PC vs. Mac deathmatch: Snow Leopard beats Windows 7

Windows 7 is a worthy rival, but Mac OS X Snow Leopard is the better operating system by a whisker for discriminating professionals

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Read on to find out how Windows 7 and Snow Leopard compare in usability, features, security, and speed. In some areas the winner is clear, while in others I have to call it a draw. Generally where one wins, the other is not far behind. Perhaps not surprisingly, Apple and Microsoft largely agree on how an operating system should look and act when you're trying to get work done. The similarities are often striking.

One last note before we dive into the details: To test the operating systems, I installed each on a dedicated laptop computer that had previously been running the earlier version. In each case, either shipping or release candidate code was used for the initial installation, and each was current with all patches and updates as of the date of testing.

Usability: File exploring
While noting that there are options you can set to determine just how files and folders will be displayed, both Windows 7 and Snow Leopard follow the same basic script for letting you find files. The larger units (computer, network, libraries, and so on) are on the left side of the window, while details are on the right.

Windows 7 places more options in front of the user with the bar at the top of the window, while Snow Leopard tends to place the options under buttons there. No huge difference here, though I'll say that the "more intuitive" description that Mac users love to throw around suffers a bit when intuition is hidden under icons. It's true that you can add tasks to the toolbar in Mac OS X, but it requires more work than simply accepting the default options in Windows 7.

The larger difference comes in Windows 7's treatment of "libraries." In a library, you can collect files of various sorts without moving them from the folder where they're stored; libraries can even collect files from different disks. It's easy to create these collections of whatever you'd like and pin them to the left-hand side of the window. If you're like me, a file pack rat who tends to work on a number of different projects at once, then the libraries can be a major improvement in the way you work with files.

Verdict: Yes, Snow Leopard has the ability to move documents into stacks on the Dock, but the Windows 7 libraries are much more powerful and flexible. Advantage: Windows 7.

Usability: Launching applications
There is no more iconic visual symbol for Mac OS X than the dock, that strip at the bottom of the screen where frequently used applications live. It's easy to forget that you can launch most programs from the applications folder, but good to remember before your dock becomes hopelessly overcrowded. Snow Leopard didn't make significant changes to the dock, so users accustomed to the Leopard way of doing things should be comfortable with Snow Leopard's as well.

Windows 7, on the other hand, makes significant changes to the Windows task bar. It's now possible to pin applications to the task bar to make it far more Mac-like. Further, Windows 7 improves on the Mac model by allowing you to pin folders to the task bar, as well. The Windows 7 task bar can also be moved around the screen, appearing at the bottom, top, or either side, though most users will find it easier to let it sit at the bottom, where it's always been.

Verdict: The ability to pin folders is a genuine improvement to the Windows task bar, especially when your work requires you to constantly refer back to the same set of files. Advantage: Windows 7.

Snow Leopard vs. Windows 7

 Mac OS X 10.6 Snow LeopardMicrosoft Windows 7
  • Well-integrated components
  • Strong built-in applications
  • Smaller and faster than predecessor
  • Easy to set up networking and asset sharing
  • Superbly affordable upgrade pricing
  • Faster and more stable than Vista
  • Windows Live applications are strong
  • Libraries offer tremendous organization capabilities
  • Aero user interface is very attractive and useful
  • Security greatly improved over Vista
  • Many incompatibilities with earlier application versions
  • Graphical interface is on the verge of looking dated
  • Stacks are not as useful as Windows 7 libraries
  • Intel Macs only; PowerPC Macs no longer supported
  • Lots of versions with expensive upgrade paths
  • Windows Live applications are separate downloads
  • Frequent patches and updates
  • Separate 32- and 64-bit versions
Pricing$29 for a single-machine license; $49 for five-user pack. Note: Snow Leopard is available for Intel-based Macs only.Upgrade version/full version: $119.99/$199.99 for Home Premium; $199.99/$299.99 for Professional; $219.99/$319.99 for Ultimate. Note: upgrades from Windows XP and Vista only. Compare editions.

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