Mac OS X Versus Windows Vista: A Very, Very Informal Comparison

February 2nd, 2007

Now it can be told, but there’s no secret about it, really. Since last spring, I’ve been running various iterations of Windows Vista. Now maybe some of you feel I deserve a little pity for lowering myself to use a Microsoft product, but I really have nothing against the company, as much as I might criticize their policies and products from time to time.

I am, for example, a pretty loyal Word for Macintosh user, although I don’t run the other Mac Office applications quite as often. I’ve written over 30 books and hundreds and hundreds of articles in a number of versions of the application over the past roughly 20 years or so, so I’ve become accustomed to its quirks. Yes, there have been third-party alternatives through the years. They may excel in one way or another, but they don’t have anything to match such significant features as Word’s Track Changes feature, something that editors and publishers require.

But what about the end result of Microsoft’s five-year, $6 billion development project, Windows Vista? Is it all that it could have been? Well, no, of course, and not just because it was at least a couple of years late. Significant features were shed along the way, and some feel Vista is little more than a redecorated Windows XP, with some added security features to make you at least feel safer.

I suppose you could make a good argument for that, particularly since the full recipe of Vista’s Aero interface 3D effects requires an extremely powerful graphics processor. If you’re not up to date with the latest and greatest, you suffer from a reduced Vista experience — or maybe you don’t suffer, since some feel Aero in all its glory is just a little too obnoxious. Of course, they said that about Apple’s Aqua interface for Mac OS X, which has been tamed somewhat over the years. Or maybe people just got accustomed to its face, and I presume Windows users will get accustomed to Vista as well.

But sometimes change for change’s sake isn’t such a good idea. The “classic” menu bar, for example, has been excised from Microsoft’s latest applications, although you can invoke it with the proper clicks and incantations. Did a focus group tell them that we don’t need any menu bar labels anymore? If so, I’d fire the focus group and get some people who have a better sense of reality.

I’m not going to delve too deeply into the ways that Microsoft mimics Mac OS X Tiger. Was Outlook Express such a bad name that it had to morph into Windows Mail? Everything is Windows this and Windows that, if only because it seems that Microsoft’s developers and/or product people lacked the foresight to come up with anything original.

Or maybe it was that focus group again. I pity them, if they actually liked these new names. Maybe they never heard of Apple’s Mail application, or Aqua, or Widgets, since Microsoft has given us “Gadgets,” as if we wouldn’t know that both were inspired by a third-party shareware application.

In any case, Vista appears to run almost as fast as XP if you have the right hardware and gargantuan amounts of memory. Otherwise, it’s going to feel as bloated as its installation size.

Even then, the latest reports I’m hearing is that application performance, from launching to getting work done, is slower than with XP. This is something I’ve noticed as well, regardless of the PC hardware I use. Now maybe you need stopwatches to see much of a difference, but I wonder how Microsoft can make the case for greater productivity with their new operating system.

If tasks take longer, why upgrade, unless your PC comes that way? Or maybe Microsoft just wants you to work less and get the same salary. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea!

Now I installed the so-called “RTM” version of Vista, the one released to manufacturing, in December, shortly after the CD masters went to the pressing plants. On the day of Vista’s consumer launch, Tuesday, I noticed that the operating system had to be activated once again. As I write this, it spent an agonizing few minutes installing four upgrades before it restarted. As is usual for Microsoft, the nature of the upgrades and why they are needed isn’t always very clear. You just have to trust that they are necessary, or do some online searching for the specifics.

No doubt, Vista had to be patched to fix bugs that were uncovered in the two months or so since it reached release status. So even release is, in Microsoft’s parlance, prerelease. At least, with Apple, they wait a few weeks before inflicting new updates upon us, and they are usually labeled with some degree of clarity, so you can decide whether you want or need them.

All in all, I do find Vista far more attractive to work in than XP, despite the bloat. Stability appears to be quite good as well, even though most of the applications I’ve run aren’t actually certified for Vista. The real issue is whether it is any more immune from security threats, and I understand the malware writers are working overtime trying to create the early batches of full-blown Vista infections.

As to Apple, I really don’t think they have much to worry about over the arrival of Vista. There have already been published reports that the lines awaiting the initial launch of Vista upgrade kits tended to be almost non-existent. I just wonder how many times Microsoft thinks it can fool its customers with its alleged “innovation” before they begin to take notice?

Probably not this time. Now when is Apple going to release Leopard again?

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4 Responses to “Mac OS X Versus Windows Vista: A Very, Very Informal Comparison”

  1. Andrew says:

    I’ve been playing with Vista since Beta 2, and like Gene I also use OS X Tiger. For the most part, I agree about the quality of Vista and its experience, though I disagree on the requirements and merits of of the Aero interface.

    Aero requires a modern video card, but not necessarily a powerful one. My Tablet PC has an Intel GMA950 graphics adapter that relies on system memory for graphics. “Vampire Video” is decidedly low-brow in its capabilities, grinding systems to a halt on demanding graphics applications, but this card works perfectly fine for the Aero interface.

    I have another PC at the office with an ATI Radeon 8500 graphics card that blows the GMA950 into the weeds. Even though that PC has a much older and slower processor, a slower system bus and less and slower memory, its frame rates on Doom 3 are double what I get on the Tablet PC with its fast CoreDuo processor and the GMA950 graphics. That Radeon 8500, despite its far greater speed and dedicated graphics memory does not support Aero.

    Aero is rather nice, imo, though again I agree with Gene that like in early OS X versions its perhaps a bit overdone. I might turn it off, not sure, depends how it affects battery life and performance over the long haul. So far, battery life on my tablet is only about 10 minutes less with Vista in all its Aero glory and performance feels about the same as XP.

    For general office work there is little reason for me to want to upgrade from XP, but for the Tablet PC this is a major improvement and is the only reason why I installed the final version of Vista Business (came free as express upgrade). The Tablet PC interface was already pretty good in XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, but Vista is a major upgrade here, with the ability to learn my handwriting after a (fairly long) training process and to learn from corrections I make as I use it. I did the training program in about an hour (copying 50 sentences and 50 sets of symbols and numbers) and the improvement to recognition has been significant.

    One last thing that I really like is that Vista seams to have better control over the hardware than XP. My Tablet PC runs very cool (Toshiba Portege M400) despite having a fast CoreDuo and 7200RPM hard drive, yet the fan was always on in XP. In Vista, the fan comes on once in a while, but is usually off, saving battery power (though other things waste it) and making for quieter computing. OS X is still far better integrated with its hardware, but for a Windows system Vista on the Portege is about the best I’ve ever used.

  2. Andrew says:

    One more thing about Aero and performance. If you either don’t like or can’t run Aero, don’t like the non-Aero Vista theme or just want a speed boost, why not set Vista’s theme to “Windows Classic”? I tried this on my dummy user account (for mucking around with Vista’s interface) and found that while the icon themselves look abit different, overall it looks and feels just like Windows 2000, which many Windows users like me consider the cleanest version of that operating system.

    I look at XP’s and Vista’s non-Aero theme much the same way I look at Aqua as it was in the 10.1 Puma days, meaning overdone. Going back t “Windows Classic” makes things far more subtle and nice, kind of like what Panther and Tiger have done in toning down Aqua.

  3. Viola says:

    mac is the best…apple rox microsoft’s sox.

  4. Alphin says:

    Actually I think Vista is the Blind copy of Mac OS Tiger…..The 3d views come like that….!

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