Mac OS X Leopard vs Microsoft Windows Vista

There are a few Mac fanatics who aren’t very impressed with what’s coming in Leopard – much like Windows fanatics (and former Windows fanatics) weren’t impressed with Vista. Each camp argues that these OS revisions don’t go far enough – the argument is universal.

However, I can tell you that – with my limited exposure to the latest Leopard beta – OS X 10.5 is a far more user friendly, home network happy, 64-bit operating system for consumers than Windows Vista (even with SP1) could ever hope to be. This isn’t a classic “Apple vs Microsoft” argument so much as it’s a “Windows vs Users” one.

  1. I was amazed to discover that VNC functionality was baked into the Finder – no muss, no fuss. I’ve been using VNC for years, largely because it’s a cross-platform service that’s simple to set up, access, and (ultimately) use. Leopard doesn’t bury the ability to share screens. I simply can’t believe it’s this simple.
  2. Time Machine is backup the way data backup and restoration should be – to a home network, with the right equipment attached. It’s beyond comparison. You shouldn’t need to hire a geek or network admin to get it to work, it’s not buried, and you don’t need to install any third-party software (arguments which throw out any kind of “Windows can do the same thing” argument). In this case, it’s not the actual feature – it’s the finish that’s ultimately important.
  3. Spotlight indexes and searches, with a fair amount of elegance and invisibility, across open machines connected on the network. Windows Desktop Search, last I tried, makes local searching (alone) a pain in the ass. Moreover, I find Spotlight to be a better implementation of Vista’s Start menu – but that may be a personal preference.
  4. Packages and preferences are far easier to manage than Windows programs and klutzy installation routines. There’s a great comment thread on Coding Horror about this very problem. Windows is starting to show its age, and it’s going to have to make major backwards software compatibility sacrifices if it intends on surviving as a desktop OS for much longer.
  5. To my surprise, the Dictionary now has a direct gateway to Wikipedia. While I don’t find Wikipedia to be the ultimate source for information, I do value its community-driven structure. With true identity tied into page edits, it could quickly become the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Contrast this to… well, I guess Windows Vista doesn’t have a built-in equivalent to crowdsourced information. I just thought that was an amazing “little touch” that would come in handy at some point (especially after seeing that if Spotlight doesn’t have results for a keyword search, it’ll spit back a dictionary definition if available for the term).
  6. I appreciate how Apple has handled platform transitions. PowerPC to Intel, 32-bit to 64-bit – there have been a few hiccups along the way, but I’d say that it’s been a much better experience for Mac users than it has for those of us in the Windows world. Certainly, progess can be painful – but how painful should it be for you? Apple can change the rules at any given moment, and the onus is on the dev to make sure compatibility exists (or doesn’t, for whatever reason). The user doesn’t necessarily, and shouldn’t have to, break a sweat.
  7. Personal information management is far more seamless on OS X than it is in Windows. Fundamentally, iCal and Vista’s Windows Calendar do the SAME thing – but iCal’s “To Do” list is linked with Apple Mail. Moreover, .Mac provides a simple gateway for calendar publishing. Apple Mail handles RSS feeds well enough (like Windows Live Mail – which is a different, better client than Windows Mail that doesn’t ship with Vista). Moreover, Apple’s Mail supports Exchange – if only in a limited capacity. I certainly hope the next version of Entourage doesn’t vista itself out of usability.
  8. Help isn’t just documentation, it’s largely directional. I needed to find where to change the network Workgroup for my system. I typed “workgroup” in the System Preferences search box – and OS X macro’ed its way to the proper Preference Pane, tab, and precise field where I could change the setting directly. OMG! The Windows Help system, in stark contrast, feels like an “RTFM” experience (mildly ironic, though far from suprising).
  9. Expose is a far better task switcher than the laughable Flip 3D. Expose isn’t new in Leopard, but Apple has extended desktop usability by adding Spaces. While virtual desktop software has been available for years, Spaces is quite intuitive and clean. It’s no Beryl / Compiz Fusion, but it’s certainly better than giving the user nothing OOTB. It’s all about encouraging users to get out of the “I can only have one program open at a time” mindset.
  10. Despite some Mac advocates discussing “the Coming Leopard Letdown,” it’s not quite like “the Existing Vista Letdown.” Consider comments made by hmurchison:

    Networking – the Finder doesn’t choke when volumes are unmounted. The finder doesn’t seem to choke when a lot of small files are copied.

    Calendar – Not only are Data Dectors back but they’re infused nicely in mail and iCal data can now be written to from 3rd party apps. To Dos are accessible from 3rd parties. If you’re a Productivity hound this is Heaven.

    UI – The GPU now has a dedicated thread for rendering UI. Resolution Independence is included. OpenGL 2.1 is there with enhanced shading support.

    The whole OS is Unix 03 compliant and undergoing certification. The Help menu is vastly better the whole OS is 64-bit yet still runs 32-bit apps natively. QuickTime 32-bit has been deprecated for QTkit 64-bit. QuickTime encodes faster and has alpha support.

    I simply don’t see anything in Leopard as a letdown, just like some Windows fans didn’t see Vista as a letdown. It’s a matter of perspective, needs, and expectations. There’s no UAC, no WGA to contend with. More to the point, there’s only one version of OS X for consumers to purchase.

In short, Leopard is a more user-friendly OS than Windows Vista.

Before you get your panties in a bunch, remember that I can’t stand iTunes – it’s an unwieldy way of managing media (even on OS X). Moreover, I don’t like the way iPhoto manages metadata; I dream of the day Picasa gets ported to the Mac. Not everything that Apple does is pure genius. However, as far as a desktop platform and experience is concerned for the average user, Leopard is an absolute winner. It has 100 more “Wow”s than Windows Vista, and you don’t have to look very far to find ’em.

Windows and OS X can peacefully co-exist, I believe – so long as Windows is running on either a Boot Camp partition or inside a virtual machine. The power of the PC is that it can support a billion different configurations, but some of us are at the point in our lives where we only need one config to work. I’ve come to this realization, and I don’t find it sad at all – I find it uplifting.

I’ll get attacked by the apologists, and I’m sure I’ll be opening myself up to a whole new wave of attacks. I’d be equally as vocal about user interface inconsistencies on OS X as a I am with Windows (and believe me, there are still plenty of ’em – as Gruber has attested)!

To switch or not to switch… is becoming less of a question. Yesterday’s arguments simply DO NOT APPLY.