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 It was not without its flaws though; the pinstripe effect was quickly withdrawn in the subsequent edition as people probably complained of headaches.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?”