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Tiger. It's Grrrrrrreat!

Apple's new operating system, which ships tomorrow, is a better Panther than Panther. It's packed with useful, cool, and powerful new features big and small, including ubiquitous indexed searching, group video chat, and integrated RSS.
OK, those are the marquee features. Now let's look at less broad but equally significant improvements.

RSS. Yes, Apple is now on the Really Simple Syndication bandwagon, supporting Web sites and blogs that offer news item feeds through the major syndication formats.

Subscriptions are handled within Safari, Apple's browser, and can be viewed individually and in groups. Once again, Spotlight rears its head, allowing searches through the contents of RSS items that have been retrieved.

This is one of the most heavily promoted and weakest areas of Tiger because managing subscriptions isn't really part of this process. It's more like throwing RSS at a screen and choosing what sticks.

I've been using Ranchero's NetNewsWire Pro 2.0 beta for months -- it's nearing release but was waiting for Tiger -- and I don't see any reason to switch to Safari. Having to use one fewer program isn't outweighed by the lack of management. Still, it will be a great introduction to those unfamiliar with the concept.

Security. There's more protection and more ease at gaining protection throughout Tiger, although Panther didn't skimp, either.

Among a number of disparate improvements, the Keychain Access utility finally allows easy access to the passwords and certificates it stores. They're now categorized and can be searched. A Certificate Assistant embedded into the program allows the creation of self-signed certificates and certificate requests without reverting to the command line.

Tiger lets you synchronize Keychains via .Mac, which means that the passwords and certificates you rely on can be managed across many different machines you use. Because you can create multiple Keychains, you can keep some item local to one machine and share others.

For those in institutions that rely on Kerberos, Tiger adds Kerberos support for VPNs and WebDAV. They've also added some certificate options, which will make it easier to use Tiger as a client for networks with requirements that Panther didn't meet.

Virtual memory can now be secured. Security-minded folks don't like data from memory being written temporarily to disk without it being encrypted and protected. Otherwise, fragments of confidential data may be left behind.

The Address Book can store public keys of those you correspond with, making it one step easier to use PGP or similar encryption methods.

The built-in Mail client emphasizes the use of SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) for POP, SMTP, and IMAP where available, which is a great approach to take with more people working over unprotected hotspot networks.

Networking. Apple has tweaked a number of minor networking options in ways that I support because they provide more granular control.

Their firewall now allows separate entries for UDP and TCP ports, which can be critical for certain kinds of services to pass through without allowing malicious use of others.

A set of options allow a Mac to go into stealth mode (no response to any outside-initiated TCP or UDP or ICMP traffic) or to disable all UDP traffic.

A network troubleshooter guides you through common problems monitoring the network all the time in a status pane. This lets you see whether some change worked instantly without having to complete a series of actions and then see if the network's back up.

Tiger finally offers a profile manager about as good as that added to Windows XP Service Pack 1. You can set elements of a Wi-Fi profile and drag them in order of preference if more than one of the networks is available.

You can also choose behavior for joining networks that haven't been defined as "preferred." This means you can automatically join any network by changing a setting, be warned, or not join any at all.

Images. Apple has been trying for years to make working with images within the OS and its various iLife, iWork, and other programs as seamless as possible. It's not quite there yet, but it's getting closer through improvements to Preview, its image-viewing application, and the Finder.

On the Desktop, selecting images lets you instantly put them into a slide show format in which you can view individual images or see a whole contact sheet.

Preview supports a variety of new formats, including DNG, JPEG2000, and the Camera RAW (uncorrected, uncompressed raw camera data) that's become popular among image professionals. PDF support was also expanded to add features, compatibility, and viewing within Safari.

When I first heard about Tiger a year ago, I wasn't confident that there was enough there to convince me and other power users to upgrade. The more I've worked with it and then had to switch back to Panther for my more routine projects, I've found myself less and less satisfied with the previous system release. That's another way to say that Tiger was a compelling upgrade for me.

I expect that those who like Panther will quickly upgrade to Tiger because it's Panther Plus. Those who find Mac OS X already frustrating or going down the wrong path won't find Tiger a different kind of animal at all.