With the final version of Windows 8 now complete, how does Microsoft's great hope for reinventing itself for the post-PC world compare to Apple's new flagship? The short answer: not well. But lest you think that it's a simple case of sainted perfection versus preordained disaster -- the peanut gallery's running themes for Apple and Microsoft, respectively -- think again. OS X Mountain Lion has some unwelcome flaws, whereas Windows 8 has some virtuous aspects.
My colleague Woody Leonhard has reviewed the final version of Windows 8, and I encourage you to read his take to understand the nuances of Microsoft's tablet/desktop hybrid OS. I've detailed the many capabilities in OS X Mountain Lion, which I also urge you to check out. Here, I highlight the key differences, strengths, and weaknesses of the two OSes, both of which I've been using since their first betas were released, organized by the InfoWorld Test Center's key scoring categories for desktop operating systems.
Ease of use: Windows 8 vs. OS X Mountain Lion
Windows 8: 6
OS X Mountain Lion: 9
Apple defined the graphical user interface as we know it today, and despite 28 years of changes, the core metaphors remain unchanged. That consistency makes it easy to use each new version of OS X, and Mountain Lion is no exception.
Yet the OS has expanded to support touch gestures in a very natural way, via touch mice and touchpads. Also, Apple's slew of helper utilities -- such as the Quick Look preview facility, the new Notification Center, the new sharing capabilities, and the Spotlight search tool -- do what Apple does best: offer sophisticated capabilities that users can discover as needed, rather than face a steep learning curve to get started. The Dock and the persistent menu bar also simplify app access, while the full-screen mode introduced in OS X Lion lets users stay focused when they want to be, yet have quick access to the rest of the OS as desired.
However, OS X Mountain Lion has UI flaws that undercut the superb ease-of-use. Apple has been monkeying with its application file services since OS X Lion, so there are now three distinct UIs and services for saving files: one for traditional apps, one for Versions-enabled apps, and now one for iCloud Documents-compatible apps. It's confusing. The misguided removal of Save As in Versions-enabled apps in OS X Lion is an example of misguided arrogance, and even though it's back in OS X Mountain Lion, it's available only if you know to hold the Option key when using the File menu.
Another ease-of-use issue introduced in OS X Mountain Lion involves software installation. The new Gatekeeper feature won't let you install apps that don't come from the Mac App Store, a great way to prevent malware installation, but the process for allowing other apps to be installed is arduous for nontechies. As a result, users may be prone to leaving the security capability off altogether, defeating the purpose for including it in the first place.
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