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Counterpoint: Does OS X Really Shine Brighter Than Vista?

It's wrong to make the differences between Mac OS X and Windows Vista into a horserace -- each OS is most challenged by its own history, limitations, and possibilities.

Does Apple's OS X operating system really shine in comparison with Microsoft's Vista?

That was the headline on a recent InformationWeek.com article. OS X Shines In Comparison to Vista compares the Vista GUI to OS X and concludes that ". . . as much of an improvement as Vista is over XP, its main competitor, Mac OS X, still stacks up really well — and even tops Vista in several important areas."

It is part of a flood of articles and reviews that has grown as Vista finally approaches its January 29th ship-to-consumers date. It shares with many of them a blind-men-and-the-elephant quality: Seize upon one aspect of Vista or another, and draw conclusions about the whole based on the part they can see and understand.

The piece compares and contrasts the two OSes in several areas, including their development histories, the consistency of their UIs (which seems to mean both the UI changes that create a learning curve for each new version, and the ease of use and intuitiveness of the OS), and their relative security.

There is a lot the piece doesn't cover. To begin with, operating systems are hardware-specific, so they must support the hardware well or performance will suffer. Second, clean code is important: OS kernel bugs can make application developers' lives miserable, there's a definite upside to being the least buggy OS. Vista is certainly vulnerable to criticism of its tortured development history, and other reviewers have faulted the finished product for lacking features that were dropped along the way, like the WinFS file architecture. And you can't not comment on the prelaunch marketing hype, which may be a better, more successful product than the operating system it's selling.

Reviewing The UI
You'd think Apple, with its complete control of both its hardware and its user interface, would be able to create a far more coherent user environment than Microsoft's OS, which at least in theory has to run a widely divergent variety of hardware. But that just does not seem to be the case.

Granted, the Windows UI is far from perfect — no OS that forces you to click on a button labeled "Start" to stop your computer can claim the moral high ground here. But OS X is not without its flaws and foibles.



Is an unlabeled icon shaped like an apple really any more intuitive than a button labeled "Start"?



We're about to find out -- Vista finally does away with the "Start" button.

What's up with that single mouse button, for instance? Multiple buttons and local menus are a demonstrable ease-of-use improvement. The Mac's Finder UI that separates program controls from the window that the program is running in is has always seemed awkward. And is an unlabeled icon shaped like an apple really any more intuitive than a button labeled "Start"?

(Actually, we're about to learn the answer to that last question. Vista finally does away with the "Start" button and replaces it with an unlabeled icon of the Vista window/flag.)

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