Say what you like about Windows 8 (and who isn’t) but it’s embracing new technologies like never before. This got me looking at Apple’s desktop operating system, OS X, and asking myself if Windows 8 might leave the Lion trailing far behind in its dust. First things first though, I’m not going to assume that Windows 8 will be a tablet operating system, as that would be unfair given that Windows in its various forms currently runs on about 1 billion desktops and probably about thirty or forty tablets worldwide. I’m also not anti-Apple, as OS X is a very polished and accomplished operating system that almost nobody has a bad word to say about. What I want to do is take each operating system on its merits and compare these two operating systems as they will stand, shoulder-to-shoulder this October when Windows 8 is expected to launch.
This means we will still be using OS X Lion on iMacs because Apple’s desktop OS release schedule usually means they release something new every eighteen months to two years, and with Lion coming out in the summer of 2011, that means the next big cat will lag from a few months to as much as a year behind Windows 8. So where will these two operating systems stand and why, do I think anyway, Windows 8 will be ahead of the pack?
Let’s start with touch, as Windows 8 is centred around it in a way no desktop operating system ever has been before. This is significant because when you look at it objectively Windows is the only desktop operating system to ever feature touch. It’s never been in OS X or GNU/Linux and, although most people expect the next generation iMacs and Macbooks to be multi-touch enabled they might not appear for another year or more. Touch is important as any new way to interact with our computers opens up opportunities both for existing users and people who are new to technology. This can include the elderly, disabled or very young children, all of whom can have trouble with keyboards.
Touch brought with it handwriting recognition to Windows, which has now been with us in some form or another since around 2005 when Microsoft first introduced the concept of the tablet PC. The handwriting recognition in Windows is really quite mature now and far ahead of the competition. Apple, by contrast doesn’t even offer the feature on the iPad and it has to be added via a third-party app. Again this offers new ways to interact with our computers and opens them up to new people and new markets.
While we’re on the subject of interfaces there can be little doubt that Microsoft’s Kinect sensor will revolutionise the way we use PCs in the same way it has done for gaming. It may only be useful for broad swipes but imagine the fun people will have playing with it on a new laptop, or the benefits it can bring to the physically handicapped?
It’s not just in interfaces that Microsoft is leagues ahead of Apple. Data encryption is another area where they still rule the roost. No matter how secure people might tell you their Macbook is, it’s still vulnerable to being dismantled and having the hard drive removed. Microsoft’s Bitlocker drive encryption technology has now been with us since 2005 and is widely considered as the business data encryption tool. This is at a time when data protection and data encryption are more important than ever before.
Add to this new technologies such as hard disk storage pooling, new advanced file management features and the Windows To Go feature, which will allow you to load your entire copy of Windows 8, including all it’s installed software onto a bootable USB pen drive and Windows 8 is clearly well in the lead.
If you want to come back now and say that the average desktop user doesn’t need any of these features then I would say this to you. Each one of the very few technologies I’ve listed here is either currently making a big difference in the world today, or is set to do so very shortly (such as Windows To Go). There is nothing here that can be considered frivolous or useless in any way. In short I could suggest, if I dare, that Apple have spent so long concentrating on the smartphone and tablet space that they’ve simply taken their eye off the desktop and when they had chances to import some of these technologies into OS X, remember that OS X and iOS run on the same core kernel, they missed the opportunity.
There are also, and this is important to say, areas where OS X is ahead of Windows. While some of these areas have been historically significant, such as user security, OS X doesn’t currently lead in any meaningful way, and with the technologies that are making a big impact in the world today.
The reason I say this is because, while the focus of Windows 8 might be on it’s funky new Metro front end, many people will be comparing Windows and OS X and wondering why the precocious Metro upstart is so far ahead. Apple clearly has some catching up to to, and they’d better hurry because I do actually want to buy an iMac, but until they begin to support touch they can forget it.