Snow Leopard and Windows 7: Two Flavors of the Same GUI

by Hadley Stern Jun 04, 2009

It used to be that the Mac was different. Nothing like it, in commercial form, existed before it did for a few years it was the only GUI-game in town.

Then Windows came along and we all laughed heartily. It was so ugly! It was so buggy! It was....ridiculous compared to the glory that was OS 8.

Then Windows 98 came along, and we still chuckled.

Windows NT.....a little more stable, but oh so ugly.

Windows XP, even more stable, and sort of looking like our Macs but whatever, it was inferior. Never mind that the majority of the world was running on it.

And now Vista, the butt of our greatest jokes. Apple has a fantastic ad campaign about it. Vista is a bloated, odd, incalcitrant little pig of an operating system compared to our elegant, functional, and powerful OS X.

It may have taken Microsoft 20 odd years to figure this one out but there is some pretty big news on the horizon. Of course the market-share battle is lost for Apple, although it continues to chip away here and there. But the innovation-share battle continues. And the big big big news:

Windows 7 Doesn't Really Suck

I've been testing out the RC candidate using fusion for a week or so now and even went so far as to blow away my Hackintosh to see how it ran on a low-end NetBook. And while technophiles may note that the essential underpinnings of Windows 7 are not that different to Vista Windows 7 feels a world apart from Vista.

Some would call it polish, other would call it (god forbid we use this word with Microsoft) good design, but whatever it is Windows 7 doesn't clearly suck the way Vista does.

How does it not suck? The install is quick, the GUI refined in appropriate ways, the operating system responds more quickly, the dock is more refined and arguably more usable and elegant than the Mac OS X dock.

Now don't get me wrong, it is still Windows. It still feels Microsofty but the point is Microsoft seems to be on the verge of releasing a major upgrade to their operating system that doesn't suck.

So where does that leave Apple?

Unless Apple is hiding something very very very big with Snow Leopard Apple is about to lose the high-ground (and bullying rights) when it comes to its operating system. The blunders of Vista were easy to pick at, picking on Windows 7 will be nitpicking at best, stupidity at worst. For all intents and purposes Snow Leopard and Windows 7 are two flavors of the same GUI.

Apple can continue to tout its ability to control the entire experience with its control over hardware and software but this argument will only go so far.

Which leads me to a thought for another article, has Apple ostensibly given up on the Mac and is it focussing all its innovation energy in the iPhone? The iPhone is like the original Macintosh, it is light years ahead of anything before it and introduced a new paradigm to a commercial shipping product--a touch screen portable interface.

Indeed, from a shareholder standpoint it could be easily argued that the right thing, the essential thing for Apple to do is to let the Mac be. Update the OS every now and again, market the heck out of it (even continuing to insult Microsoft) but just let the damn thing be.

In the next few months Apple will lose the high-ground when it comes to desktop operating systems. All the rest is marketing.


  • The look may be similar, but one OS uses the Registry and the other does not. A huge reason for me switching back to the Mac in 2005 was all the crap related to the Registry in Windows.

    One puts the main app menu at the top of my screen and the other does not. Big UI difference.

    Dave Barnes had this to say on Jun 04, 2009 Posts: 2
  • Apples apparent focus onthe iPhone is less about the iPhone and more about building a platform.

    The path the industry is on is more about building platforms than about a new OS for the Mac or PC’s. Apple is still way ahead in this area than MS and Google (and to a lessor extent Adobe)  while playing from a different angle are in the same game. The idea is to have a software platform that can work across a wide range of devices from smartphone to set top box to PC with the ability to move onto new hardware as segments develop. And this is where both Mac os and Win 7 are going and it is also where Apple is way far ahead of MS.

    Apples is moving to a model where a single development environment produces easily transportable applications with a common set of API’s and support for cloud based services:

    Apples Model all based on Xcode and OS X:
    iPhone / iPod (light weight portable devices - can evolve to tablets and embedded surfaces)
    iTv (simple controls and powerful graphics - can evolve to game console etc)
    Mac OS (full computer OS with powerful server options)
    Mobile Me / iTunes (fully integrated cloud services for all platforms, un-reliable service, getting better but still not fully there yet)

    MS Model in disarray due to legacy code support, fractured development teams, lack of hardware control and integration and changing strategy:
    Windows Mobile (light weight out of date, and slow to evolve)
    Zune OS (ugly, small user base, proprietary not open)
    Windows 7 (cleaned up Vista)
    Windows Live (the ugly duckling of Cloud services but improving all the time, poor platform integration beyond windows)

    Apple is leading in all of these positions technically and in the growth area sections has the lead in terms of market mindshare. Microsoft has a lot of work to do and it is a very big boat to turn around (but they have done it before with the “internet Challenge”).

    Microsoft is best when the market is stable and their steady upgrade / fix development pays off, and their cash and market reach can be leverage to sideline their competitors. As long as the device market is moving fast it is hard for MS to keep up, but if it matures while they still have the desktop (OS/Office/Exchange) cash cow behind them they can bully / buy / build mindshare - market share.

    In today’s battle the computer OS is the center but can’t be an island. The platform on the web and across devices is the new paradigm.

    Ken Berger had this to say on Jun 04, 2009 Posts: 2
  • The fact is, Windows 7 is merely a spit shine on Vista.  The tired, old NT kernel that has underpinned every Windows OS since 2000 remains relatively unchanged, and continues to underpin Windows 7.

    This is a significant problem, because truth be told, Windows has never handled multi-processing very well.  As the x86 world continues to steer down the path of massive parallelism, this becomes increasingly important.  Unfortunately, aside from the addition of GPU-based computing in DirectX, Microsoft has failed to address this inadequacy. 

    Apple, on the other hand, took a step back with Snow Leopard and concentrated less on flashy new features and more on architecture.  In particular, Grand Central and OpenCL will be a boon to developers, who until now, have basically had to address the challenges of multiprocessing within their applications.

    Now, for what it’s worth, I agree - Windows 7 is a solid release from Microsoft.  It’s at least as good as XP was when it was first released, and it’s definitely leaner and more polished than Vista.  But how do you market a product like that after the travesty that was/is Vista?  “Hey everybody, we FINALLY fixed Vista, and if you want to see what it should have been like in the first place, purchase a $200+ copy of Windows 7!!”. 

    Needless to say, it should be interesting to watch - but I don’t think Apple is in any danger of losing the high ground - not by a long shot.

    cwa107 had this to say on Jun 04, 2009 Posts: 15
  • @cwa107 - I agree that Win 7 is just a fixed Vista, but it does seem to be a very good job and a much more useable operating system. But lets clear up a few things:

    1. OSX was a total re-write with no included legacy code - they did support virtual OS( for a long time to help the transition but it was not part of the main OS.  NT>WIn2K>XP>Vista>Win7 all still have the legacy of old API and code support much of which dates back to Win3 and Win95.  NOt to mention all the poorly documented inter-applications communication Spaghetti code from the early days of office and object imbedding etc.

    2. As much as I love Apple and think they are way ahead of MS, they have charged for upgrades that were primarily fixes of what they sold me before many times. And Snow Leopard will be the same, I will upgrade simply because 10.5.7 has enough bugs and problems that I will be happy to pay $100 for significant fixes.

    Ken Berger had this to say on Jun 04, 2009 Posts: 2
  • @Ken

    I think the distinction between Microsoft forcing users to pay for what is more or less a refined version of the previous OS and what Apple is doing with OS X, is that in Apple’s case, each of their major releases have been feature-rich and worthy of the relatively low asking price (usually $129).

    Comparing Vista to 7, there’s really not much new in terms of features.  Yes, there are welcome refinements in the GUI, and performance improvements are substantial, but there’s nothing new to see here from an architecture or feature standpoint.

    Now if Grand Central, OpenCL and more thorough 64-bit support don’t mean much to you, the same could be argued of Leopard vs. Snow Leopard - but we don’t know how that’s going to be priced either. 

    Regardless, my main point remains the same, Apple has ceded no ground to Microsoft.

    cwa107 had this to say on Jun 04, 2009 Posts: 15
  • Hey, I am a new user here.  So, feel free to get me up to speed on forum rules and such.

    Anyhow I would have to agree with the others who have said Windows 7 isn’t that amazing.  I have it intsalled on my intel macbook and honestly I was disappointed to find that you can STILL change the passwords for accounts with the net user command!  I seriously would have thought MS would have dealt with something like that by now.

    jman7171 had this to say on Jun 04, 2009 Posts: 7
  • No too sure why a Windows 7 version with a Taskbar that is finally extensible in some way suddenly puts Apple on the low ground.

    The game has changed.  No Apple still delivers desktop features

    Grand Central Dispatch -desktop
    OpenCL - initially desktop
    Applescript- Desktop

    but the $$$ are in the mobile sector where Microsoft really cannot leverage their Windows and Office duopoly.

    Thus Apple is and should be focused on the iPhone/iPod and App store and the tip of the spear that will stab Microsoft’s heart into cardiac arrest.

    hmurchison had this to say on Jun 04, 2009 Posts: 145
  • Are you an APPL developer? So where exactly did you mention running Snow Leapard on your Hackintosh? Without that bit of info your article is worthless, IMHO

    PIF had this to say on Jun 04, 2009 Posts: 1
  • I too have jumped on the Windows 7 PC hayride hoping to experience something great. Being an XP user who finds Vista silly, I was disappointed to see Microsoft is still using GUI design that is found at the dollar store. I was hoping for a little more industrial and/or serious looking face for Windows 7. As far as performance, I can’t really tell if it is much faster than Vista. I’ve been told that is installs much faster than Vista, which must be great if your plans are to continually install Windows 7. I see the same minutiae of dialogs and “helpful” message still occur. Drivers repeatedly load when ever you attach something. Once is enough! Maybe I’m missing a control panel setting, why does Windows remove and add drivers depending on what you connect to your computer, be it jump drives, hard drives, mice, cameras, etc.

    You know what, screw it. Microsoft don’t change a thing. Keep up your great work of mediocracy, you’ll do just fine.

    optimusa4 had this to say on Jun 04, 2009 Posts: 1
  • I will continue to use both operating systems, so long as FCs and certain software continue to be Mac only or PC only.  I use them both and like them both.

    I spend about 5% of my time with the OS itself and 95% of my time in apps, and they are both nearly identical in that regard.  I jump seamlessly from Firefox on my Mac to Firefox in Windows 7 or Vista.  There are little differences, of course, like OS X gluing the app bar to the top of the screen all the time, but to declare your personal preference as absolutely the best way to do things is just silly.

    The rest of the tired OS-war (that only Apple fanboys were ever fighting anyway) rhetoric will bounce around an increasingly empty echo chamber as all of the old bogeymen about Windows disappear.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jun 04, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • Sure, it can be boring to watch foundations being built. Especially, for people who have no imagination to see what is coming. But, you can’t build any edifice without those foundations. They have to be real strong, stable and secure. They don’t have to look good.

    What most people will see is that Snow Leopard is a bit (25 to 50%) faster, but it gets faster as the users upgrade to 64 bit applications. OpenCL, Grand Central and ZFS will become mainstream over the next year, but there is no reason to expect an instant improvement. We will take it all for granted.

    Many changes will occur in 10.7 in about 12 to 18 months, because every part of the Mac will be on Cocoa API’s. The numbers of applications should increase because xCode makes it cheaper to program an app while the Apple Application store makes it easier to sell them.

    Since I don’t expect prices to change, the applications will do more for us, as features will tend to increase.

    Besides, Apple and Wintel sell to different computer markets.  The IT personnel who are satisfied with Windows XP are unlikely to be impressed with windows 7. Windows 7 is unlikely to appeal to Apple’s user base; It is unlikely to be good enough to impress anyone who has ever used a Mac.

    Then, Microsoft’s malware problems are not going away, because windows needs new foundations and isn’t getting them.

    UrbanBard had this to say on Jun 04, 2009 Posts: 111
  • I guess if I wanted to be on the “trailing” edge of technology or if I wanted to follow a company that is clueless about new technology I’d follow Microsoft.  The company that sold a bill of goods it couldn’t deliver upon its inception (DOS) and then proceeded to buy its way into every market (Office etc).  Microsoft knows exactly where it wants to go…when others have illuminated the path.

    hmurchison had this to say on Jun 04, 2009 Posts: 145
  • This may be a stupid idea…
    I’m wondering whether Apple should give away Snow Leopard, or just charge a minimal packaging fee (Oh, and regular Leopard for older machines). 10.7 can be charged as usual.

    * the interface and visible features won’t change
    * they can thus move nearly everyone onto the latest and greatest
    * the economy is having trouble
    * it will increase customer loyalty (and Apple has money to use somewhere)
    Lastly… it’ll make Microsoft look bad - so many reviews and comments about Apple taking care of its customers. Imagine watching the Microsoft laptop-hunter ads about cost, and then hearing that the Windows 7 upgrade is charged while Apple’s upgrading everyone for free… it’d flip the meaning of the ads entirely.

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Jun 04, 2009 Posts: 228
  • I feel like I got this started in the wrong direction.  That is my bad.  My point is that I don’t think that Windows 7 will really do anything significant to push out Apple.

    jman7171 had this to say on Jun 04, 2009 Posts: 7
  • I think we are passed the time when a majority of people care about the OS ... Several things - most corporations are going to upgrade if they have to or Ms forces them so while it counts as a WIn7 upgrade, it’s not really. Several corporations have announced they are going to still hold at XP. MS fanboys will certainly care and sure a small % of buyers might actually sit down and weigh them accordingly but consumers? No. Win7 might as well be WIn8 - while Vista early on GAVE people an excuse NOT to upgrade, the real reason is they see NO VALUE in the OS. WIn is an okay OS if they get it FREE with their computer - one reason why WIN PC ASP is around $500. They are not going to pay $199 to $499 to upgrade a thing they value at $500 and that’s the bottom line. They are only willing to pay $500 for a computer because that’s all think it’s worth - it’d be like saying to most peopel, for $999, we can upgrade your transmission - 98% of people could care less who makes their transmission to their car - does it work. They know it’s part of the cost of the car but they’re not paying to upgrade it ... same with WIN. It’s a fine Os when it’s “free” as part of the cheapest computer on Earth. Mac users see things differently. They see the Sunday ads, have fiddled with WIN and decide it’s worth spending more because they VALUE the personal computer experience more. So, even if WIN7 is the greatest OS of all time, it will actually affect a OSX versus WIN buyers to a tiny, tiny margin ... because 99.6% of people have already made up their minds. Also Win7 still looks like a MS OS so it’s not really like a perceptuaal upgrade antway.

    jbelkin had this to say on Jun 04, 2009 Posts: 41
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