Is Snow Leopard just a cheap Windows 7 knockoff?

I wade through Apple's laundry list of borrowed features and derivative works in the new Mac OS

"Where's the beef?" That's the idiom that jumps to mind as I work my way through Galen Gruman's "The 7 best features in Mac OS X Snow Leopard." I knew the features list would be lean -- Apple has deliberately undersold Snow Leopard by pitching it as a relatively minor release -- but please! Gruman's article reads like a laundry list of borrowed features and derivative works. It's as if someone at Apple grabbed a copy of the Windows 7 beta and simply Xeroxed the release notes.

For example:

64-bitness: Yippee! Apple finally goes 64-bit -- BFD! As a Windows user, I've been livin' la vida 64-bit for more than three years. Vista was the first mainstream desktop OS to deliver a viable 64-bit experience, and Windows 7 has taken this migration further by making it the preferred flavor for business users.

[ See how Windows 7 RTM stacks up against Vista and XP in InfoWorld's tests. | Get ready for Windows 7: Download InfoWorld's 21-page PDF Windows 7 Deep Dive report. ]

Meanwhile, Apple can't even deliver a fully 64-bit implementation. Snow Leopard boots into a 32-bit kernel by default -- something about a lack of 64-bit device drivers, which is ironic when you consider how small a hardware ecosystem Apple must govern when compared to Microsoft and its burden of having to run on just about anything with an Intel-compatible CPU.

Exposé Dock Integration: This one's a joke, right? Am I to understand that Apple is just getting around to adding this? Microsoft has been offering this type of functionality (aka thumbnail preview) for years, and Windows 7 has taken the concept further with Aero Peek, Shake, and Snap. It sounds like Apple's Xerox machine suffered a paper jam with this one -- or perhaps it's just stuck in one of those famous Mac OS X infinite loops.

Expanded PDF Preview: If this constitutes a "feature," then Apple must really be grasping! I mean, Windows has supported PDF file preview -- via an installable ifilter module -- ever since Desktop Search debuted pre-Vista. In fact, the ability to seamlessly preview third-party content has been a staple of the Windows experience for years. So while I'm glad to see Apple finally getting on the ball with its PDF handling (I hear the updated viewer lets you basically do away with the piggish Adobe Reader for most common tasks), I'm still utterly stunned by the fact that this is even an issue. Provide a free (i.e. not trialware) XPS document viewer with Mac OS X and then maybe I'll get excited.

QuickTime Pro: Can you believe the Apple folks used to charge for this thing? I guess they saw the writing on the wall, what with Microsoft releasing yet another excellent iteration of its free Movie Maker application. Way to play that reactionary card, Apple!

I could go on, but I think I've made my point. Mac OS X Snow Leopard is truly an underwhelming release, one that borrows most of its "new" ideas from Windows Vista. Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to drive OS evolution forward, introducing a raft of truly innovative features with Windows 7. (Check out J. Peter Bruzzese's video of the top 20 Windows 7 features for examples.) The new Taskbar puts Apple's clumsy Mac OS X Dock to shame, while its enhanced support for multicore CPUs (see my earlier research on this topic) means that even non-optimized code gets a boost -- no Grand Central Dispatch tweaking required.

[ Get all the details on the new Mac OS X features in InfoWorld's "What's new in Mac OS X Snow Leopard" slideshow trio: new features for all users, new features for office users, and new features for power users. | Follow InfoWorld's ongoing coverage of Mac OS X Snow Leopard. ]

I've often referred to Windows 7 as "Vista R2," an incremental follow-up release that was mostly about righting the wrongs of its predecessor. Viewed in these terms, Mac OS X Snow Leopard is more like a service pack: a collection of bug fixes and minor functional enhancements that, quite frankly, should have been in the original release. As such, Snow Leopard is nothing to get all excited about; it's not worth even the modest "upgrade" price Apple is asking.


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