So far, I have found very few applications that refuse to run with Windows 7. There are a couple, including the ZoneAlarm firewall, but most of the personal productivity apps have run quite well to this point. I suspect there will be a flood of new application versions that take advantage of the updated user interface presented by Windows 7, but those are upgrades, rather than patches to allow basic functionality.
Verdict: We're a long way from Vista. The compatibility points go to Windows 7.
Built-in apps and utilities
Apple made significant improvements to Mail, Address Book, and iCal in Snow Leopard, bringing Exchange 2007 compatibility to these built-in apps. When you add the functions of iLife ($79), many of the basic communication and media production tasks most consumers (and many business users) will need to accomplish can be handled without spending a whole lot extra on application software.
Microsoft has taken the opposite approach, stripping Mail, Movie Maker, and other basic application software out of Windows 7. This succeeds in making the footprint smaller for users who don’t want or need these functions. If you do need them, Microsoft has made Windows Live versions of Mail, Movie Maker, Writer (for blogging), and other applications available for free download. The new Live apps seem quite good, but obtaining them requires another step for users to go through.
Here's another small, but telling, issue with the basic applications from each company. While the Mac's Mail has been improved to work with Exchange Server 2007 out of the box, Windows Live Mail requires that the Exchange Server use the IMAP 4 protocol (rather than the native Exchange protocols) to delver mail. I’m not sure why this is so, but if you want to have Exchange functionality without buying additional software, then the Mac is the better answer. Go figure.
There are, of course, some additional apps and functions that are common to both operating systems. Each comes with its own browser, Internet Explorer 8 for Windows 7 and Safari 4 for Snow Leopard. Each is much improved over previous editions, and each is a modern, tabbed, fully functional Web browser. IE8 has far more add-in programs available than Safari 4. Whether you consider this a good or bad thing depends heavily on your philosophy of the Web browser. Me? I use Firefox as my principal browser on both platforms.
File sharing on local networks is relatively straightforward on both systems, with each even finding the other on its list of available computers. It’s worth noting that both the Mac and Windows 7 have file sharing and local network features that become much richer and easier to use if they’re part of a homogenous network -- if all the computers on the network are either Macs or Windows 7 machines. When traveling outside my local network I found Snow Leopard to be the easier system to use when finding and making connections to other networks. Windows 7 is much better than Vista at making wireless network connections, but it still wanted to put too many networks in the “unknown” category and hang on to public settings even after I came back to my office network. It’s much better than it was, but Snow Leopard still requires much less user involvement for most situations.
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