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Reviewing the Reviewers: Mac Versus Windows

In recent weeks, loads of reviews of Windows 7 have been published. Most are based on beta or so-called “Release to Manufacturing” (RTM) versions, though some actually used the version that shipped last week. Regardless, there’s a sense that Microsoft has cured all or most of the ills that plagued Vista.

However, Microsoft chose not to call it Vista SP3. Instead they pulled their usual stunt and made some visible changes in the product so they could fool you into forgetting that it’s just a spruced up version of Vista. Instead, it’s now Windows 7, for better or worse, so Microsoft can also demand the full upgrade fee. So from a business standpoint, this certainly makes sense, even though I’m sure many of you would prefer a more honest approach.

To be fair, many reviewers have not been fooled by Microsoft’s bait and switch tactics. The know the score, and they’ve clearly attempted to treat the matter as honestly as possible.

Unfortunately, some reviewers have agendas other than approaching the topic in a fair and balanced fashion. When you consider the fact that they are also comparing Windows 7 to Mac OS X, you can see where they are coming from, and that’s not to serve the interests of the reader.

Sometimes the silliness even emerges when it seems the reviewers are clearly trying to take an objective stance. Take one performance comparison of Snow Leopard versus Windows 7 that actually used a Mac note-book. The reviewer simply installed Windows 7 with Apple’s Boot Camp, but Apple actually doesn’t have a version that officially supports that system and won’t until later this year. Even then, older Intel-based Macs won’t be supported. So that basically forces us to take the results of this comparison and toss it in the trash can.

More recently, a publication oriented towards the enterprise entered the fray. The writer of the piece claims to be a Mac switcher, and is supposedly skilled at the niceties of the platform. But this particular article — and it doesn’t deserve a link because it’s so flawed — conveys an opposite impression.

Now perhaps the problem can be traced in large part to an inadequate editorial process of fact-checking and copy editing. So the reader is first told that Snow Leopard is superior, but then the article concludes that they are essentially equal, and the author would be at home with either platform. Doesn’t anyone care about continuity anymore?

In evaluating the two, the writer seems overwhelmed by the ability to pin application windows in the corners of the screen in Windows 7, but seems oblivious to Apple’s Expose feature, which has been around for several years. He’s also ignorant of the fact that the Dock isn’t stuck on the bottom of the screen on your Mac, but can be moved to the left and right side, and, with some simple system hacks, placed pretty much anywhere else.

In comparing performance, we know that Snow Leopard starts up faster than Windows 7, but other benchmarks, such as how long it actually takes to launch identical applications on each platform, are lacking. In stating that Internet Explorer 8 under Windows 7 is the equivalent of running Safari 4 with Snow Leopard, the writer seems oblivious of the fact that both browsers were actually released months ago and also run on older operating systems.

Worse, there is no real comparison demonstrating just how well these two browsers render sites and how fast they perform. Instead, the author tells us he simply prefers Firefox and clumsily sidesteps the known fact that Internet Explorer 8 scores dead last in nearly every benchmark category against all the popular browsers, even Safari for Windows.

The long and short of it is that we have the sad situation of a publication catering to the business environment posting an article that should have never been published without extensive revisions.

Then again, the publication in question has fallen down on the review process on previous occasions too. A few years ago, for example, I called them to task as the result of an extremely flawed evaluation of a printer. I cited chapter and verse, and even got the attention of an editor who promised to examine the situation. I did not see any new articles from the reviewers in question after that, nor a correction to address the various and sundry errors. Oh well. Out of sight, out of mind.

Now to add insult to injury, Microsoft is now advertising Windows 7 in earnest on TV. The other night, for example, there was a spot featuring someone raving about the ability to clumsily move document windows to the corners of the screen on his laptop, as if this was the greatest operating system feature ever. Worse, you couldn’t miss the ragged movement of those windows, although you might have to look closely. Sure, I suppose Microsoft’s ad agency could have touched it all up, but then that would be false advertising.

Or does anyone even care about this stuff?