The Mac versus PC debate is about to heat up again. Both Microsoft and Apple have next-generation operating systems in the works, and while both companies will borrow heavily from their respective mobile platforms, it's Microsoft that's taking the bigger gamble. So how well does Windows 8 stack up with OS X Lion, and does Windows 8 have what it takes to win over new users (and keep current users from switching)? We compare a few key features to find out.
As far as extreme makeovers go, it's Windows 8 that will be turning the most heads at the next party. Gone: the Start button, taskbar and traditional Windows desktop. In its place is a mosaic-like wall made up of multi-colored widgets/tiles. Each widget will display live information on individual apps, giving the homescreen a grid-like appearance. (Alternatively, users will still be able to revert to the traditional Windows desktop if desired.) We're intrigued by the look of the new OS, but we can't help but wonder how users will respond to the new desktop, which at least in previews appears to be text-heavy.
Apple's home screen, on the other hand, won't undergo any jolting changes. Instead, a new Launchpad feature will swap your traditional home screen for a full-screen view of all of your apps (very similar to the home screen of an iPad or iPhone/iPod touch). Navigating multiple desktops will also be smoother thanks to the new Mission Control feature, which gives you a bird's eye view of every open app and window on your Mac.
Microsoft's new UI will require that everyone reacquaint themselves with Windows. We're not sure a complete overhaul is the best approach for any OS.
Apple has supported multi-touch gestures on its laptops for quite some time, and Lion will expand on that support with new gestures it claims are more fluid and intuitive. These gestures will work on a Mac laptop, but desktops will require Apple's Magic Trackpad.
Microsoft is approaching gesture support differently. Since Windows 8 was designed with both desktops and tablets in mind, it'll feature native touchscreen support, so you'll be able to navigate Windows 8 on your desktop the same as you would on a tablet. The catch is, you'll need a touch-sensitive monitor to take advantage of these gestures. For those who don't own such a monitor, Microsoft assures us Windows 8 will work perfectly fine with a keyboard and mouse.
Microsoft is blurring the line between its desktop OS and tablet OS. However, we believe people use devices differently. We like our tablet OS to remain on tablets. In addition, not everyone owns (or can afford to upgrade to) a touchscreen monitor.
Despite Apple's best efforts to trademark the use of the term "App Store," Microsoft's next OS will have a built-in app store of some kind. However, Microsoft is being tight-lipped with details of its forthcoming storefront. In the meantime, Apple's App Store (which is already available on OS X Snow Leopard) will be more tightly integrated with Lion. In fact, Apple will only sell Lion as a download via the App Store.
Microsoft has been slow in integrating a digital storefront into its OS. Even with the announcement of Windows 8, Microsoft is still not sharing many details. This, in turn, has given Apple a solid head start in the App Store race.
Based on its previews, Windows 8 will be a radical departure from the Windows OS we've all grown used to. And while many features can change in the next few months, we can't help but feel that Windows 8 is being designed more for tablets than it is for desktops. Apple, on the other hand, is taking the safe route with Mac OS X Lion, bringing some of the best features of iOS 4 straight to the desktop — a move that many people already expected, and one that we think is closer to the future of desktop computing.