Microsoft’s Windows 8 is going to be a very big deal. The new OS has a brand new interface, new processor support, massively improved touch features and a host of interesting new things, and it’s quite dramatically different from the Windows 7 we know and love.
It’s also very different from Apple’s OS X Lion, which introduced massively improved touch features and a host of interesting new things. So which one are you likely to prefer – Apple’s OS, or Microsoft’s? Would you be better off sticking with Windows 7? Let’s find out.
Windows 8 vs Windows 7 vs OS X Lion: hardware
These days OS X is a 64-bit Intel-only affair, while Windows 7 requires 32-bit or 64-bit Intel or AMD processors. Windows 8 adds ARM support to the mix, although ARM devices will need specially compiled applications.
Actual system requirements for each OS are reasonably low: Lion wants a Core 2 Duo or better with 2GB of RAM, while Windows 7 and 8 both want a 1GHZ processor with 1GB of RAM (2GB for 64-bit).
As ever, OS X is only officially supported on Apple kit while Windows is available on all kinds of hardware, and OS X is strictly a desktop OS. Windows 7 is technically a tablet OS too, while Windows 8 has been specifically designed with tablets and touch-screen PCs in mind.
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE: Windows 8 is designed to run on everything: Intel laptops, AMD desktops, ARM tablets and anything else you can think of
Windows 8 vs Windows 7 vs OS X Lion: interface
The Windows 8 interface takes a bit of getting used to, as it’s a combination of the familiar Windows interface with a few big changes – especially on tablets.
he Start menu’s gone, replaced by a Start screen that resembles the Windows Phone and Kinect interfaces, and programs will be able to run in full screen mode or tiled together in a split screen view. The traditional Windows desktop will be available too, and Windows Explorer will get an Office-style ribbon interface.
We like what we’ve seen of Windows 8 so far, but the interface is still in development so it’s too early to reach a firm conclusion on whether it works or not. There’s no doubt that it’s much nicer on tablets than Windows 7 is, though.
Lion is more of an evolutionary step: scrollbars have been squashed, the colour bleached out of the UI, the iOS-style LaunchPad app launcher added and a bloody horrible skin put on top of the otherwise excellent iCal, along with dozens of minor interface improvements. It’s essentially a more refined version of the Snow Leopard UI – or at least, it is until you use it with a trackpad. Then it becomes a very different beast.
SITTING PRETTY: We love the Metro user interface, but the classic Windows desktop is there to keep old hands happy
Windows 8 vs Windows 7 vs OS X Lion: touch
Windows 8, like Lion, is all about the fingers. Forget Windows 7’s faintly horrible touch features: Windows 8 is firmly finger-friendly, with a nice on-screen keyboard, gesture recognition, palm rejection – so you don’t accidentally hit something if your palm touches the screen – and “fuzzy hit targeting” to work out what bit of the screen you intended to poke.
It shouldn’t work, but it does: while the on-screen UI elements appear too small for touch (just like they do on Windows 7), the fuzzy targeting does a sterling job on the standard Windows controls.
Apple doesn’t currently make touch-screen PCs, but Lion is still touchy-feely: it works best with a trackpad such as the ones built into MacBooks or Apple’s optional Magic TrackPad, enabling you to swipe between full-screen apps, call up Mission Control to see your Spaces windows and open apps, zoom, rotate and generally fiddle around with on-screen items. The trackpad scrolling is designed to emulate iOS scrolling, which means in traditional PC terms Lion’s scrolling is upside down. You can reverse that if you wish.