Apple is giving attendees of this week's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2004 in San Francisco a first look at the next major revision to Mac OS X v10.4, known by its code-name "Tiger".

Version 10.4 is expected to be released some time in the first half of 2005, and it touts more than 150 new features, according to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who took the wraps off the software at a keynote address yesterday.

New features abound

Major new features expected to draw the interest of consumers include a new search technology called Spotlight, that enables users to search for any file, document or information their Mac contains. The software has been modelled to work like the search capabilities of Apple's popular iTunes music software application, and can find e-mails, presentations, images, appointments, Office documents and more, arranging its search results by kind, time or people.

What's more, Spotlight enables users to create "Smart Folders," "Smart Playlists," "Smart Mailboxes" and "Smart Groups" that work in the Finder and individual applications to automatically keep content organized and updated.

Safari, Apple's popular standards-based Web browser for Mac OS X, will feature integrated support for RDF Site Summary, or RSS -- an increasingly popular method of finding updated content on Web sites. Safari can operate as a full-featured RSS reader, and Mac users will be able to create their own news clippings service using the feature.

Also new to Tiger is Dashboard, an interface for "Widgets", or specialized applications. The technology is based on Mac OS X v10.3's Exposé feature, and provides ways for users to more conveniently access information like stock quotes, calendar information, calculators, Webcam interfaces and more. Tiger will include several widgets and will also be exposed to developers through the release of a Software Development Kit (SDK).

iChat, Apple's popular text, audio and video messaging service, will get an overhaul in Tiger with the introduction of support for H.264, a new video codec that scales from 3G "smartphones" to HD-quality video. The new version of iChat will also sport the ability for up to three people to simultaneously video-chat with one another, or 10 people to audio-chat.

Under the hood

Other new features coming to Tiger will include Core Image and Core Video, a new foundation technology for image and video processing applications modelled after the Core Audio technology Apple leverages with pro audio applications. QuickTime, Apple's popular multimedia playback and editing technology, will gain support for H.264 video in the Tiger release as well. Automator is a new visual application coming to Tiger that enables users to automate repetitive tasks without needing to write scripts.

.Mac data synchronization gets an upgrade with Tiger, too -- the software uses an entirely new engine, according to Apple, that lets .Mac users sync contacts, bookmarks, e-mail preferences and calendars across multiple machines.

Under the hood, Mac OS X v10.4 gets an overhauled UNIX kernel with improved Symmetric Multi-Processing (SMP) scalability to run more efficiently on multi-processor machines; also integrated is Xgrid, Apple's grid computing technology. 64-bit virtual memory support has been added, also. Windows compatibility has been improved with the ability to access Windows-based home directories and authenticate against Microsoft's Active Directory technology.

Apple said that Mac OS X v10.4 "TigeR" will hit stores in the first half of 2005, but did not offer a more precise timeframe than that. The software will remain the same price as the Panther version.

Apple also announced Mac OS X Server v10.4, or Tiger Server, with new features for Weblogs, iChat and Windows server migration.