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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After using Macs for nearly 20 years, I have not had a single second of downtime while browsing the Web because of viruses or malware. None. Microsoft may say Windows 7 is the most secure operating system available, but after all these years, I've learned that it's one thing to say you're secure; it's quite another to actually have decades of real-world experience without a single exploit.

Microsoft said it's made progress in the security of Windows 7, and I believe that's true. But I'll take a security model based off of BSD than UAC -- or anything Microsoft has cooked up so far -- any day. Why? Because the benefit of open-source software is the fact that anyone can review it, anyone can modify and -- if you have a better idea -- anyone can code for it; the underlying architecture of OS X can be downloaded for free.See a bug? You can write an exploit for it, or -- better yet -- you could fix it.

Under the hood

Snow Leopard this year introduced new technologies called OpenCL and Grand Central Dispatch, which make it possible for applications to take advantage of whatever hardware they're on. Whether you're using a $600 Mac Mini or a tricked-out Mac Pro, whether you have two processor cores and integrated graphics, or 32 cores and several GPUs, Snow Leopard allows you to utilize every ounce of hardware at your disposal.

Microsoft spent its time optimizing Windows 7 for performance and driver compatibility/reliability, even offloading certain tasks to the GPU. But the ability to scale in hardware support and performance doesn't go as far as the technologies in Snow Leopard. Down the road, the ability to tap multicore processors will be increasingly important for performance gains.

Despite Microsoft's attempts to remodel the kitchen, holes remain in the house's foundation. Hardware compatibility is much better this time around, but after the Vista debacle, it had better be. And yet, the Windows Registry still lives. The Registry is a central location for storing application and system preferences -- and when it gets corrupted, all kinds of problems can crop up.

Windows 7 does nothing to remedy this. In fact, after using Windows 7 for a few weeks, I couldn't even install software due to a Registry error.

With earlier versions of Windows, I always found that performance degraded over time, especially if you're the kind of user who likes to install and uninstall software often. Colleagues have claimed this isn't as true as it used to be, but random problems began to crop up the more I used Windows 7. This type of performance degradation doesn't happen in Snow Leopard. It may be a while before we know whether this happens to Windows 7 users. I'm betting it will.

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