Apple released its latest version of OS X, Mountain Lion, a few weeks ago and Microsoft is slated to release its latest version of Windows, Windows 8, on October 26th. While the look, feel, and functionality of these two operating systems couldn’t be more different, they were both formed to adapt to an increasingly mobile-focused computing ecosystem.
While Windows 8 still has some time to implement changes before its official launch in October, Windows 8 Release Preview is close enough to the finished product that we get a fairly accurate picture of what the final version Windows 8 will be like. Still, Microsoft could surprise everyone with secret features before its launch.
Will either operating systems be enough to woo users from one camp to the other?
Let’s dig in their features and have a look.
Windows 8 and OS X Mountain Lion are both trying to achieve the same goal of making a more modern operating system in an increasingly mobile world. Both Microsoft and Apple want to create an ecosystem for their products. Both have mobile operating systems and devices that they want to seamlessly integrate with their desktop operating systems.
While their goals are the same, their approaches couldn’t be more different. Apple went the route of integrating the best features of iOS into OS X. Notifications, Launchpad, multi-finger gestures, and Messages are all great additions and make sense, although some more traditional OS X users may become frustrated with the oversimplification of some programs.
Microsoft approached the situation by creating a whole new OS on top of the traditional Windows desktop. If you thought the iOS features in OS X were jarring, wait until you try Windows 8. The ‘Start’ button has disappeared. Instead Windows 8 uses ‘hot corners’ to activate features like the tablet UI, ‘charms’, and the multitasking bar. The whole user experience feels disjointed and even seasoned Windows users will have to learn how to use Windows 8 with a mouse and keyboard.
Social and Sharing
With connected devices it’s natural to want to be social and share. Both Mountain Lion and Windows 8 improve social and sharing integration. Mountain Lion has sharing built in at the operating system level but it is very basic. You can Tweet from the Notification Center, Safari, and several other apps. Safari shows off social sharing the best with options to email, Message, or Twitter websites. Facebook integration is coming “soon,” which is mind boggling as to why it wasn’t included at launch.
Microsoft’s approach to sharing is easier to use. Activating the ‘charms’ menu brings up an icon to share from within any application. Windows will automatically populate a list of applications of with you can share with. It just makes sense (if you’ve figured out how to activate the charms menu, that is).
For developers, Windows 8 sharing features are superior. Sharing is integrated into the interface but developers on OS X will have to design a button or drop-down menu within apps. OS X developers also have to designate their content as shareable so OS X formats content properly for sharing.
Both Mountain Lion and Windows 8 include a suite of applications built into the operating system but Apple offers a superior package. iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand are still included with every new Mac while Windows 8 requires users to download their Windows Essentials suite of applications for a video editor and other apps that OS X already includes with the OS.
Some core applications in Windows 8 and Mountain Lion feature similar functions. OS X has Contacts while Windows has the People app. Contacts in Mountain Lion sync with iCloud and between devices. People does the same for the Windows ecosystem but adds Facebook and Linked in integration and updates, making it a portal to check what your friends have been up to. Apple doesn’t have this level of social integration in Mountain Lion.
Apple beats Microsoft on photo apps with iPhoto. Microsoft’s Photos app is basic but does integrate with social networks and can pull in photos from those services. iPhoto, on the other hand, features Facebook and Flickr integration but it is very basic. It cannot pull in photos like Windows 8’s Photos app but does support exporting to those services. Where iPhoto excels is the amount of editing and organization features. Photos doesn’t offer anything but basic editing abilities.
Time can only tell how well these desktop operating systems work with mobile devices in their respective ecosystems as iOS 6 and Windows Phone 8 have yet to be released.
The cloud is where Windows 8 and Mountain Lion take completely different approaches. Apple hides the entire file system from the user, much like they hid the file system in iOS. Windows’ SkyDrive, on the other hand, works exactly the same as services like DropBox with a visible file system and a specific folder where you can put the documents you want shared between devices.
iCloud does sync documents, photos, and contacts but features serious limitations. There’s no sync for videos and sharing calendars is tricky. There’s also no file structure where users can manually controls their files. While this is great for casual users who could care less about a file system, more advanced users will become frustrated and confused as to where their files really are.
To sum up cloud integration of each operating system, iCloud is a syncing service while SkyDrive is a storage locker for files. Which is better is completely up to the user.
It is amazing to see how different these technology titans have approached the task of making a mobile-desktop operating system. The shift to mobile and cloud based computing is an exciting time for computing and neither Apple nor Microsoft has gotten the recipe down.
Windows 8 is an extremely jarring experience as it tries to include a touch based interface on top of a traditional desktop. Apple has once again taken the conservative route and has only included specific items from iOS that it wanted to include in OS X. I have to applaud Microsoft from throwing caution to the wind with Windows 8 as it is a radical departure from traditional desktop computing. Whether or not it will succeed will remain to be seen.
In sum, Mountain Lion feels more seamless as a desktop operating system while Windows 8’s radical reimagining of the Windows operating system may confuse users. While there are some very powerful features in Windows 8, it will have to overcome users re-learning an entire operating system, which is something I’m not sure most users will be willing to do.
Which operating system do you prefer?