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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Usability: Managing windows
One of the more noticeable functions of Windows Aero is the "glass" view of the desktop. When the cursor hovers over a small bar in the lower-right corner of the screen, all the active windows turn transparent, allowing you to see the desktop underneath. A variation on this comes when you hover over an application on the taskbar, to bring up a thumbnail of the application screen (or rows of thumbnails, if the app has multiple windows open), then hover over the thumbnail; the application's window becomes active while all other windows become transparent. The visual effect is pretty cool, even if the functionality isn't required in every situation.

The Snow Leopard equivalent comes when you click and hold on a dock icon that represents an application that is running. A shrunken application window appears over a darkened desktop, and the application can be chosen with a single click. The Snow Leopard representation comes forward regardless of which Spaces desktop the application is running within, so it's a fast way to jump between the various desktops. Snow Leopard can also let you see all of the running applications in small, side-by-side windows, so it's easy to choose which you should hop to next.

Verdict: While the Windows 7 application and desktop view is graphically richer, the Snow Leopard method is more fully integrated within the rest of the user interface. By a narrow margin, the advantage goes to Snow Leopard.

Usability: Searching
The Mac OS X Spotlight offers a powerful way to launch both applications and data files by typing a search string, then choosing the desired file from the results list. While Windows Vista has a search function as part of the Start menu, it's not as powerful as the Mac OS X Spotlight. In Windows 7, the search feature gets major upgrades, becoming a genuine rival for the Mac OS X Spotlight.

If you open the Start menu and begin typing, Windows 7 will bring up a list of programs, control panel items, documents, and media files whose titles contain the string you're typing. This is very similar to the approach Spotlight takes, and it's powerful enough to be faster than scrolling through the application menus if you have more than a very basic set of applications on your system.

What we're really seeing is that both Windows and the Mac OS are converging toward a common model, in which most applications (and the most common data files) will be accessed through icons on the dock or the menu bar, while less-common apps and data are accessed through rapid search results. The traditional Start menu and application folder are obviously being replaced by more efficient ways of launching applications.

Verdict: Both companies have reached similar conclusions about the best ways of navigating applications as well as files, so there's no clear advantage for one over the other. Draw.

Performance: An extra inch
Microsoft promised to make Windows 7 faster and leaner than Vista, and InfoWorld lab tests show slight improvements on both counts. OfficeBench, which measures the time required to complete a variety of Microsoft Office tasks, puts Windows 7 at roughly 4 percent faster than Vista (and 15 percent slower than XP). InfoWorld's OfficeBench tests also show that Windows 7 uses about 8 percent less RAM than Vista when running an identical workload. PC World WorldBench tests likewise indicate "incremental" speed improvements.

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