to play with that yet. I have had time to play with Dashboard though and I’ve got a few thoughts. Firstly, it’s obviously kind of fluff, but I don’t care. It’s neat and it’s pretty and I like it. Secondly, there may be lots of little widgets available, but most of them are pretty useless so far. I’ve only found two fun ones (other than the weather and clock things it comes with): a Transmit drop-file widget and the Delicious Library shelf. And they’re kind of bunk. Fun though. Thirdly – and most importantly – building widgets is fun! I’ve been playing around with Mr Biddulph and it’s all been highly enjoyable. I’m fully expecting to be involved in making several of these little things over the next few weeks.

(A quick sideline – the more I’ve been playing with Dashboard the more I’ve started to think of it as an interesting prototyping area for simple network enabled real-world appliances and ambient computing stuff. That may sound over the top, but think about it – each widget is supposed to support simple interactions only, they’re often designed to look and feel like real-world objects and they’re also mostly designed to be useful when you’re online – pulling in information in the background. Those simple ambient pieces of technology – like the orb that reflects the state of the stock market – would feel right at home in this environment. I’ve not been paying much attention to the Konfabulator widget market, but I imagine they’ve been pushing along quite nicely in these directions already.)

Another fun area for me has been Automator. I’ve not got very far with it yet, but it only took me two minutes to knock up a little workflow that downloaded every MP3 linked to from a page, saved it to my desktop and slapped it into my iTunes library. It’s the perfect way to quickly grab fun previews of tracks from the Marseille Figs album.

What else is there? I’ve not really played too much with Safari RSS because I still like NetNewsWire more. The new iChat has a sweet / disturbing little feature that picks up on what iChatStatus did and incorporates it (again) into the OS. So now you can choose to have your latest iTunes track displayed as your status line. But that’s not the good/creepy bit – what’s cool is that other people can not only see what you’re looking at, but can click on the song to look it up on iTunes Music Store. If that was more open – if you could choose where to look up the song – then I’d probably like it more. I’m not thrilled by the idea of my operating system trying to sell me things all the time.

Other than that, everything’s pretty smooth and classy. A few irritants get in the way of a pure fun experience of course – Quicktime 7 no longer remembers that I went pro – apparently the money I spent on that isn’t good enough any more. Thank god for VLC. And there are the things that I’ve done that are dumb – like neglect to note down my serial numbers for Acquisition and BBEdit 8.2. But they’re my own fault, I guess. Otherwise, a pretty entertaining and solid release! Big hugs all round…