Mortal frenemies Apple and Microsoft have been locked in battle since 1984, when the first Macintosh shipped. Apple has always been the innovator; the prestige developer with big ideas. Microsoft took care of the mundane side of the market, catering for enterprise and home, developing solid products that ran on a range of hardware. 

Then something changed. First the iPod, then the iPhone and iPad carved out a new, portable niche for computing, eventually threatening to replace desktop machines altogether.

Now, Microsoft is fighting back. Windows 8 is an operating system that ties together their desktop and mobile offerings. Released in the same month and on the same day as Microsoft Surface, the company’s tablet computer.

Is it too little too late? We put the two latest versions of OS X and Windows head to head. This was the outcome.

1) Windows 8 verses OS X - Installation 

The shipping version of Windows 8 is available as a DVD upgrade or as a download. The online version comes with Upgrade Assistant, a tool that enables users to test their systems for compatibility before downloading and creating bootable DVD or USB media to install the OS.

On a Mac you currently upgrade by downloading Mountain Lion from the App Store.

The Windows 8 tools for repartitioning and formatting our drive were easy to use and intuitive - but limited. When installing Mac OS, Disk Utility, Terminal and Time Machine are all available to perform more complex tasks.

Like OS X you now need to set-up an online account to configure your machine at start-up. That’s a Windows Live or Hotmail account.  If you don’t have one, the installation forwards you to a browser window to make an account.

New users have to use or create an online account to install OS X too, but sign up is more effectively integrated within the installer. 

Windows 8 only restarted once during the install. That’s a key improvement over previous versions.

//SCORES//

Mac : 7

Windows : 7 

 

2) Windows 8 verses OS X - Interface Design

Both OS X Lion and Mountain Lion have features that make it clear Apple is edging towards a unified operating system across devices. Tools like Mission Control and Launchpad augment the traditional Finder and Desktop interface that we’re all used to with metaphors familiar to iPhone and iPad users.

With Windows 8 Microsoft has gone a radical step further, by bolting an entirely new interface over the Desktop.

The Windows Desktop and File Explorer (formerly Windows Explorer) are still there, but they’re now hidden beneath a full-screen overlay that replaces the old Start menu .  Formerly known as Metro, the new “Microsoft design style” Start screen is a chunky and garish affair, with simple primary coloured tiles for accessing installed programs. If you’ve ever tried a Windows phone, you’ll have seen it all before.

Many of the old visual cues have simply been binned. The old Start button has been replaced by the Charm bar, for example, which is hidden by default. To activate it, you have to move the mouse to a corner of the screen or swipe from the right-hand side of the desktop. 

With Windows 8, Microsoft seem determined to take a “one-size-fits-all” approach - and bully users into adopting a new interface metaphor too soon. 

In contrast, Apple is developing operating systems that are optimised for their environments. OS X and iOS are converging towards the same point, at an appropriate pace.

Ghost of Windows Past: The old Windows Desktop hasn’t disappeared. Access it from the Start screen  when you have some real work to do 

//SCORES//

Mac : 8

Windows : 4

 

3) Windows 8 verses OS X - Administration 

It’s a cliche for critics of Mac OS to suggest that it’s a difficult operating system to manage. 

This is a point of view based largely on the experience of users prior to OS X. The modern Mac operating system - or rather Darwin, its kernel - is based on a variant of BSD UNIX. As an OS, that makes it as accessible to tweaking and troubleshooting by administration level users as any. 

Furthermore, OS X’s System Preferences expose most of the user, network, application and interface settings you need to access on a day to day basis.

Conversely, the key requirement that Windows is accessible to consumer users has made it more and more difficult to manage over time.  The old Control Panel is still accessible but, again, hidden. There are Administrative tools too, but access to them is disabled by default.  

In short, although Windows 8 does offer many system management options, they’re buried deep and scattered wide.

//SCORES//

Mac : 7

Windows : 6 

 

4) Windows 8 verses OS X - Security 

We know that Macs now have their own malware. We know that Flashback managed to infect half a million Macs earlier this year and that examples of Mac “Scareware” have been spotted in the wild.

It’s all a drop in the ocean compared to the problems Windows users face.

Apple responded positively and swiftly, adding Gatekeeper to Lion then ramping up the default security settings in Mountain Lion. OS X also features a built in firewall and easy to configure network settings.

Still, this is one skirmish Microsoft wins. The Windows 8 firewall and anti-malware tools offers much more than its OS X equivalent.

Macs may be more intrinsically secure, but Windows is fighting the fight more fiercely.

//SCORES//

Mac : 7

Windows : 7

 

5) Windows 8 verses OS X - Social Media 

Mountain Lion emulates iOS, with built in notifications from communication tools and connected social networks. When you’ve configured a social networking service, you get alerts in the notifications side bar and can check updates and messages from the Desktop.

Windows 8’s social network integration enables you to link Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn to a Windows app called “People”, which also pulls contact data from your networks. Though easy to set up, the People app itself suffers from the same tile based design issues that are rife through Windows 8.  It’s also far less configurable than standalone clients. Mountain Lion strikes a better balance, for our money.

Going Social: Windows 8’s People app is more than just an address book. It displays all your social updates in one place. - people.png

//SCORES//

Mac : 8

Windows : 6 

 

6) Windows 8 verses OS X - Network Sharing  

In Windows 7, Microsoft introduced the concept of the HomeGroup - a local workgroup configuration that automatically sets permissions for file access and media streaming between your Windows machines. 

The same functionality has been carried over to Windows 8, with configuration settings secreted in the “PC Settings” section. A password is automatically generated to enable you to join machines on the same network. In theory.

In our tests, Windows 7, Vista and Windows 8 PCs all failed to find each other without a degree of tweaking.

AirDrop on Mountain Lion is, by comparison, made of stardust and magic.  

//SCORES//

Mac : 8

Windows : 5

 

7) Windows 8 verses OS X - Integration with other Devices 

As an Apple user, you’ll know how well your devices get along with each other.  Your music is available on iTunes whether you’re on an iPod Touch or your desktop machine. Your Photostream updates from Macbook to iPad. You can stream movies from your iPhone to Apple TV.

Since the introduction of iCloud, the integration between Apple devices has become even closer too - with documents saved on one machine automatically available on another. 

It’s a lovely thing to behold. Step outside the walled garden, though, and you’re in for a shock. Sure, you can download iCloud for Windows. It’ll enable you to share contacts and upload images to your Photostream, but application support will be limited. Limited mainly to Apple apps, in fact.

The same might be said of Windows 8. It will integrate seamlessly with your other Windows devices. Windows Phone and the range of Windows 8 tablets that will soon be appearing in stores. It’ll even stream music and video to your Xbox. 

Try plugging in your iPod or iPad. Unless you’ve got iTunes installed, you won’t get far. In this case, Mac still wins despite the Apple-centric focus. Why? Let’s get real. How many people carry their music collection around on a Zune? We bet even Bill Gates has an iPod.

//SCORES//

Mac : 6

Windows : 5

 

8) Windows 8 verses OS X - Gestures 

As seasoned iOS users on both iPad and iPhone, Mountain Lion’s gestural interface seems a little wooden. But Mountain Lion is the inbetween phase, after all. With a track pad using full-screen apps and Mission Control is natural and easy. The OS also feels comfortable with just keyboard and mouse too.

And that’s where Windows 8 really differs. The Microsoft design interface - as Metro is now called - is fully optimised for touch screens. Amazingly, it manages to redefine gestures. Swiping  to close apps or dragging open the  Charm bar on a touch screen is natural without ever copying iOS.

However, many of the gestures translate clumsily to environments without touchscreens. A case of too much, too soon? 

//SCORES//

Mac : 7

Windows : 6

 

9) Windows 8 verses OS X - Messaging  

With incremental updates to iOS and OS X, Apple has done a sterling job of integrating messaging between Apple devices. Facetime on iOS 6 or Mountain Lion works seamlessly. Messages sent to iPhone or email addresses are smartly routed, blurring the divide between being on the move and at the desktop.

What does Windows 8 have to compete? Messaging revamped Windows 8 style. Clean and simple, the app automatically adds other accounts you’ve connected using People (though, in the Preview version we tested this was still a little glitchy).

There’s no SMS integration and, overall, the functionality is less complex than the desktop application it replaces, Windows Live Messenger. 

//SCORES//

Mac : 9

Windows : 5

 

10) Windows 8 verses OS X - Web Browsing

Let’s be blunt here - Safari is better than Internet Explorer. Any version of Internet Explorer. It’s better because it puts usability and web standards first, built around an engine that renders HTML5 faster and with more fidelity.

The Windows 8 version of Internet Explorer seeks to reduce much of the bloat and clutter associated with previous versions - and it looks great in full-screen mode. But Windows 8 ships with not one but two versions of Internet Explorer. 

One version is optimised for the default Windows 8, full-screen view. The other is for desktop use in windowed mode. And they’re different, with support for different plug-ins.

Both use the same rendering engine, but which shell loads up at runtime depends on which ‘mode’ you’re in. It reinforces the sense that Windows 8 is actually two operating systems disguised as one.

//SCORES//

Mac : 8

Windows : 5

 

11) Windows 8 verses OS X - The Cloud  

Both Windows 8 and Mountain Lion have cloud integration built in, but the emphasis is different on each device. In Mountain Lion, it’s iCloud - a service that enables you to synchronise files across devices. That includes Windows PCs.

In Windows 8 the service is Skydrive, a cloud storage and document editing solution with six years online. It’s only now, with Windows integration, that it really feels like it has come of age. Revamped with a Windows 8 style minimal layout, Skydrive is now easy to navigate and a free to use. With online versions of Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint, it’s a useful addition to the OS.

In the Cloud: Skydrive integrates with free Office web apps, enabling you to to create Word, Powerpoint and Excel documents online 

Mountain Lion doesn’t have the same built in document editing features. In order to open iWork files, you need to have Pages, Numbers or Keynote installed locally. A point docked for Apple there. 

Other features associated with iCloud in Mountain Lion are integrated seamlessly in Windows 8. Connect your Google or Facebook accounts and you’ll find your contacts and calendar update automatically. 

//SCORES//

Mac : 6

Windows : 7

 

12) Windows 8 verses OS X - App Switching 

Windows 8 has changed the way users switch between apps, but has retained the same keyboard shortcuts. It’s a rare moment of user experience awareness in an upgrade largely devoid of it. 

Still, application switching doesn’t quite work the same way as in Windows 7 (or Vista). ALT and TAB enable you to cycle through all open applications. Once activated, you can move through open apps using the arrow keys.

Holding the Windows or Start key and TAB now brings up a sidebar displaying applications running in Windows 8 mode - and only those applications. The arrow keys don’t work here. Losing Windows 7’s Flip 3D application selection feels like a regression. Again, the lack of interface consistency between Desktop and Windows 8 mode is frustrating. 

In the space of three upgrades, OS X first matched then exceeded Window’s app switching capabilities. With Mission Control (combining the best of Expose and Spaces) and OS X’ s context sensitive Dock, there’s no contest. Mountain Lion wins this round. 

A New Beginning: Windows 8 has a new Start screen. The tiled environment is an equivalent to OS X’s LaunchPad

Ready to Launch: Apple’s LaunchPad is a clear inspiration for the new Windows 8 Start screen - but Mountain Lion allows you to choose when to use it. 

//SCORES//

Mac : 9

Windows : 4

 

13) Windows 8 verses OS X - Full screen apps 

Frankly, Windows was winning the full-screen battle until Lion came along. Cross-platform apps, like Chrome and Firefox, that happily ran in full-screen on Windows Vista couldn’t route around OS X’s windowing restrictions.

That changed with built-in full-screen app support in Lion and Mountain Lion. 

By now, you’ve probably twigged that Windows 8 is an operating system of two halves. There’s the Windows 8 style overlay and, beneath that, the old desktop metaphor. From the Start screen there are several native apps that work really well in full-screen mode. The clean, minimal design rules really suit Windows 8’s new Mail application, for example.

But there’s still that conflict between the Windows 8 layer, where everything looks and works in the same way, and the old Desktop layer. For example, using Chrome in full-screen mode disables access to the Charm bar. 

//SCORES//

Mac : 6

Windows : 6

 

14) Windows 8 verses OS X - Photos

Windows 8 ships with several apps. All feel like simplified, reduced versions of tools Microsoft used to ship with Windows. Messaging looks lovely, but offers less functionality than Windows Live Messenger. Mail seamlessly taps into any account you’ve configured to work with the OS, but offers less than Outlook Express.

So it is with Photos. On the plus side, it integrates with Flickr, Facebook and other online accounts so you can see all your images in one place. But that’s all you can do. You can look at them, but you can’t edit, crop or resize. That puts it several rungs below Preview, built into the OS - or the much maligned MS Paint.

iPhoto does everything Photos does, integrating with Facebook and Flickr, allowing you to share images by email or across your Apple devices. It also has editing capabilities built in. Win.

Photo Finish: Like many Windows 8 apps, Photos is almost too simple. It’s OS X competitor iPhoto is one stop shop for gallery making and image editing.

//SCORES//

Mac : 8

Windows : 5

 

15) Windows 8 verses OS X - Hardware Support 

Here’s a category that really tests the metal of Mac fans, because Windows is the clear winner. Built to run on a broad base of architectures and with support for a variety of devices, protocols and technologies, OS X can’t compete with Windows 8.

The bottom line is this: OS X is a highly optimised operating system that’s designed to run on Apple hardware and only on Apple hardware.

What’s more, Apple has never been too bothered about supporting their older gear. It’s well known that the company abandoned support for the Power PC architecture with OS X 10.5.8. It’s less well known that Lion (10.7) and Mountain Lion (10.8) won’t run on some Intel Macs. Installation checks will stop you from even attempting to upgrade your pre-2009 Mac Mini or a Mac Pro made before 2008. Harsh.

Windows 8, on the other hand, not only caters for older PCs - Intel architecture based machines running as slow as 1Ghz - but there’s even a 32 bit version. And there’s the real irony. That 2006 Intel Mac Mini that won’t run Lion? At a pinch it’ll dual boot into Windows 8.

Why the big difference? Apple is in the hardware business. It sells computers, phones and tablets. Microsoft’s main business is software and the more machines it runs on, the more it sells. 

//SCORES//

Mac : 5

Windows : 8

 

16) Windows 8 verses OS X - Shopping 

The App Store in iOS proved such a success that the model was emulated by Google on Android and Amazon on their Kindle Fire devices. Apple even successfully ported the concept over to OS X, with the Mac App Store. 

It’s no surprise that one of the keystones of Windows 8 is a built-in store. The Windows Store, it’s imaginatively called. Unfortunately, it’s a keystone made of sand.

While we’re sure navigation will be more intuitive on a tablet computer, it’s clunky on a desktop or notebook PC. We also found ourselves wondering where the search box was. It turns out that it’s hidden in the Charm bar.  Those crazy Microsoft UI designers!

In the preview version the store was populated with free apps, so we were unable to test the payment system. We do know that it uses your Windows Live login to process transactions.  

Who Will Buy?: Windows Store is built into the new operating system. Unlike the Mac App Store, some links take you to third-party sites for purchasing 

//SCORES//

Mac : 9

Windows : 4

 

17) Windows 8 verses OS X - Value for Money 

Apple’s last few upgrades have been priced generously,with Mountain Lion retailing for just £13.99. A real bargain. Prior to Mountain Lion, there were separate consumer and server editions. Now the server components are available as a separate purchase - at £13.99.

Pricing for Windows 8 is a little more confusing, with four versions available, several variations of those and price differences for download and DVD editions. The cheapest way to upgrade is to download the Standard version for £24.99. DVD editions are priced at £49.99 - with the Pro version the only widely available edition at the time of writing.

Strangely, to comply with European anti-competition ruling, there’s also a version without any bundled media playback components. The “N” version is, in some ways, less capable than the Standard or Pro editions, but it retails at £129.99. That’s Microsoft marketing logic for you...

//SCORES//

Mac : 10

Windows : 7 

 

18) Windows 8 verses OS X - Windows on a Mac/OS X on a PC

If your Mac is running Mountain Lion, it’s basically an Intel PC.  That means it can run Windows as well as OS X. With the help of Boot Camp, you can dual boot your machine to run both operating systems, natively, side-by-side.

If repartitioning your hard drive seems too scary, you can choose to run Windows in a virtual machine, using a tool like VMWare or Parallels.

Want to run Mountain Lion on a PC? It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy either. There are several online communities dedicated to cracking this complex task, writing guides and make tools to share with fellow self-built Mac enthusiasts. But even if you are able to get OS X running on PC hardware , you’re never more than an update away from a kernel panic.

Strictly speaking, running Mountain Lion on anything but Apple hardware breaks OS X’s licensing rules too. 

//SCORES//

Mac : 2

Windows : 8

 

Conclusion - Windows 8 or OS X? Which is best? 

Mac - 130/180

Windows - 105/180

We are not going to completely slate Windows 8. There are some interesting and inventive elements in the new operating system. On touch pads, the interface-formerly-known-as-Metro is intuitive to use. It cleverly integrates with your online identity and is refreshingly clutter free. And the Windows that still lurks beneath is still a powerful and flexible operating system with much to recommend it.

But there is a sense that what you’re offered in Windows 8 is Windows for dummies. In the same way that Microsoft bolted Windows 1.0 over DOS so  that office workers didn’t need to deal with the command line, Windows 8 shields tablet users from the fact they’re using a Windows computer. Unfortunately, it also shields computer users from the fact they’re using a computer.

Apple’s approach, over 8 versions of OS X, has been to streamline and innovate with each release. From Cheetah to Mountain Lion, Apple has cut out redundant elements and introduced new features as required.  It’s been case of evolution, not revolution.

OS X and iOS are edging closer, but they’re not the same. They’re optimised for the devices they run and the way they are used. One day, they’ll converge. But not yet.

Windows 8 isn’t too little too late. It’s too much too soon. 

RELATED: 

Apple's Tim Cook calls Microsoft's Surface 'compromised' and 'confusing'

Simon Jary - Apple vs Microsoft - it's back on

Apple has it wrong: it's not the post-PC era, it's PC+ time, says Microsoft