Smackdown: Windows 7 takes on Apple's Snow Leopard

Microsoft's new OS is the best Windows yet. Is that enough?

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The Snow Leopard installation was just as straightforward, although Apple's approach is a little different. It took about a half-hour to install the basic OS and set up my user account. Installing and then updating iLife '09 and iWork '09 (Apple's media-creation and productivity suites, respectively) took another 15 minutes.

During those installs and updates, MobileMe (Apple's cloud service) synced, adding all of my application and operating system preferences, bookmarks, calendars, e-mail settings and rules, Dashboard widgets, Dock items, keychains (all of my passwords) and notes. In the span of 50 minutes, my new Mac setup was just like my old one, only I was now running Snow Leopard.

Although the generic drivers that come with Windows 7 offer decent support and performance, to make Microsoft's finest really shine on this particular hardware, I installed used Apple's Boot Camp 3.0 from the Snow Leopard DVD. The Boot Camp installation took a few minutes, and once done, the drivers activated my MacBook Pro's iSight camera, brightness, media, volume and eject buttons; it also enabled scrolling support using gestures. The drivers added support for GPU processing for Aero effects and the light sensor built into MacBook Pros as well. Whether in Mac OS X or in Windows 7, the keyboard backlight automatically turns on, depending on light conditions, as does screen dimming.

Up and running

Windows 7 ships without a calendar app, a PDF viewer, an IM /videoconferencing application or even an e-mail client, all of which are included in any installation of Mac OS X. Citing antitrust concerns, Microsoft pulled some of the apps it once included, but you can easily download Messenger, Mail, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Live Toolbar, Writer, Family Safety and Silverlight from the Windows Live Essentials site.

Here's the thing about Windows Live Essentials: The bundle offers programs that sound like they do the same things as Apple's suite of applications, whether it's photo management, video creation or video/audio and chat conferencing. But the Windows versions are so bare-bones that I wonder whether Microsoft expects most users to work with them to any great degree or opt instead for more full-featured third-party apps. The basics are here, but Apple's software is best of breed. It's unfortunate that Microsoft didn't put more effort into beefing up these apps.

Not only does Snow Leopard come with a decent e-mail program, Mail, but that app now offers easy configuration for Exchange servers with Exchange support out of the box. Coupled with Active Directory support, it gives Mac users a business-friendly OS that integrates within existing network infrastructures.

In contrast, Microsoft doesn't offer a way to configure its e-mail client for Exchange servers -- an odd omission. Windows 7, on the other hand, still supports Active Directory, as it should.

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