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Mac OSX 10.4

June 24, 2005

Apple released Mac OSX 10.4 on April 29, 2005. Work purchased my copy for my 12" 1.5GHz G4 PowerBook. After using it for about a month and a half, I have reverted to 10.3.9. Overall, despite a few nice features introduced in 10.4, I have found 10.3 to be faster, more stable, more compatible and easier on resources. The following isn't a review as much as a word of caution. I have seen very few articles that were in any way critical of Apple's latest OSX release. I felt obliged to rectify this. If you're interested in a good review of Tiger, please see Ars Technica's excellent article.

At the time of writing, my PowerBook is the top-of-the-line 12" laptop available from Apple. It shipped with 10.3 and works perfectly with it. I upgraded to the PowerBook from a 700MHz G3 iBook that I purchased in 2003. The difference in performance between the two systems is like night and day. After upgrading to 10.4 however, I noticed that the laptop was decidedly slower. Dashboard seems to be a real resource hog even with only a few widgets from Apple. Furthermore, Spotlight has a very noticeable impact on performance. In the month and a half of using 10.4 I did get quite used to Spotlight, notably the ability for it to bring up Address Book contacts. However, 10.3 with QuickSilver gives me the same functionality and the system stays far more responsive.

I don't program much on the PowerBook, so the new Xcode was a bit lost on me. I'm also reasonably comfortable with AppleScript and shell scripting, so Automator was no great loss either. I do miss the real-time updated to Finder, as I often work in the command prompt. This minor convenience was not worth the price of losing compatibility with a few Open Source projects that I use. Not to mention that 10.4 changes networking enough to cause problems for Microsoft Virtual PC 7.0.

I also wasn't enamored with Apple's interface changes in 10.4 Ars Technica's excellent review covered these points far better than I could. Needless to say, I agree completely with the reviewer's opinion of Apple's half-baked virtual folders, needless Mail.app UI changes and their odd habit of changing the colour of things just because they can. Enough already! 10.3 looked great. Please stick with your HIG and stop changing things for no reason. It's getting to the point where Linux has a more consistent interface.

What the heck is this?

Let the buyer beware. This is the first release of Mac OSX that hasn't improved performance across the board. It was inevitable, I suppose. You can only optimize so much before the performance hits of new feature development outpace optimization gains. Such is life. It's a shame, as performance and compatibility aside, I quite liked 10.4.

In short, if you have 10.3 and are happy with it, I would stick with it for a few more minor releases of 10.4. I have 10.4 installed on a FireWire drive and will continue to test it with each Apple point release. However, until 10.4 reaches the performance and stability levels of their excellent 10.3.9, this PowerBook will be sticking with Panther.