Windows 7 vs. Snow Leopard – OS feature comparison

It’s the best of times if you’re a lover of operating systems, with the nearly simultaneous release of Apple’s Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” (available right now) and Microsoft’s Windows 7 (available Oct. 22).

This leads to the inevitable debate: Which is the better operating system, Windows 7 or Snow Leopard?

To help determine that, I’ve put both operating systems through their paces, selected categories for a head-to-head competition, and then chosen a winner in each category. And at the end, I summarize the scorecard.

For testing Windows 7, I did a clean install of Windows 7 Ultimate Edition RTM on a Dell Inspiron E1505 notebook with 1GB of RAM and a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo processor. To test Snow Leopard, I did an upgrade from Mac OS X Leopard on my MacBook Air, which is loaded with a 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2GB of RAM.


The two companies took diametrically opposed approaches to their newest operating system upgrades.

Microsoft, burned by the compatibility issues that bedeviled Vista, strove to make compatibility with Vista-level hardware and software a centerpiece of Windows 7, and so didn’t dramatically change the under-the-hood plumbing in Windows 7.

However, significant interface changes and features were added. The taskbar got a thorough reworking, making it much more Mac OS X Dock-like — in fact, even better than the Dock. Similarly, the addition of HomeGroups was an attempt to make networking simpler for home users.

Apple, on the other hand, focused its efforts largely on internal plumbing, and many of those efforts won’t pay off immediately for users. OpenCL and Grand Central Dispatch are new technologies designed to better take advantage of multi-core CPUs and to offload more graphics and animation processing to graphics cards.

In the long run, this should make for significantly juiced-up performance. But in order for people to reap much of the benefits, developers will need to rewrite their programs. The new Apple technologies are designed to make that easier, but until those new applications are written, the effects most likely won’t be extremely noticeable.

Apple also tweaked the operating system interface, refining the Finder and integrating the Dock with Exposé. But those changes are not nearly as significant as the ones Microsoft made to Windows 7.

With all that as a background, let’s get on to the smackdown. Come along for the great debate — and weigh in with your own comments.

Windows 7 vs. Snow Leopard

With Snow Leopard, Apple focused mostly on under-the-hood changes.

Windows 7 vs. Snow Leopard

By contrast, Windows 7 introduces significant interface changes and features.

Operating system name

OK, let’s get this issue out of the way quickly. Which operating system would you rather run: one with the cool name Snow Leopard, or one with the unimaginative moniker Windows 7?

Enough said.

The Winner: Snow Leopard. Wild animals are inherently more exciting than panes of glass.


For anyone buying a new computer, a price comparison between the two operating systems is meaningless, because the operating system will come pre-installed on whatever hardware they buy. But for upgraders, it can be a very big deal.

Apple upgraders will certainly be happier than those who make the move to Windows 7 from earlier versions. Snow Leopard is a $29 upgrade (unless you’re still using Tiger, in which case you have to buy the Mac Box Set — which includes iLife ’09 and iWork ’09 — for $169). The Windows 7 Ultimate upgrade costs a whopping $220 on Amazon, Windows 7 Professional goes for $200, and Windows 7 Home Premium weighs in at $120.

Windows users also have to face the confusing decision about which of the versions of Windows 7 to purchase — given the price points, are you better off with Windows 7 Ultimate, Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Home Premium? With Snow Leopard, there’s no confusion; there’s only one version of the operating system.

The Winner: Snow Leopard. At $29, it’s practically an impulse buy.


Here’s what you need to do in order to install Snow Leopard: Insert the installation disc and then go through a simple setup routine. You won’t have to decide between a clean install and an upgrade. You won’t have to mull over which version of Snow Leopard is best for you. You won’t have to type in a lengthy registration code.

In Windows, you’ll have to choose between a clean install and an upgrade. In addition, depending on your hardware configuration and version of Windows, it may take you some time to figure out which version of Windows 7 you can upgrade to.

Once you do all that, though, there are no real major differences between installing the operating systems. Snow Leopard took a little less time to install on my system, but apart from that, the installation process itself was quite similar.

Snow Leopard did do a better job of recognizing the hardware — it did it without a hitch. Windows 7 at first didn’t recognize my video card and so I had problems with screen resolution. However, Windows 7 quickly resolved the problem without any intervention on my part via Windows Update.

The Winner: Snow Leopard. It wins by a hair because of Windows 7’s slight glitch with my hardware and the configuration choices you need to make. Aside from that, though, installation wasn’t significantly different.

Launching applications

What do you do all day with an operating system? You primarily launch programs, and then switch among running programs and windows. To a certain extent, everything else is just window dressing.

So it’s probably no surprise that some of the biggest changes to both Snow Leopard and Windows 7 have to do with the way you launch applications and switch among them. Snow Leopard’s Dock was tweaked by integrating it with Exposé (a window-management feature); while Windows 7’s taskbar was significantly reworked.

The Dock and the taskbar both do double-duty as application launchers and task switchers. The Dock is more aesthetically pleasing, with its application icons cut out in profile and highlighted against the Mac desktop, while the taskbar runs like a flat ribbon across the bottom of the Windows 7 screen.

Both added a nearly identical feature — the ability to see thumbnails of all the windows open in an application. In Windows 7, when an application has multiple windows open, you’ll see a stack of icons in the taskbar that match the number of windows open. Hover your mouse over the application’s icon, and you’ll see thumbnails of them all, spread out across the bottom of the screen. Similarly, in Snow Leopard, when you click on an application’s icon in the Dock and hold it, you see thumbnails as well.

Windows 7 vs. Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard’s Dock lets you see thumbnails of all an app’s open windows.