Windows 7 now features an improved taskbar, making it easier for users to find and open applications. A preview feature lets users quickly open the desired window. According to Microsoft, Windows 7 also boasts several new security upgrades, making it the most secure operating system Microsoft has released to date. At the same time, Microsoft has limited the annoying User Account Control to ensure users don't face pop-ups whenever they want to perform simple, safe operations. It's a vast improvement over Vista. And chances are, most users will be happy with it.
Perhaps the most important component in the battle between Apple and Microsoft is the nature of the two companies' upgrades. Apple's upgrade is evolutionary. Microsoft's upgrade is revolutionary. Although Apple commands significant attention in the marketplace, an evolutionary upgrade will lose steam quickly. Users will install Snow Leopard on their Macs, recognize the few differences, and move on.
A revolutionary update has far more appeal in the marketplace. The press will spend more time delving into Windows 7. Users will be trying to learn about all the changes to the OS. It will be a hot topic for much longer. And it will carry Microsoft into the holiday season, which could be a key battleground period for both companies.
Apple will be marketing its operating system as a more secure option than what Microsoft offers (whether or not that is really true is up for debate). Microsoft will remind folks that Windows 7 is user-friendly and has the most application support of any product on the market. Both companies will find that single issue with the other's operating system to put itself over. But regardless of how they go about it, I don't think there will be any stopping Microsoft from winning this generation.
Although I have yet to use Snow Leopard, I have used Windows 7's Release Candidate. Even though it wasn't the final build of the OS, it provided an outstanding experience. It was a major upgrade over Windows Vista. And it's an operating system that, based on my experience, I would rather use than Leopard. Considering that Snow Leopard is an iterative update over Leopard, it's likely I'd have the same feeling when comparing Windows 7 to Apple's latest OS.
In the end, it comes down to execution. Can Microsoft deliver a product that is more reliable than Snow Leopard? Can it combat Apple's marketing onslaught? Does it have the features to captivate end users? At this point, we need to wait and see. All those questions need to be answered before we can officially declare a victor. But so far, Microsoft has the upper hand.