When Windows Vista ships in late 2006, Windows will mimic many features of Apples Tiger and go beyond it.
But while Microsoft introduces the world to Vista, Apple is keeping mum about its next version of Mac OS X, which Steve Jobs has said will ship at about the same time as Vista.
It is the Intel-ready Leopard, not Tiger, that will be Apples answer to Windows Vista.
With the first Vista beta, Microsoft seems to have taken many cues from Mac OS X with the user interface and features, right down to some of the terminology.
Even some of Vistas icons are amazingly similar to those in Tiger.
For instance, theres the interface names, Apples Aqua and Microsofts Aero.
In Vista, “My Documents” and “My Computer” are now “Computer” and “Documents,” as they are in Mac OS X.
The search icon in the Vista beta is almost identical to Tigers Spotlight icon, except that the magnifying glass turns the other way.
Vista buttons and other interface details have a shiny bulbous look similar to those in Mac OS X.
The more-advanced Aero Glass option uses translucent window title bars, a handy feature of Mac OS X that Apple dropped with Panther, but is still used in the Dock.
Vista does, however, have some nice touches that Tiger doesnt. Vista places previews of documents right on file icons. These are more sophisticated than the thumbnails that Photoshop creates, as they update as the file is changed. Tiger can display previews of graphic files, but not text-based files.
Vistas folders display a representation of the type of files inside. Dialog boxes for saving files and other tasks use these thumbnails. Tiger does not have the ability to automatically display thumbnails on folder icons.
The Vista icons and previews are scalable to different sizes and can scale up to 128 by 128 pixels.
File Management and Searching
Many of Vistas file management features will be familiar to Tiger users, but Vista goes further in file management techniques.
Vista folder windows have a search-as-you-type search field, a feature that Mac OS X has had since Jaguar in 2002, but which became dramatically faster in Tiger with the Spotlight search engine.
Spotlight also added the searching of the contents of various types of files and e-mail messages, as well as searching on metadata.
Vistas search engine can do all of this as well, and lets you add metadata in Windows Explorer.
You can add metadata in Tiger, using the Spotlight field in the Get Info window, but Vista offers multiple fields for keywords, rating, project and others.
Vista also borrows Tigers Smart folders, calling them Virtual Folders. This feature automatically creates shortcut files based on criteria set by the user and places them in a folder. (Tigers Smart Folder does this with aliases.)
Vista adds the idea of stacks, where files that use a certain keyword are listed. When you add a file to the stack, the keyword is automatically added to the stack.
Vista will also have file management features that neither Tiger nor Windows XP has. A new backup system will record incremental changes to a file and copy them to a protected area.
One of the useful features that Mac OS X has always had is that PDF is built into its core.
PDF is used for displaying and printing files, and Mac OS X has the ability to turn any document created by any application into a PDF file.
With Windows Vista, Microsoft will attempt to do the same, but not with PDF.
Vista will use a new universal format called Metro, based on XML, for viewing and printing files. The aim is consistency of documents on screen and in print.
This is something that Mac OS has always been superior to Windows, even before Mac OS X. It remains to be seen how successful Metro will be.
Networking and the Outlook
Windows Vista will be superior to Tiger in terms of networking, mostly because Windows is a better client for Microsoft servers.
Part of this is Microsofts fault, such as the lack of support of the MAPI protocol in Exchange Server. But Apple has been slow to include Microsoft authentication protocols and support for Active Directory, which first showed up in Panther and then Tiger.
Even now, incompatibilities and glitches persist, even with basic file sharing.
Vista has some new networking features, such as the ability to send presentation to connect to a project on the network, which isnt found in Tiger.
Microsoft is also promising the ability to access applications and desktops over the Internet without a virtual private network.
Tiger also doesnt have Vistas purported built-in support for “social networking” technologies, which include Weblogs, RSS, and Wikis.
Although Tigers Safari Web browser supports RSS, Vista will have RSS embedded in the core of the OS, so that any application could potentially take advantage of it should a developer decide to do so.
An application could not only subscribe to RSS feeds, but could include RSS browsing and searching, ordering and sorting—in short, a method of managing data.
Like Panther and Tiger, Windows Vista will support (IPv6) Internet Protocol Version 6.
Certainly, Windows is a target of more malware than is Mac OS X, and security in Vista is more sophisticated than in Tiger.
For instance, Internet Explorer 7 will run in a Vista “containment area” called Low-Rights mode that will attempt to keep worms and spyware out of Windows.
Malware simply wont have the privileges needed to write files or change the Registry. There will also be anti-phishing techniques employed.
Vista will support laptops with Trusted Platform Module chips, which creates a secure boot that protects hardware and applications from being run by unauthorized users or by malicious software.
Both Vista and Tiger have the ability to automatically encrypt all data on the hard disk.
Vista and the Outlook on Leopard
Apples market share has jumped 37 percent in the past year to 4.5 percent of the PC market, still small by Microsoft standards, but significant for Apples bottom line.
Hardware with the familiar Intel inside is likely to entice more PC users than todays Power PC, and the iPod effect could still be a factor.
But to continue this kind of growth, Apples Leopard will need to be a compelling alternative to Vista.
It would not be difficult for Apple to add some of Vistas user interface features, such as thumbnails in document and folder icons.
Apple will need a further move away from the desktop and folder metaphor with further development of Spotlight and possibly new file management techniques.
Increased use of RSS and Internet access within the OS would be helpful.
Leopard will also need to continue Mac OS Xs trend of increasingly better compatibility with Windows networks.
Users can expect continued development in Apples strengths, consumer accessible music, image management and video editing.
New multimedia features in iPod would also be a welcome addition.
Editors Note: This story was updated to clarify language about PDF and Metro. It also corrects the resolution of Tiger icons, which is 128-by-128 pixels.