Win 7 Vs Mac OS X Leopard: Feature-by-Feature Showdown

Now that we know Windows 7 will go on sale October 22nd and the feature-complete release candidate is available as a free download, it's time to put it through its paces: as compared to the current state of the Mac.

Oh, I know: the Mac versus PC debate is so played out. Perhaps, but dumb commercials aside, if you're deciding between buying a Mac or a PC in the coming months, it helps to know what you're getting from one or the other. I use both a Mac and a PC every day of the week, and both systems have their strong and weak points.

Note that I'm basing my observations on the Windows 7 Ultimate Release Candidate 1 (Build 7100) and Mac OS X Leopard 10.5.7. You could argue that I really should be comparing Windows 7 to the upcoming Snow Leopard, and you'd be right. If I had a copy of Snow Leopard to run I'd do that. Alas. As always, take all comments salted with a few grains of "this is all one person's opinion" and "what I should get depends on what I need." Also, remember to breathe. Let's do this.

Mac Finder versus Windows Explorer—A Draw

I've always thought that the default interface for dealing with files in every major operating system could improve, and given both Windows 7 and Mac OS X Leopard, I still feel that way. Both Finder and Windows Explorer offer pretty much the same features, with a few exceptions (like Finder's Sidebar and Places, and now Windows 7's Libraries). Still, I want a tabbed interface and Quicksilver-y file manipulation built into my OS, and neither Explorer or Finder offers that. Since I'm pretty "meh" on both of these, we're calling this one a draw.

Leopard's Quick Look versus Windows File Preview—Winner: Quick Look

The one feature of Leopard's Finder which is super-useful for most common document types is Quick Look. Select a file, tap the keyboard, and bang, you're peering into the contents of a file, whether it's a Word document, PDF, or image. In Windows 7 Explorer you can hit the Alt+P keyboard combination to preview the contents of a file in an embedded panel inside the Explorer interface (too small). This preview feature doesn't support nearly the amount of filetypes that Quick Look does and lacks Quick Look's separate window resizing and paging capabilities.

Windows Taskbar versus Mac Dock—Winner: Windows 7 Taskbar

The new Windows 7 taskbar is no doubt the best improvement interface-wise to your system. Now you can pin programs to your taskbar (ironically, Dock-style), but you've also got jumplists and Aero Peek rollover previews (which work for multiple windows AND tabs) and the ever-handy Show Desktop button that pulls the taskbar ahead of Mac's Dock. In the Dock's defence, the Windows 7 taskbar does lack a Stacks equivalent.

Windows System Tray vs Mac Menu Bar—Winner: Windows 7 System Tray

The Mac menu bar is an odd bird: it's fixed to the top of your Mac's screen with no easy way to hide it, and programs affix their icons there without asking you (or by burying the option to hide them somewhere in the individual program's preferences). The default date and time display isn't that informative, either. Compared to Windows 7's one-click full calendar, and your ability to easily customise what icons live there in one place, Windows 7 takes this one. (See more about that icon customisation in item #6 in the top 10 things to look forward to in Windows 7.)

Leopard's Time Machine vs Windows Backup—Winner: Leopard's Time Machine

Not too much has changed with Windows 7's built-in backup utility: it's a plain old wizard that asks you to choose a backup drive, choose the files you want to back up (along with an option to make an OS system image), and set the schedule. It's buried somewhere in the Control Panel and the whole business of using it is boring and easy to ignore. But Leopard's Time Machine? Nothing beats its dead-simple setup and over-animated but really-fun restore interface.

Windows 7 Aero Peek versus ? (Not Quick Look or Stacks)—Winner: Aero Peek

I admit it: I'm currently deep in a love affair with Windows 7's Aero Peek feature, which does all this beautiful thumbnail previewing and window clearing and docking—but not in an overwrought, show-offy way, but more in a smooth, utilitarian, why-doesn't-every-computer-do-this way. Currently Mac OS X doesn't offer a feature that one could compare to Aero Peek. While Windows 7 set its sights on making window management cleaner, Leopard tackled file previews in Quick Look and Stacks. By default, Aero Peek wins this one.

We Could Go On...

We've hit on the most obvious biggies already, but the list of items one could compare between Windows 7 and Leopard goes on. There's Safari 4 versus Internet Explorer 8, Windows Media Player 12 versus iTunes/Front Row, Leopard's Boot Camp versus Windows 7 XP Mode (though that's not exactly apples to apples), Windows User Account Control versus Leopard's user security, and Windows Search versus Spotlight. Also, both operating systems boast more features that don't have direct parallels, like Leopard's extra utilities (e.g. Preview and iChat), Spaces, and Windows 7's themes, built-in software uninstaller, games, and multi-touch support. Of course, no Mac versus Windows article would be complete without mentioning that more games and viruses exist for Windows than for Mac.

Time to discuss in the comments, where I present you with a challenge: try to make an intelligent remark that doesn't include the suggestion to "upgrade" to Linux, and doesn't draw a conclusion about either operating system without a reasoned argument or supporting facts. Can we do it? Let's try! Post your thoughts in the comments.

Gina Trapani, Lifehacker's founding editor, is confident in this community's abilit to have a productive Mac versus Windows discussion. Her feature Smarterware appears every week on Lifehacker.


Comments

    windows lets you maximise your windows

    I've been using Windows and Linux desktops for the last 15 years. For a long time Mac's were off my shopping list because they had little support and were mostly boring ;). Things have change a lot over the last few years, most of the development I do (web/android/iphone) is fully supported on the mac - so this year I decided to make the switch. There are certainly things I miss about windows (even more things I miss about Gnome) but I know that when I sit down at my mac 9 times out of 10 I will be able to get on with my work - and any of the interface tweaks I miss are easily made up for by the speed of the system (why do I have to wait so long when opening an explorer window?). Although the purchase of the mac seems expensive, it comes with everything I need (and more; good mic, speakers, camera etc). There is also an undeniable quality to the hardware that make it a pleasure to use.

    I can't stand it when reviewers feel they can simply write oh I know this review isn't fair but I didn't have a copy of the latest product from both companies but here we go anyway.

    Actually, now I think about it - that's the kind of thing you expect from a casual blogger with limited access to resources. A professional being paid to write should be equipped with the right resources to do the job.

      It's a comparison of two products people can actually get hold of. And in any case, Apple's stated goals for Snow Leopard don't suggest a major change in most of these areas.

    I think Windows explorer wins on search because you can force it to index network drives. Spotlight can only index local drives. No indexing of a NAS for spotlight.

      AFAIK, indexing networked drives only works if those 'drives' have microsoft's new indexing client installed, and thus require a comparable OS along with it -- so you can pretty much forget indexing your networked media players/apples/linux servers/etc or any ageing windows hardware you might want to use.

    Surely Aero Peek should be compared to Expose?

    Anthony - Spotlight can be made to index remote drives. It does require popping into the terminal. http://www.macosxhints.com/article.php?story=20050430233117572

    W7 is ugly as a mule, while OSX appears to have had some qualified design professionals work on it.

    Agree with Anthony.

    Article should read "I'd like to compare technology 2007 with 2009"

    But daft really.

    BTW, I've no allegiance to any OS, each have there place.

    I have a Unibody 17" MacBook Pro and nothing beats it coming out of sleep.
    I just open the lid and almost instantly I can get on with my work.
    With Windows I need to go and make a cup of coffee while it comes out of sleep.

    I think it is a little redundant to compare the relatively older features of OSX with those of the new (OSX influenced) Win7 interface. You should compare some other things:
    - File browsing;
    - Power management;
    - memory usage and system stability;
    - keyboard shortcuts;
    - software installation
    - Expose/spaces
    - automation

    I think your choice of features to compare was a little too biased toward W7.

    I think that was a little to vague - you need to look at the internet programs, (EG IE VS Safari and Windows Live Mail VS iMail [I think its iMail] and so on) the help services and visual customisability of the two OSs. Also, I think Mick's comment should be adhered to as well.

    Oh and Windows will always win this argument in my case. ^^

    Yawn.

    Windows is still the loser by every stretch of the imagination. While OS X updates are actually increasing the speed and efficiency of pre-existing hardware, Windows is consistently finding new and imaginative ways to consume more. Windows has and always will steal from its smaller market share older brother who is smarter and more innovative. The fact that Windows is more mainstream is the only thing that keeps it alive. Plug away at something enough and eventually you'll develop a product that people will buy and in this bargain bin cheap PC market, most people don't have a choice but to swallow the generic brand.

    Both OS are good in their own special way, just like two children who asks their parent's which they love more.

    I have a Macbook, and when I want to play PC games or use Windows only software I use the Windows 7 on boot camp. When I want a nearly flawless computing experience for nearly everything else, I go to Leopard.

    Of course the fact that I can only switch between both the two OS on a Mac means...well, yeah.

    I think this post was a good overview of what a typical every day somebody may look at when using both. I do not think getting into the finer details is necessary. We already know that Unix is better than anything Dos or the NT kernel has to offer for its own reasons. If I had to recommend the best way to approach the Windows vs Mac debate I would say both. Build a Hackintosh with Windows 7 on its own partition because buying a Mac is a waste of money in my opinion. Use the Mac for your files and every day things and switch to Windows 7 for your video games, etc.

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