The top 10 features Apple stole from Windows

In the battle between Mac OS X and Windows, here's a reminder of where Microsoft supplied the innovation first

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Where Microsoft deserves the innovation credit

Steve Jobs once said that Microsoft stole Windows from Apple, but there has been plenty of idea snatching on both sides over the years. Windows 7 and Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard each contain features that originated in the other OS. Some features were stolen so long ago that they've become part of the computing landscape, and it's difficult to remember who invented what. Here we give credit to Microsoft where credit is due.

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1. Finder Sidebar: Windows Navigation pane

Like the Windows Navigation pane, the Finder Sidebar sits at the left side of folder windows, providing hierarchical icons to navigate to other folders. In either, you can get to any folder on the computer. The Finder Sidebar debuted in Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, two years after the Navigation pane appeared in Windows XP. Microsoft did steal the triangles from Apple. Before Vista, Windows used plus and minus signs to expand or collapse lists.

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2. The Mac Path bar: Windows Address bar

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard added an optional Path bar at the bottom of folder windows to display the path of any selected file or folder. Double-clicking a folder in the path opens that folder. Drag (or Option-drag) a file to move or copy it to one of the folders in the path. This feature first appeared as the Address bar in Windows Vista, which began appearing nearly a year before Leopard shipped. The Windows version has a bit more functionality, in that you can click an arrow next to a folder in a path to get to anything inside it.

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3. Back and Forward navigation buttons in folder windows

Microsoft first put the Forward and Back buttons of Web browsers into its folder windows with Windows 2000. Oddly, Apple first included only a Back button in the original Mac OS X. It wasn't until version 10.2 Jaguar that a Forward button appeared.

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4. Minimizing to document windows into app icon

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard added an option for minimizing, which is turned off by default. Instead of creating a new icon in the Dock, you can have a document window minimize into the application icon it belongs to, as Windows has been doing with taskbar.

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5. Screen Sharing: Remote Desktop Connection

In Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, Apple added the little known but useful Screen Sharing program (found in /System/Library/CoreServices/), also usable through iChat (later called Messages). Screen sharing lets you view and control another networked Mac running Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger or later. Windows users have had this functionality in Remote Desktop Connection since Windows XP. In fact, Microsoft provided a free Mac version of Remote Desktop Connection before Apple added the functionality to Leopard.

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6. Time Machine: Backup and Restore

Apple didn't steal Time Machine from Windows, just the concept of including backup capability with the operating system. Time Machine is far easier to use and than the Backup and Restore utility in Windows 7, and some would say, more flexible. But Windows had backup first.

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7. System Preferences: Control Panel

Before Mac OS X, Mac system settings were found in a set of separate files called control panels. Microsoft took the name, but put all the settings in one convenient place. For Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah, Apple stole Microsoft's idea and called it System Preferences. Unlike the Windows Control Panel, the Mac's System Preferences doesn't open additional windows, and it tends to have a simpler user interface.

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8. ActiveSync and Exchange 2007 support

Macs have long been second-class citizens to Windows when it comes to Exchange Server, but Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard added native support of Exchange Server's 2007's group scheduling, contact and mail services. Not to be outdone, Microsoft announced that it would bring Outlook to Mac OS X, two weeks before Snow Leopard shipped.

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9. Command-Tab: Alt-Tab

Since 1990's Windows 3, Alt-Tab has enabled users to easily switch between running applications. Apple added the feature using Command-Tab in Mac OS X 10.3 Panther in 2003. In recent versions, the command brings up a horizontal menu of icons. Apple, however, added functionality, the ability to navigate the menu with the Command and arrow keys, that Microsoft copied and added to Vista. Windows Vista also added previews of the windows themselves with the Flip 3D feature in the Aero theme.

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10. Terminal: Command Prompt

Old-timers will remember that Windows began as a GUI running on top of the MS-DOS command line OS. Today's Command Prompt is no longer DOS, but it does give command line access to Windows itself. Apple eschewed a command line interface in the Mac operating system through Mac OS 9, but finally gave in and added Terminal to provide access to Mac OS X's powerful Unix underpinnings. In 2006, Microsoft released Windows PowerShell, which includes a scripting language and supports some Bash (Unix) shell commands.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.