But what new features have Apple and Microsoft in store for end users?
A new operating system, whether its 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.
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 Apples attempt at making the Mac the de facto business computer. And it could work, because with the Mac you dont 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 isnt 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.
Its important to note that the malware detection mechanism built into Snow Leopard only detects and blocks the installation of malware, and cant remove any malware that might already be present on the system.
Leopard users can upgrade to Snow Leopard for a measly $29. Thats 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 theres 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 theres 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 youre 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 youre hoping for some groundbreaking new feature then youll have to wait until the next round of operating systems.