By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2009-06-10

Apple's Snow Leopard or Microsoft's Windows 7: Which Is Better for the Enterprise?

Apple demoed the new version of its popular operating system, Mac OS X, June 8 at its World Wide Developers Conference. Dubbed Snow Leopard, the new operating system is an iterative update. The operating system's design is quite similar to that of current versions of the software. Ironically, Snow Leopard will only work with Intel-based Macs. Because of that, all legacy Macs containing Power PC chips will not be able to run Snow Leopard.

During the keynote, as Apple was introducing its new operating system, Bertrand Serlet, Apple's senior vice president of Software, took the stage to discuss the company's latest operating system. He immediately fired a shot at Microsoft. Instead of ignoring Windows 7 and focusing the audience's attention on Mac OS X, Serlet said "Windows 7 is just another version of Vista."

It's a tough comment from a company that is far behind Microsoft in the operating system market. But it's also an indicative comment. Apple is firmly focused on beating Microsoft in the operating system space. It wants the world to know that Snow Leopard is ready to take on Windows 7. And most importantly, it wants the world to know that it can compete on any level with Microsoft's latest OS.

But is that really true? Apple's Snow Leopard might be just fine for consumers, but to say it will be ideal for the enterprise is a different story. In that space, it's Windows 7 that wins out.

New features

Mac OS X Snow Leopard does have a variety of new features. Finder has been reworked. It now finds and previews documents quicker than it did in previous versions of the tool. And its search tool makes it easier to perform a customized search to find files.

Windows 7 has a similar feature. Although it wasn't reworked all that much, finding files in the OS is made simple with the operating system's search and menu system that's quite similar to Windows Vista. It makes finding files quite easy.

A major update to Mac OS X is the use of Expose in the Dock. According to Apple, users will be able to add icons to the Dock and view all the active instances of that application currently running. It will show full previews just like it does in the current version of Expose.

Windows 7 might have it beat. Microsoft's latest OS has a reworked taskbar, similar to the Dock, that lets users view all the open instances of an application. They can sift through them one-by-one and then pick the window they want to open in full size. It's quite similar to Snow Leopard's preview function, but I don't see how Apple's can be any better than Microsoft's -- it's that good.

Apple has finally built Exchange support into its operating system. According to the company, support will be available in Mail, Calendar and Address Book. Users can also search for Exchange messages using Mac OS X's Spotlight search.

Microsoft has supported Exchange in its operating systems since the beginning. That doesn't necessarily mean that Windows' implementation of Exchange support will be better, but considering Microsoft has been at it much longer, you can bet it'll work quite well in Windows 7. Apple's decision to add Exchange support is a long time coming. But it doesn't provide a unique value to the enterprise.

Apple also announced that Snow Leopard will support 64-bit applications. All the apps built into the operating system are optimized for 64-bit chips and should run faster than previous versions on Leopard.

Once again, Apple hasn't shocked the world with the 64-bit announcement. That's been around for decades. Microsoft first started supporting it with Windows XP. And so far, few developers have created applications that capture the power of 64-bit architecture. The OS might be faster, but when it comes to performing daily duties, it probably won't provide much value.


But where Apple might hold a significant lead is on Snow Leopard's price. When the operating system is made available in September, current Leopard users will be able to upgrade for $29. A family five-pack of licenses will be made available for $49.

Microsoft can't match that pricing. The software giant is planning on releasing a variety of versions of Windows that will undoubtedly be priced higher than Snow Leopard. There's even some speculation that a Windows 7 upgrade license will cost more than that five-pack of Snow Leopard licenses. For the enterprise, that might be an issue. Paying less is always preferred and given Snow Leopard will be so much cheaper, it might be more attractive to the business world than ever before.

It's about the software

But in the end, we can't judge these two operating systems on a couple of features. The enterprise cares most about software. Which operating system will provide the most support for mission-critical applications?

That answer is, unequivocally, Windows 7. Along with the fact that more software is developed to work with Windows, we can't forget that XP Mode will come bundled in the professional editions of Windows 7. That means any app that works with Windows XP will work with Windows 7. It also means companies won't have to worry about application compatibility like they will with Snow Leopard.

Apple might have done a good job updating its operating system, but it's still a victim of snubbing enterprise developers. And even with Exchange support included, it seems Snow Leopard is still designed specifically for home users instead of the enterprise.

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