Microsoft’s next-generation operating system is coming in early 2007, offering improvements that are both impressive and unprecedented in the Windows world. On Apple’s side of the world, Tiger, the 5th incarnation of Apple’s legendary OS X operating system is still up to challenge as to what Vista has to offer, even if it’s already two years old.
Although Vista and Tiger are almost playing in the same field in terms of features and technology, there’s a major difference in the strategy that the two companies made in delivering their next-generation operating systems. Microsoft wanted to bring everything new and shiny to the table all in one big package, while Apple slowly built and perfected a world-class operating system by frequent, less dramatic, major upgrades. This explains why while Windows XP stayed for 5 years without a major upgrade, OS X had 3 major upgrades to its original incarnation in roughly the same time frame.
The most noticeable improvements happen here, and rightfully so, since improvements in the user interface are the ones that affect the users first and foremost. Vista seems to have taken many pages from the Tiger book of slick features but also has some features of its own that’s missing from the Apple operating system. I think it’s fair to say that some similarities are really just inevitable end results of improving the current state of the UI in both platforms.
Vista’s icons are now as slick as its Tiger counterparts, supporting icon sizes of up to 256 by 256 pixels. Tiger on the other hand, currently supports only up to 128 by 128 pixel icons. But Vista takes it even further, using what is called as live icons. A live icon visually resembles the actual contents of the document it represent so that a folder’s live icon is shown as a folder icon padded with the thumbnails of the actual files that you’ll see inside the folder. This is very helpful in skimming through your files and folders without opening them. Tiger can only show previews of graphic files.
In Vista, the “My” way of naming user folders such as My Documents, My Music, etc. has been dropped. Now you will only have user folders named Documents, Music and Pictures. Not unlike what Tiger has.
Aero, the user interface of Vista brings to the Windows world lots of transparencies. Application windows in Vista show a translucent border that lets you see through it. This is a feature that OS X once had, but was taken out in Tiger.
Expose, which is perhaps the most innovative UI feature of Tiger, elegantly addressed the window-management problem most users had, especially those who work with lots of windows open. At the touch of a button or at a flick of the mouse, all your windows are miniaturized and smartly tiled across the screen. Vista offers its own take, with a feature called Flip 3D. In Vista’s version, windows are miniaturized and stacked on top of each other, and angled such that you can see enough of each window’s content distinctively, and you use the scroll wheel to go through all the stacked windows. Tiger’s implementation is more usable and convenient than its Vista counterpart.
Widgets vs Gadgets
In Tiger, the days of opening full-blown applications for simple, specific tasks have long been gone. Thanks to Dashboard. With Dashboard, you can install and run mini-applications called widgets that are specially designed (using a relatively easy language) for certain tasks. Widgets include calculator, stocks, dictionary, yellow pages and many others. At the touch of a button, all these can auto-magically appear when you need them, and as quickly, disappear to let you go back to what you’re doing.
Vista sports the same feature, only the mini-applications are called Gadgets, and the Vista version promises more integration with Microsoft’s online service http://Live.com.
When Vista was first announced many years ago under the code name Longhorn, one of the most impressive promises that Microsoft made about the new operating system is its desktop search capability. However, Apple beat them to the punch in implementing the much needed search technology (and interface).
Tiger’s spotlight search won the hearts of analysts and reviewers when it debuted in October 2004. Both in the main OS’s shell and in the individual applications, Spotlight brought lightning-fast desktop search to the Apple users. The system-wide Spotlight item on Tiger’s menu bar provided a quick way of opening files and applications. With Spotlight, users didn’t need to know exactly where their files are since they can find and open them using a simple and single user interface – the spotlight search field. Vista’s desktop search also promises all the things that Spotlight has, including its integration with Windows Explorer and Control Panel, in the same way that Spotlight integrates with the Finder and the Preferences. In Vista, the desktop search has been placed in the improved Start Menu. Saved searches (in Vista) or Smart Folders (in Tiger) are different implementation of the same kind of innovative feature that both systems have – a way for creating folders that are defined by a certain search criteria, and the contents of which are files that match that certain criteria. Both are live-z.
This is where Tiger has long beaten Windows, but with Vista, Microsoft want to change that, and perhaps even leapfrog what OS X is offering.
In Vista, Internet Explorer (the source of many security headaches) will run in a low rights mode to prevent malicious software entering through the browser from illegally writing files or changing the registry. Vista will also support computers with TPM (Trusted Platform Module) Chips which starts a computer in a secure way such that the hardware and applications are protected from being run by unauthorized users. One of Tiger’s security strengths, the feature that asks for the administrator password when changing critical preferences, has also found its way to Vista. When changing important settings or files, Vista now warns the users and asks for the administrator password. Both Tiger and Vista has support encrypting data on users’ hard disk.
This article tried to compare some of the different aspects of Windows Vista and OS X Tiger, wherever it made sense, since each has its own way of doing things. Tiger has been out for almost two years now, but still holds up its own against Vista. It’s no doubt that some of the features that Vista is promising are better than its Tiger counterpart, but Vista won’t be out until 2007, and by the same time Apple probably would no doubt have at least shown its latest weapon, the upcoming Apple OS X Leopard.