Thursday, September 24, 2009

Windows and OS X: We’re Not So Different, You and I

CLEARLY BY SHOWING A PICTURE WHERE WINDOWS IS SELECTED I AM DISPLAYING A BIAS AND THEREFORE AM NOT TO BE TRUSTEDOnce upon a time,  a company released an operating system. This operating system was supposed to be great but it was delivered years late, and when it finally released it was a slow, buggy mess that no one wanted to use. It wanted all of your memory, and it wouldn't run well on the computer you already had without significant upgrades. People went out of their way to use its predecessor, since it was consistently faster and more compatible with their applications.

You probably think that I am talking about Windows Vista! But actually, I am talking about Mac OS X 10.0. See what I did there?

It’s now eight years later, and OS X 10.6 was just released to almost universally positive reviews. Apple took its forward-looking but not-quite-ready-for-prime-time operating system and refined, refined, refined, blowing through four major revisions in as many years and then settling into a comfortable stride of one major update every two years or so. The result is one of the most consistently snappy, usable operating systems on the market today, despite its messy genesis.

Windows Vista was, in a lot of ways, similar in spirit to that original release of OS X. It was intended to be the most major revision of Windows since Windows 95 started everyone up, but as months and years passed it buckled under the weight of its own ambition. By the time it finally slipped out the door at the tail end of 2006, it was with a whimper, and expectations were built up so high that it couldn’t have succeeded even if it had been good when it launched (it wasn’t, really).

Many of Vista’s actual ills have since been remedied, but the stigma against it has long since been imprinted on Joe the Consumer. As a result, businesses are still hanging on to Windows XP. Netbooks still run XP, nearly universally. Even if your computer’s manufacturer doesn’t officially support XP, a Google search will quickly reveal that you can make it run on just about anything eight years after its release, so reviled has been Vista.

Enter Windows 7, due for release to the public at large on October 22: a new operating system that takes more than its fair share of pages from OS X’s book. Like an OS X update, Windows 7 is built on the foundation of what came before. OS X 10.6 is basically the same thing as OS X 10.5, but with the corners sanded down and its shirt tucked in. OS X 10.6 runs faster than OS X 10.5 on the exact same computer. OS X 10.6 ignores sweeping cosmetic changes in favor of under-the-hood tweaks.

Now, read that paragraph and replace “OS X 10.6” with Windows 7 and “OS X 10.5” with “Windows Vista.” That saves me the trouble of writing it out again.

With 7, Microsoft has taken out the shoe polish and addressed almost all of the major complaints that people had of Vista, namely speed (7 is much faster on the same hardware) and compatibility (if it runs on Vista, it will run on 7 99% of the time). The result is one of the most pleasant operating system experiences I’ve ever had – my friends and family are all, by now, tired of my recommendations to upgrade.

I always wondered why Wile E. Coyote only ever tried things one time before giving up an moving onto the next thing. It always seemed like maybe if he took what he had learned from his failed attempts and applied them to future attempts, he might catch the Road Runner? But he never did that.

I guess my point is, it’s great that Microsoft tried the same ideas again instead of trying to offer up a product that was vastly different than Vista, which would have been subject to the same pitfalls and problems as any other vastly different product. It’s a strategy that has worked for Apple for most of the last decade, and I for one don’t mind that there’s a little extra Mac in my Windows these days.