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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Workflow

When it comes to workflow -- how you use an OS -- it's been my experience that many Windows users still favor a full-screen approach to running applications, although it's possible to run applications in a windowed mode. Most Mac OS X applications run in floating windows that are large enough to display the necessary information without hogging precious screen real estate. This encourages drag-and-drop between applications, which I do often.

Given the popularity among Windows users for full-screen mode, improvements to the Show Desktop function on the right end of the Taskbar make sense. Yes, Windows has had this feature for a long time, but it was never implemented with such panache.

Clicking on the right side of the Taskbar now brings the desktop to the front.
Clicking on the right side of the Taskbar now brings the desktop to the front.

Windows 7 also makes it easier to do simple things like joining a wireless network. Microsoft has reworked the wireless access point on the Taskbar, making it much easier to connect to networks. Clicking on it shows if you're connected to a network and opens up the Network and Sharing Center if you need to change networks or troubleshoot a bad connection.

Connecting to wireless networks has been this easy on a Mac for as long as I can remember; it's about time something this basic was straightforward on the Windows side.

Connecting to a WiFi network is now a more streamlined affair.
Connecting to a WiFi network is now a more streamlined affair.

In more general use, both Windows 7 and Snow Leopard performed admirably in the variety of tasks I put them through, including importing pictures, printing, and attaching several different peripherals. Even though the specific steps you take to accomplish a given task will vary between Windows 7 and Snow Leopard, both are simple enough for users to figure out.

There is one difference: Windows, by default, delivers a step-by-step update of what's going on: device connected; device drivers found; device is x product; and do you want this device's behavior to be x, y or z? You can turn off these nagging updates using the Notification Area Icons control panel. Doing so helps Windows stay out of the way more.

In Snow Leopard, if a device's driver is installed, there's no notification of what the device is or explanation of what the operating systems is doing. There's no need: If you plug in a mouse, you know it's working because the pointer on the screen will move when you move the mouse. And you'll know your camera has been recognized when iPhoto launches.

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