It’s an exciting time for OS watchers, with both Microsoft and Apple releasing new versions of their operating systems. Apple’s Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” hit the shelves this past week, while Windows users will have to wait until October 22nd for Windows 7 to hit general availability.
But what new features have Apple and Microsoft in store for end users?
A new operating system, whether it’s from Microsoft or Apple, always represents a paradigm shift for users. Sometimes that shift is big, sometimes small. With both Windows 7 and Snow Leopard, the changes are more evolutionary than revolutionary. Incremental improvements rather than giant leaps forward.
Yet with that said, both operating systems do bring a raft of new features to the table.
Let’s take a look at some of the top features from each OS.
Mac OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard
Faster, faster, faster!
Apple has worked to make Snow Leopard faster than previous incarnations of Mac. In fact, almost everything about Snow Leopard is faster than previous.
Installation is up to 50% faster than Leopard, start up is twice as fast, shut down 80% faster, backup using Time Machine is 80% faster, and Finder is up to twice as fast.
Snow Leopard is more streamlined, snappier and more responsive than Leopard.
Microsoft Exchange Server support
Now that Apple has added Microsoft Exchange Server support to Snow Leopard, the Mac is now the first computer to have Exchange support out of the box. This means that you can have all your work contacts, emails and schedule on your Mac.
Adding Exchange Server support to the Mac OS is Apple’s attempt at making the Mac the de facto business computer. And it could work, because with the Mac you don’t need to install (or for that matter buy) Outlook, because all your data is accessed using iCal, Mail and Address Book.
Oh, and as an added bonus, it all integrates with your iPhone.
There isn’t a lot of malware out there targeting the Mac OS, but Apple is keeping its eye on the future. Snow Leopard incorporates a built-in malware scanner. At release this scanner will only have two entries, but new malware signatures can be added via Software Update.
It’s important to note that the malware detection mechanism built into Snow Leopard only detects and blocks the installation of malware, and can’t remove any malware that might already be present on the system.
Leopard users can upgrade to Snow Leopard for a measly $29. That’s a fantastic deal and one that allows existing Mac owners (those who have an Intel-based Mac and who are running Leopard) to step up to the new OS.
One of the most outstanding features of Windows 7, apparent even from early betas, is performance. Microsoft has put considerable effort into making Windows 7 faster than both Vista and XP.
Everything about Windows 7 is streamlined and snappier, from installation all the way to shut down. This allows users to get more from their hardware.
Windows 7 features a number of UI tweaks to help make the OS easier to use. For example, Jump Lists provide access to documents and features related to a particular application, and Aero Snap offers a new way to resize and control open windows. Then there’s Aero Peek, which allows users a quick way to see the desktop; and Aero Shake, which offers a way to quickly minimize unwanted applications.
Then there’s the desktop. The improved desktop features improvements such as better taskbar previews, larger, more detailed icons, pinning and better personalization.
A new feature built into the Windows OS is touch screen support. While the range of PCs currently sporting a touch screen is small, built-in support in Windows is likely to mean that most of the big OEMs will start stocking PCs that feature touch sensitive screens.
Touch support is one area where Microsoft has beaten Apple to the post, and touch support on consumer PCs is likely to be a feature that appeals to certain users…as long as they can stand a screen covered in fingerprints!
Windows 7 vs. Snow Leopard: Bottom line…
The bottom line is that no matter whether you’re a Windows user or a Mac user, the new round of operating systems will bring something new to your computing experience. On top of that, both operating systems are noticeably faster than their predecessors, which means you get better performance from your existing hardware setup.
That said, both Microsoft and Apple have played it safe with the new operating systems and chosen the path of evolution rather than revolution. If you’re hoping for some groundbreaking new feature then you’ll have to wait until the next round of operating systems.