Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X Snow Leopard, Part 1: Oh, It's On!

Some people have long misunderstood my take on Apple and its products, and those people will no doubt see this as some bizarre attempt at a hatchet job or, at the very least, some cheap page views. Bu...

Paul Thurrott

October 6, 2010

5 Min Read
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Some people have long misunderstood my take on Apple and its products, and those people will no doubt see this as some bizarre attempt at a hatchet job or, at the very least, some cheap page views. But with your help, I will attempt to change some misguided opinions while making the most evenhanded OS comparison you've seen in a long while. The reason? I'll be publishing it over time, will change things to reflect your feedback, and will attempt to make it as accurate, unbiased, and useful as possible. My goal here isn't to convince you that Windows 7 is perfect or that Mac OS X is horrible. It's to present these two next generation OSes as they are and not as we may imagine them to be.

Yes, this is a Windows site. I get it. I'm the Windows Guy (tm). But people who really know me know that I'm not a fan boy. The only thing I really care about when it comes to this stuff is good technology. And certainly both Apple and Microsoft make plenty of good technology. Both have made their share of mistakes as well, of course, Microsoft arguably more so than Apple. But then Microsoft is a much bigger and more diverse company than Apple.

But let's narrow the field a bit, shall we? Because this is an OS comparison, I'll really only be focusing on the two OSes, Windows 7, and Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6), and not the wider Microsoft and Apple ecosystems. I will widen the net a bit to include things that are logically part of the overall OS experience for most customers. On the Windows 7 side, this means Windows Live Essentials, Microsoft "Morro," and some other related programs. For the Mac, it includes iLife '09 and possibly MobileMe. We should be examining hardware and support and how the latter works (or doesn't) on both sides of the fence. These OSes, like their users, don't exist in isolation. So we'll start at the middle and work our way out. Not too far. But enough.

Where I'm coming from

As I write these words, I'm installing yet another near-final Windows 7 build on several machines. And I'm simultaneously installing the latest pre-release Snow Leopard build on my mid-2008 MacBook. (I've purchased more Apple hardware and software than most Mac fanatics.) But before I get my hands on either build and dive in, let me explain where I'm coming from, where my head is at, circa mid-June 2009.

Obviously, I've spent a lot more time in Windows than I have on the Mac, and that experience gap widens yet again when you look at Windows 7 and Snow Leopard specifically. With Windows 7, I've used virtually every single prerelease build that's come down the pike. With Snow Leopard, I've only installed a handful of prerelease builds, and only in the past five months or so. But my impressions of each are easily stated, and I think of these releases within the perspective of their predecessors.

On the Windows side, Windows Vista (see my review) was a major release of Windows, and a huge technological change from Windows XP. By comparison, Windows 7 is a fine-tuning of Windows Vista, a chance for Microsoft to delve into every single nook and cranny of the system, internally and externally, improving everything in ways large and small. The result is a wonderful update, but one that will be more dramatic to XP users than Vista users.

Mac OS X Leopard (see my review) was the latest in a long list of evolutionary OS X upgrades that date back to the original OS X release in 2001. That first Mac OS X version was, as you'd expect, a major release. But Apple's strategy has been to refine, refine, refine, and while they've marketed and sold each subsequent update as if it were a major release, none of them have been, not really. Snow Leopard continues this trend, but in even more explicit form, with Apple finally admitting with this release, for the first time, that it's just fine-tuning what came before. But that's just fine. Like Windows, Mac OS X is a mature operating system, and while my description of the previous several updates as minor release may rankle Apple fanatics, we can at least all agree that Mac OS X, today, is in good shape. Snow Leopard will be the best version yet, but it doesn't change the Mac OS X user experience much at all.

Fundamentally, I feel that both Windows 7 and Snow Leopard are minor, evolutionary updates, technologically. Windows 7 is a major update from a user experience perspective, while Snow Leopard is not. Mac purists may argue that OS X didn't need a major user experience update, but I don't agree with that, and feel that OS X--from the end user's perspective--has been pretty stagnant for a while. But it's not all wine and cheese on the Windows side of the fence. Windows changes a lot between versions, but it sometimes feels like Microsoft is just experimenting to see what works. In fact, there's some Mac envy in Windows 7 I absolutely don't agree with, including the new OS X Dock-like taskbar. We'll get to that.

So that's where I'm at now, before parsing through all of the major functional aspects of each system. I may just change my mind on all of this. Maybe you will as well. You never know.

Continue to Part 2: Pricing...

About the Author(s)

Paul Thurrott

Paul Thurrott is senior technical analyst for Windows IT Pro. He writes the SuperSite for Windows, a weekly editorial for Windows IT Pro UPDATE, and a daily Windows news and information newsletter called WinInfo Daily UPDATE.

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