The Mac OS X 10.4 client codenamed Tiger brought some 200 new features, notably Spotlight, Apple's new desktop search technology, on its release last Friday.
The server version of Tiger is also due to ship, according to Apple.
Spotlight searches the contents and metadata of files to help users find anything stored on their Mac -- such as emails, contacts, appointments, images, PDFs and documents -- and organises and displays the results. Built into the Mac OS X core, Spotlight also updates results whenever files change.
"It's the holy grail of search on the desktop, and Apple got there first," said Kevin Langdon, owner of Crywolf Computers, an Apple reseller, and director of the Apple Specialists Marketing Cooperative.
Two other key features of Tiger, Dashboard and Automator, will catch the attention of developers as well as Mac users, according to solution providers.
Tiger comes with 14 widgets and third-party developers can build new widgets that users can add to their Dashboards.
The Automator application allows users to choose from a library of more than 100 automated, repetitive tasks and create customised workflows, which can be saved and shared. Developers also can expand the library by designing more tasks and workflows.
"Probably the [Tiger] feature we get the most questions about is the three-person iChat. That seems to be the most anticipated feature among our customers," Langdon said.
The iChat instant-message and audio/video conferencing application -- designed to work in tandem with Apple's iSight Webcam -- lets users hold audio conferences with up to 10 people and video conferences with up to four people in a 3D virtual conference room.
Participants in a video conference appear on-screen just as if they were seated around a table, with their reflections even showing in the tabletop. The new iChat also brings improved picture quality via support of the new H.264 video codec.
Other highlights of Tiger include an updated Safari web browser with a built-in RSS reader; Mail 2, a new version of OS X's mail application; QuickTime 7, the latest version of Apple's multimedia player; iCal 2, an upgraded calendar application; and Font Book 2, an enhanced font management utility that now supports libraries for installing fonts on the system or network.
Apple also sharpened Unix-based OS X under the hood.
Tiger brings native 64-bit application support; Core Image and Core Video engines to support new image and video processing applications; improved Windows compatibility so OS X users can more easily access a Windows-based home directory and authenticate against Microsoft's Active Directory;advances to OS X's Unix foundation; Xgrid distributed computing software; and Xcode 2, a new version of Apple's developer tools suite for OS X.
"We work a lot with video professionals, so a lot of people are really looking forward to the core image and graphics engines that have been rewritten for Motion [Apple's motion-graphics design software] and the better performance they'll get out of that," said Gary Dailey, president of Daystar Technology, an Apple VAR.
"I think that over the next six months, as Tiger really gets out there, that [Apple's user base] is going to grow exponentially," Langdon said. "I definitely see more people that aren't traditional Mac installed-base customers."