In the operating system race thus far, Apples incremental approach to system releases has paid off compared to Microsofts strategy of giant leaps at long intervals.
Since Windows XP shipped in 2001, Apple has shipped five major versions of Mac OS X. Apples Unix-based operating system started out far behind Windows XP, but is now out in front in terms of features, functionality and user interface.
But Apple has promised to release its next big cat release, code-named Leopard, at the same time that Microsoft lets Longhorn out if its pen.
Security is one area where Longhorn is more sophisticated than Tiger. For instance, Internet Explorer will run in a “containment area” that will attempt to keep worms and spyware out of Windows.
Longhorn will support laptops with Trusted Platform Module chips, which create a secure boot that protects hardware and applications from being run by unauthorized users or by malicious software.
Longhorn and Tiger both have the ability to automatically encrypt all data on the hard disk, a feature missing from Windows XP.
In some areas of file management, Longhorn plays catch-up to Tiger. Longhorns Virtual Folders concept is the same as that of Tigers Smart Folders. Virtual Folders automatically create shortcut files based on criteria set by the user, and places the files in a folder. (Tigers Smart Folder does this with aliases.)
Windows XP has nothing like this feature. Users can create shortcuts manually, and applications can create when they are installed, often resulting in a desktop that is a jumble of shortcut icons.
Longhorn will also have file management features that neither Tiger nor Windows XP have. A new backup system will record incremental changes to a file and copy them to a protected area.
Tiger is clearly ahead of Windows XP in enabling users to access data, and will remain ahead of Longhorn. Apples search technology, Spotlight, lets users search for not just files, but e-mail messages, contacts, calendars, and other data handled by certain applications. Spotlight also returns information nearly instantaneously.
Tiger handles data retrieval so well that Spotlight is a viable alternative to the dated desktop/folder/document metaphor that has been the basis of GUIs since 1984.
Windows XP also indexes, but only on files without the use of metadata, and it works slowly. Microsofts new file system, WinFS, would have been more sophisticated than Spotlight, built in at a lower level and allowing users to customize the metadata to search. But Microsoft pulled WinFS from Longhorn earlier this year, and it will probably be years before it ends up in Windows.
Microsoft has not revealed much of Aero, the Longhorn user interface (which Microsoft refers to as the “user experience”). At this point, it has a surface resemblance to Mac OS X, with a lot of 3-D elements. It does, however, have some nice touches that Tiger doesnt.
Tiger Pulls Ahead with
Since its first version, Mac OS X has enabled the user to preview graphics files without opening them; the user clicks on a graphics file while in the column view. Windows XP does not preview the contents of files, but Longhorn will.
Longhorn will offer previews of documents instead of file icons. These are more than the thumbnails that Photoshop creates, as they update when the files change. The Longhorn previews are also bigger than those in Tiger, at 128×128 pixels vs. Tigers 64×64.
While Mac OS has long reported the amount of free hard disk space, Longhorn presents this information in bars in the My Computer view.
These niceties aside, the main advantage Tiger has over Windows XP is that it generally takes fewer steps to accomplish a task or locate information.
In Windows XP, the Start menus submenus can be filled with so many entries that its often easier to access applications through the folder structure. The Start menu in Longhorn adds a scrolling area so you dont have to use the hierarchical menu. However, it still requires more mouse clicks than using the Applications icon in Tigers sidebar.
Both Windows XP and Longhorn are superior to Tiger in terms of networking, mostly because they are better clients for Microsoft servers. Part of this is Microsofts fault, as with the lack of support of the MAPI (Messaging API) protocol in Exchange Server. But Apple has been slow to include Microsoft authentication protocols and support for Active Directory, which showed up in Panther and then Tiger.
Tiger also doesnt have Longhorns built-in support for social networking technologies, which include Weblogs, RSS and Wikis. Longhorn incorporates these technologies into the operating system, enabling the user to access them internally.
At this point, Longhorns strengths in the areas of networking and security look to be superior to Tigers, while Tiger seems to excel in the area of data retrieval. However, Longhorn is still in development and is some 18 months or more away from launch. A lot can change in that much time.
Microsoft has said that Longhorn will be the Windows platform for the next ten years. During that time, Apple could release another five versions of Mac OS X. And at the end of that period, Longhorn could be as dated as Windows XP is now.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include the code name of Apples next operating system announced at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in June.
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