Mac OS X Mountain Lion vs. Windows 7
We’re big fans of single-purpose gadgets here at IGN Tech: we’d frequently rather have five small devices that each do something well than one big device that does all five poorly. But we make an exception for personal computers: If you’re in the market for a full-fledged computer (as opposed to a tablet or gaming system), chances are you want it to do everything – and do it well.
With that in mind, we’ve compared the world’s leading desktop OS – Windows 7 – against the latest version of Apple’s ever-enticing alternative – OS X Mountain Lion. Keep reading to find out which one is better. (Spoiler: It depends!)
If you’re looking to buy a Mac for personal use, there are basically four options: the MacBook Air or Pro, and the Mac mini or iMac. (Yes, there’s also the Mac Pro. But Apple’s line of quad- and 12-core computers, which starts at $2500, is mostly meant for professionals.)
These are all first-rate, beautifully designed pieces of hardware, and as long as you know what you want up front you can get them packed with competitive internals.
But upgrading Mac hardware after the fact is not for the faint of heart. Some tinkering is just downright impossible without special tools and training, and iFixit tends to rate their repairability worse every year. If you’re looking at a MacBook or an iMac and you think something might go wrong with it, that Apple Care plan might not be a bad idea.
And don’t forget: Macs are expensive. Even the “budget” Mac mini starts at $600. Expect to pay a couple hundred dollars more than similarly spec’d PCs across the board.
PC hardware is – in a word – diverse. Your PC can look however you want it to, whether that’s something budget-level from Toshiba or HP, a top-of-the-line gaming machine from Alienware or Razer, or something as crazy as Recompute’s cardboard computers. (Hell, you can even use Boot Camp to run Windows 7 on a MacBook if that floats your boat.)
Most PCs are easier to modify than comparable Macs, so adding RAM or replacing a hard drive yourself is more manageable.
If you ask us, the out-of-the-box quality of an operating system’s UI will be more apparent to someone using it for the first time than to someone whose first move is to tweak it beyond recognizability. There are lots of tools for improving (i.e. fixing annoyances in) both operating systems, but customization isn’t for everyone.
OS X’s growing adoption rate means that a lot of folks using Macs today grew up trained with PCs, so certain signature elements of the OS X interface might seem counterintuitive to them, no matter how logical they actually are.
Take OS X’s tricolor window-management buttons: Minimize behaves like it’s supposed to. But closing the last open window leaves an application running. And that green “re-size” button doesn’t work like Windows’ predictable Maximize function.
But that’s because they aren’t designed to: Mountain Lion has its awesome Spaces-based full-screen mode in lieu of traditional maximizing; and if you want to quit an app instead of just closing the window, you can hit command+Q.
Interestingly, Windows 7 has the same issue introducing its new features (and just wait for Windows 8): no matter how simple and fast it is, some folks just won’t want to learn to use a new system. If your ideal computer is the one you already know how to use, chances are Windows 7 is your best bet.
Dock vs Taskbar
With better-looking buttons, and with Jump Lists and Aero Peek for managing recent or open windows, the taskbar has come a long way since Windows 95. But we prefer the sleek look of Mountain Lion’s dock, working with Mission Control, Exposé, or command+tab to manage open windows.
Launchpad vs Start Menu
It’s hardly a chore to open a program in either OS, but Mountain Lion’s Launchpad feature, modeled on the simple icon management style of Apple’s iOS devices, is easy and feels pleasantly modern.
Windows 7 and OS X both handle window-management pretty well, and it’s almost a tie. Mountain Lion gives you tons of options – Mission Control, Exposé, hotkeys, more options via the dock – but Windows 7′s killer Snap feature makes side-by-side windows dead-simple.
OS X might take the round though, for offering dedicated keys and multitouch gestures for each breed of navigation.
Games and Apps
There’s no shortage of decent programs available for OS X, but there are thousands more on Windows 7. That’s to be expected, as the install-base for PCs is way higher. But as so many apps are garbage, does it make a difference?
Short answer: probably not. Very few “essential” apps remain unavailable for Mac. Where the difference shows is when it comes to rarer stuff: if there’s an app for something, you can almost certainly, no matter how obscure it is, run that app on a PC. The examples range from analytics and payroll software to drivers for outdated electronics. And, oh yeah, games.
If you’re serious about using your computer to play games, there’s just no contest: Windows wins, as it pretty much always has.
Sure, Mountain Lion has a few AAA titles in its repertoire (thanks largely to Valve and Blizzard) but it’s missing out on so many more. Same deal with low-budget indie games: a smattering find their way to Macs every year, but most stay rooted to Windows.
IGN’s Top 25 Modern PC Games
The reason for this divide, if you’re interested, is that many games developed for or ported to Windows rely heavily on Microsoft’s DirectX software for graphics.
Apple hasn’t invested in an equivalent tool, so in order to port games to OS X, developers don’t just have to re-write their game; they have to also write a bunch of underlying software from scratch too. As you can imagine, that would be expensive, so it just doesn’t happen.
Why PC Gaming Could Rule 2012
Whether or not support for games is a must-have feature is up to you: we love a good PC game, but consoles offer many of the same experiences from the comfort of a sofa. Just do yourself a favor: don’t buy a Mac hoping to play any particular games that aren’t already available.
We aren’t going to compare iTunes with Windows Media Player because they both suck. For audio, we recommend a streaming service like Spotify or Rdio. For videos, try VLC or even XBMC. Those are all cross-platform and free to download.
Likewise, comparing Final Cut vs Adobe Premiere or Logic Pro vs Pro Tools would be way beyond the scope of this article, but we’ll say this: we prefer iLife to Windows Live’s media suite.
Yes, they’ll both seem rather limited to proficient users, but iMovie and iPhoto are more straightforward and pack more features than their Windows 7 counterparts. (And GarageBand rules!)
iCloud vs SkyDrive
iCloud is a great backup and sync tool for iOS devices, but that’s about all it is. MS SkyDrive has all the features of Dropbox or Google Drive (a.k.a. Google Docs), making it the clear winner even though it requires a bit more effort to set up.
If you’re on a Mac and SkyDrive’s giving you cloud envy, just sign up for it. Unlike iCloud, it’s cross-platform.
It’s a myth that there are no viruses for Macs. But it’s also a myth that most Macs need added anti-virus protection. Apple continues to do a good job taking care of this, with security steps like application sandboxing, enhanced runtime protection, ASL randomization. And for good measure there’s Mountain Lion’s (sometimes annoying) GateKeeper to talk you out of opening those sketchy email attachments.
Windows 7 is secure too, although it’s still a good idea to run separate security software on top of it. To its credit, the OS introduced an Action Center to notify you about firewall status and anti-virus software updates.
Unless you’re a high-profile target for hackers or you just can’t resist clicking on sketchy links, don’t let the security blues dictate you OS selection.
And the winner is…
Mountain Lion might have won on paper, but the sparse selection of affordable Mac hardware and Apple’s failure to get support for high-profile games are big problems. If you’re feeling spendy and console have your gaming needs covered, buy a Mac. (They’re awesome!) Otherwise, you really can’t go wrong with Windows 7. (It’s awesome!)
What about Windows 8?
It’s just around the corner, and when it arrives you can bet we’ll cover it. But Windows 7 will probably hold the market-share throne for a few years yet. And with Windows 8 being marketed as such a different experience, some folks might wish they’d picked up a Windows 7 PC when they still had the chance.
What about Linux?
Yes, Linux is a thing (and it’s awesome!). But if you’re running Ubuntu or something even more specialized, you don’t need us to say “Keep doin’ what you’re doin’.”
We covered as much as we could, but in a full OS comparison we were bound to miss something. Let us know what we didn’t mention – and which OS you’re faithful to – down in the comments.
Jon Fox is a Seattle hipster who loves polar bears and climbing trees. You can follow him on Twitter and IGN.
By Jon Fox