It is the statement that has re-ignited the near-religious debate about whether the Windows user interface was copied from Mac. Define 'copied'. Adopting features that work is not new to Windows 7 or unique to the Windows / Mac debate--its just the way the world works.
Microsoft partner group manager Simon Aldous was quoted saying "What we've tried to do with Windows 7 - whether it's traditional format or in a touch format - is to create a Mac look and feel in terms of graphics."
That statement is likely made up of equal parts heresy and truth. Brandon LeBlanc later rejected that claim on the official Windows 7 blog: "Unfortunately this came from a Microsoft employee who was not involved in any aspect of designing Windows 7. I hate to say this about one of our own, but his comments were inaccurate and uninformed."
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case Apple shouldn't flatter itself. LeBlanc points to some resources that have a more in-depth look at how Microsoft developed Windows 7 and the Windows 7 user interface such as Fast Company and an AP Story in the Washington Times.
The legions of Apple devotees and the general anti-Microsoft crowd are predictably foaming at the mouth over Aldous' statement. The pseudo-mea culpa vindicates what they have known for decades and gives them an entitled sense of 'I told you so'.
That debate though has always been more about the rivalry between Apple and Microsoft than any real concern about imitation (copying, borrowing, stealing) of features between operating systems. Both the IBM OS/2 and Commodore Amiga operating systems had 'Mac-like' graphical user interfaces as well. Both of those operating systems were also arguably superior to the Mac at the time, but they weren't from Microsoft so they didn't draw the fury of the Apple faithful.
Before we drive off too far into the woods with the debate about whether or not Microsoft attempted to mimic the Mac OS X interface in Windows 7, let's take a deeper look at where Apple got the 'inspiration' for Mac OS X.
When Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple he started a new venture called NeXT. One of the products of NeXT was the NeXTSTEP operating system--an object-oriented, graphic interface, multitasking operating system built on a foundation of BSD Unix. When Jobs rejoined Apple, Mac development had a sudden shift in direction and Mac OS X was essentially borne out of porting the NeXTSTEP operating system to work on an Intel CPU architecture and rebranding it with the Apple logo.
So, perhaps we should be debating whether or not Microsoft borrowed its interface design from NeXT? Not really though. Because here is the thing--its not 'copying'. It is the natural progression of innovation. It is not new to operating systems and it is certainly not unique to the Windows vs. Mac debate.
The root of portable music players is the Sony Walkman. Does that imply that Apple 'copied' Sony when it created the iPod? No. What Apple did was create and innovate a new device that is built on the combined foundation of what portable music devices have become as they have evolved from the Walkman. That is just the way the world works.
There is a difference between copying and adapting. The line is blurry and open to (very heated) debate, but its just the way business is done. It is the process of evolution adapted for technology. New traits are developed. The ones that fail fade away. The ones that work are incorporated into the DNA of subsequent generations. Over time it becomes difficult--and more than a little pointless--to engage in a debate about who copied who when.