Deathmatch review: Windows 8.1 vs. OS X Mavericks

Although you can now hide some of the Windows 8 dissonance, Windows 8.1 doesn't leap forward enough

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Manageability: Windows 8.1 vs. OS X Mavericks

Scores:
Windows 8.1: 9
OS X Mavericks: 7

If you're willing to spend the money, you can manage Windows 8 PCs every which way from Sunday using tools such as Microsoft's System Center. Remote installation, policy enforcement, application monitoring, software updating, and so forth are all available.

OS X Mavericks provides similar capabilities through its use of managed client profiles -- enforcing use of disk encryption is a new capability in this version -- through OS X Server. Alternatively, OS X management capabilities are available through third-party tools such as those from Quest Software that plug into System Center or via MDM tools, including from the likes of AirWatch and MobileIron. OS X Mavericks rationalizes its policy set with iOS, so it's easier to manage Macs using the tools you likely have in place for mobile devices. Mavericks also now supports enterprise-style app licensing for Mac App Store apps, a big shift IT will welcome.

But the degree of control available to Windows admins -- as well as the number of tools to exert that control -- is still far greater than is available for OS X admins.

Security: Windows 8.1 vs. OS X Mavericks

Scores:
Windows 8.1: 8
OS X Mavericks: 9

With nearly every computer these days connected to the Internet, security is a big focus, including both application security and data security. Windows has been a malware magnet for years, and antivirus software has been only partially effective in protecting PCs. Macs have been immune from most attacks, but in the last two years, the Mac has seen a handful of high-profile Trojan attacks through plug-in technologies such as Oracle Java and Adobe Flash. Windows, of course, suffers hundreds of such attacks each year.

So it's no surprise that Microsoft has included its (unfortunately anemic) Security Essentials antimalware app since Windows 8. For its part, Apple has included antimalware detection since OS X Mountain Lion, with daily checks to update signatures and remove known malware. Windows' registry does make it harder to truly eliminate malware than Apple's approach of relying on discrete files and folders that can simply be deleted if found to be harmful. Security researchers such as Trail of Bits say that OS X is much harder for hackers to successfully attack, though Microsoft's Vista and later have done a good job of closing up the many holes in Windows XP. Also, there are more tools available to monitor and protect Windows, commensurate to its greater risk, than for OS X.

Both OSes' boot loaders include antimalware detection, and OS X has a password-protected firmware option to prevent startup from external disks; users can't bypass the startup password by booting from a different disk. (One of OS X's handy features is that you can boot a Mac from external disks and network volumes easily, which is great for testing and shared environments.)

Beyond such application security, both OSes support FIPS 140-2 cryptographic encryption. Both OSes also provide IT-manageable on-disk encryption, though Microsoft's BitLocker requires a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip to implement it fully, and few PCs have such a chip. For me, that means I can't access corporate email from one of my Windows 8 PCs via the Metro Mail app because it has no TPM to enable encryption, and our Office 2013 Exchange server requires encryption be enabled to gain access. That same server works fine with OS X, iOS, Android, and BlackBerry 10 devices' encryption, and of course it works fine with my TPM-equipped Surface Pro tablet.

Also easier in OS X is data security, thanks to the included Time Machine backup program. With Time Machine, it's dead simple to back up a Mac or OS X Server, and the backups can be encrypted and even rotated among multiple disks. System restoration is also exceedingly easy, with no driver installation or command-line setup involved.

Windows 8 introduced File History, which backs up data files in certain locations to your choice of your startup disk, an external disk, or Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service. Like Time Machine, File History keeps incremental versions of these files so that you can roll back to a previous point in time, but unlike Time Machine, it can't restore your whole PC in case of a crash or simply to transfer your environment to a new machine. Windows 8.1 doesn't change that.

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