I was having a conversation with a friend a while ago about which was better, Windows or MacOS. He was very clearly a Windows person, and wouldn’t even consider OS X as a viable operating system (which I thought was a bit harsh). However, I have to admit to being a little biased myself, towards the offerings Apple has thrown our way. So, after sifting the net for other people’s opinions, I thought it was about time I shared my musings (if you’re not into computers in any way, feel free to ignore all of this post).

Firstly, we ought to make sure we are comparing the right things with each other. After all, it’s no good comparing Mac OS X Tiger with Windows 95, for instance. However, it does present something of a problem, in that Apple has released several versions of their operating system in the time that Microsoft has released one. Windows XP graced the general public at much the same time as Mac OS X, but while Microsoft has brought out Service Pack 1 and 2, Apple have completely revamped the entire system, three times. So do we compare Windows XP SP2 with Mac OS X Tiger, or the original XP with the original X?

I must also point out here that whilst I use computers most of the time, I am not what you might call a power user. I push my computer to the limit, admittedly, but speed is not the be all and end all for me. Everyone has their own needs from a computer, mine has always been the experience and the appearance, so this is what I will mainly focus on here.

When Windows XP first came out, it was a sigh of relief that the horrible greyness had finally been dispensed with! There was colour to the operating system, some subtle 3D shading on the task bar and on buttons, which generally made the look and feel far more friendly. However, there was the flaw – it was too friendly. Everything had been dumbed-down to make it hyper-accessible to anyone and everyone regardless of their intelligence. Many quickly commented on the Fisher-Price interface, with the gaudy primary colours look more like a toy than a power tool. Of course, the first incarnation of Mac OS X was much the same. It too was a huge step forward, leaping out of the confines of grey tool bars and introducing a far smoother user interface. It was not without its flaws though; the pinstripe effect was quickly withdrawn in the subsequent edition as people probably complained of headaches. However there was a lot of eye-candy which made OS X stand out from the crowd – subtle transparencies, smooth transition effects, nice bubbly scroll bars that were friendly without being condescending.

From here, things start to get more interesting. Apple brought out their second version of OS X, Jaguar, which introduced a swish brushed metal feel (in places) and generally cleaned up the interface a little. OS 10.3, Panther, refined the interface further by smoothing out the pinstripes and also added a hefty load of extra functionality. And then there was 10.4, Tiger, which ironed out the pinstripes completely and made the whole thing look even more clean and smooth. Windows XP, on the other hand, just stayed the same. Yes, Microsoft released a couple of service packs, but they didn’t do much that the average user would notice. No doubt Microsoft was too busy fixing bugs and blocking up security holes to pay much attention to the GUI. There are also several nice functional aspects that Apple has introduced which Microsoft has so far completely neglected. Tiger saw the introduction of Spotlight, the hyper-fast search facility that somehow manages to find anything, anywhere, in no time at all. Similar technologies are now available for Windows too, but not built into the OS.

Then we have the future. Microsoft has been working on Windows Vista for some time now, and we are beginning to see what it will end up like. Similarly, Apple told the world recently that it would be releasing another version of it’s operating system shortly after the release of Vista. From what I’ve seen of the interface so far, Vista is cleverer than XP and has thankfully lost its plasticy Fisher-Price feel, but is still very messy. Microsoft have tried to catch up with Apple by putting window transparencies in, and while it may be very clever to have transparent window titles combined with a blur effect, plus window shadows and glowing window buttons, it’s possibly a little too transparent for my liking. Too much of the background shows through, it’s too in-yer-face, it’s as if Microsoft is trying to show off with a new effect it’s found but doesn’t know quite how to use it effectively yet. It’s also a little disappointing that we won’t get all the flashy technology we were promised when the project was called Windows Longhorn. Apple, on the other hand, haven’t told us very much at all about their new operating system, but if it’s going to be an improvement over Tiger, it ought to be something truely remarkable. And just to show you how much ground Microsoft has to make up, people are already comparing Vista with Tiger, which in terms of release date seems a little unfair, but even with this in mind OS X Tiger holds its ground. Yes, there are things that Vista will do that Tiger can’t at the moment. But Tiger isn’t exactly hot off the press now so we should expect that.

So, a conclusion? If you want an operating system that allows you to write a letter to your grandmother and check your e-mails once or twice a week, it’s not going to make a scrap of difference what you use, so just get the cheapest one. If you want to do clever programming and networking things, use something like Unix or Windows Server System, because you won’t need it to look pretty. If you want to play games, get a Windows machine because games developers don’t pay enough attention to Mac users yet. If you want something that is nice to use and pleasing to the eye, get a Mac. I’m currently running OS X Tiger on a 1Ghz G3, and haven’t really needed to use my PC since. I just love the interface, the clean lines, the subtle rounded edges, the window shadows, the transition effects, the stability, and the fact that Windows users look at it and say “what do I do with it?”

Categories: Miscellaneous


Simon · 21 January 2006 at 12:53 am

Interesting. I’m currently looking at upgrading my laptop, and am seriously tempted to go for a Mac, so it was interesting to read your views. I’m sick and tired of the unreliability of Windows, hence I’m contemplating a Mac, but at the same time, it’s undeniable that in terms of “bangs for your bucks,” Windows remains the best choice. I don’t want to buy a computer simply because it looks nice – provided it does what I want, I really don’t care. So I guess it boils down to is it worth spending the extra cash to get something that (might be) more reliable and efficient? I have no idea! Guess I’ll just have to keep thinking…

Matthew · 21 January 2006 at 9:35 am

My Mac has been running faster, smoother, safer and more stably than my PC ever has, despite the PC running at 1.2Ghz (as opposed to 1Ghz). Obviously both computers are not new, the performance of modern machines may well be different. However, in terms of the software itself, OS X has NEVER crashed on me, as opposed to XP which falls over at the slightest breeze. Oh, and because not many people have Macs, no one writes viruses for them, which is a plus. The web browser that is bundled with OS X, Safari, is one of the best available – it’s fast, secure, stylish, functional, and implements web standards far better than Internet Explorer (which is rubbish). Hope that helps! (And yes, I know I’m biased…)

Phill · 21 January 2006 at 6:01 pm

I’m not going to say anything about Macs or PCs here, because I think they’re both good. I’ve heard lots of good things about Macs, never used one personally. So I can’t really comment.

All I can say is that I love how Linux gets you up-close-and-personal with your computer… when you use Linux, you come away with an education! And this is something that you wouldn’t get with Windoze or Macs. That is only going to be important to about 0.0001% of the entire population of the world, but I feel duty bound to mention open-source software whenever I can 😉

nobody · 22 January 2006 at 3:26 pm

Have you not considered the fact that you purchased the cheapest PC you could find and as such you got the cheapest components that the manufacture could find? This could explain why you have so many problems with windows XP. The Mac on the other hand you got 2nd hand, if you had purchased a PC for the same price as what the Mac was new, you would have had a much more stable machine. I never have any problems with my XP machine crashing, but then I made sure I purchased decent hardware.

Apple has an advantage that Microsoft does not have and that is they control the hardware and can make sure that it runs smoothly on everything. Microsoft on the other hand has to support all sorts of hardware, and has to allow manufactures to write their own drivers. Microsoft have a HCL (hardware compatibility list), http://www.microsoft.com/whdc/hcl/default.mspx which lists hardware that Microsoft has tested and certified. Try purchasing hardware that has been tested and certified by Microsoft.

Before you go saying Apple is so much better then Microsoft, first compare like to like!

Matthew · 22 January 2006 at 5:33 pm

That is indeed a very good point, I did buy the cheapest PC I could find, and although I did the same with the Mac I suspect the overall quality of the hardward was probably higher in the Mac. However, this particular blog post was more focused on the software in the operating system, rather than the hardware aspects. I know the two are sometimes inseparable, in that the software relies on the hardware to be able to function, but as you’ll notice from what I said, I was more concerned about the way the system works, not how it works. I am still very much of the opinion (note, opinion, not fact) that Mac OS X looks and feels better than Windows XP, and the fact that Apple has brought out more significant releases of its system generally makes me more convinced that Apple are taking their operating system seriously. Finally, may I also point out that I did not say that Apple was “so much better” than Microsoft, only that in my experience OS X has been better in some respects than Windows XP!

Joe B · 22 January 2006 at 11:48 pm


Phill · 23 January 2006 at 10:03 am


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