Windows 7 VS Mac OSX Snow Leopard Battle Begins

Apple’s latest operating system update, Mac OSX Snow Leopard, should be ready to roll on August 28, it’ll become the de facto competitor to Microsoft Windows 7 come October.

Mac OSX Snow Leopard:

Exposé Interactivity: The feature that shows all windows together is no longer a simple means for switching among them. It will be possible to drag content from one previewed window to the other. Exposé will also work for individual applications by clicking and holding their icons in the dock. As a workaround for the miniscule preview windows in the dock, these improvements aren’t bad.

Smart Services: Control-clickers will delight in new context-sensitive menus that appear when you perform the Windows-equivalent of a right click. For instance, highlighting and control-clicking text in a Web browser lets you send the text to an e-mail or import it to iTunes as a spoken word track.

Smaller Install: Pony up the $29 to upgrade to Snow Leopard, and you’ll get 7 GB of your hard drive back. That’s not a feature, per se, but it’s certainly an innovation. The last thing we want is an operating system that’s continually gaining weight.

VoiceOver: Though it won’t be used by the majority of Mac owners, VoiceOver is arguably the most expansive addition to OSX. This tool for visually-impaired users essentially turns the trackpad into a screen reader, supporting special gestures to switch between windows and audio feedback when clicking.

Chinese Character Input: Okay, most of us won’t use this feature either, but it’s still pretty cool. After opening an input window, users can draw sketch Chinese characters on their trackpads and then select from a list of possibilities. It’s as good a reason as any to start learning.

Windows 7:

Invisible Windows: The answer, of sorts, to OSX’s Exposé lets users turn all open windows into bare outlines by moving the mouse to the screen’s bottom right corner. From there, shaking a window makes all others minimize, and shaking it again brings them back up. A related window-management feature lets you quickly size windows to half the screen, allowing for side-by-side comparisons.

Jump Lists: It’s no longer necessary to hunt through a folder of recent documents to pick up work where you left off. By right-clicking icons Windows 7’s new dock (a feature cribbed from OSX), users can jump to recent documents or perform common tasks, such as resuming an old playlist in Windows Media Player.

Internet Access to Home Media: Got two computers, or a friend who wants to look at photos from your last get-together? Clicking a button within Windows Media Player opens up photos, videos, and music for streaming to other PCs. No party will ever be safe again from your weird musical tastes.

Touch Friendly: Should the touchscreen craze finally take off, Windows 7 will be ready with a mode that’s tailor made for tablets. Start menu and taskbar icons are larger, and Web browsing can be done with a finger. Multitouch is also supported, with pinch and twist gestures for zooming and rotating.

HomeGroup: Sharing content between networked computers is nothing new, but Windows 7 makes it easier with HomeGroup. The feature lets any new computer joining your home network link up to existing ones, allowing for file transfers. Printers are also shared automatically, so no one has to be kicked off the master computer to print a document

Download and Test Windows7

As anticipated, Microsoft used CES to launch the beta of Windows 7, posting the preview of the company’s next operating system to its developer download services.

Microsoft made it clear that the beta will be available for a “limited time,” and said it will cap the beta after the first 2.5 million downloads.

IT professionals and developers who subscribe to the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) or TechNet services, however, get a jump on the public at large; they can grab the beta right away.

The beta, which Microsoft called “feature complete,” requires a PC with a 1GHz processor, 1GB of memory, 16GB of available hard disk space and support for DX9 graphics with 128MB of memory, according to Microsoft, which also warned that the recommendations could change for the final version. The beta only supports an upgrade from Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1).

Microsoft declined to get specific about upgrade paths for the final version of Windows 7, or to spell out how many editions it would produce and what it would charge for each. The beta is “roughly equivalent” to the Ultimate version of Vista , it added.

Both 32- and 64-bit versions of the beta will be available for downloading, but only English, German, Japanese, Arabic and Hindi editions will be posted Friday. Other language versions are expected at the product’s launch.

To install the beta, users must have a DVD drive able to burn disk images to a blank disc. The beta, said Microsoft in a follow-up blog it published Wednesday, will be available as an .iso file. It did not spell out the size of the download.

The beta expires on Aug. 1, 2009.

The Windows 7 download will be posted to Microsoft’s site on Friday, Jan. 9.