Vista vs. Leopard: Battle of the New Features

Leopard introduces lots of new apps and interface features to Mac OS X. How does Vista match up?

Let the Battle Begin!

Every time Apple rolls out a new big-cat-themed release of OS X, it manages to pack in a few interface features and useful apps that eventually make their way across the operating-system world. Now that Leopard is here, let's take a look through its key features and see how the built-in features in Windows Vista measure up.

Step Into the Time Machine

If you've followed Leopard coverage at all, you already know about Apple's slick new automatic backup feature called Time Machine. Attach another drive to your system, and you'll have the opportunity to designate it for Time Machine backups. Once that's set up, the OS will automatically back up changes to your files, and you can browse through them in this nifty 3D interface.

Go Back in Time With Shadow Copies

This is one area where Microsoft was ahead of the game. The Shadow Copies feature built into Vista saves previous versions of your files, so you can easily recover deleted files or roll back unintended edits with a simple right-click. Shadow Copies don't require a separate drive, so they don't qualify as full backups, but they are incredibly useful. Unfortunately, few people know about the feature because Microsoft includes it only with the Ultimate, Business, and Enterprise editions of Vista, and because its bare-bones interface doesn't emphasize the feature nearly as well as Time Machine's.

Safari and Web Clippings

Safari 3 has been in public beta for a while now, but with Leopard's release, Apple's Web browser officially gets some interesting new features. Its Web Clip function is particularly cool. Click the little scissors icon on the new Safari toolbar, and then mouse around the page until you've highlighted a box of text that you want to clip. The browser will send that segment of the page to the OS X Dashboard, where you can check in for updates at any time.

Easy Dashboard 'Apps'

Here's a simple Web clipping showing the latest posts on PC World blogs. Once you've added a clipping to Dashboard, you can access it using the keystroke or screen corner you've set up to activate Dashboard.

Firefox's Best Marketing Tool: IE 7

Back on the Windows side, Microsoft has made some nice progress with Internet Explorer 7, particularly in its handling of RSS feeds. Unfortunately, most security-conscious Web surfers moved on to Firefox and other browsers years ago and haven't looked back.

Gadgets and Sidebar

Widgets, Gadgets...whatever you call them, practically every OS now ships with a framework for tiny, low-impact desktop applets. Vista's are called Gadgets and come from the Windows Sidebar. Gadgets are easy to create, but they're not quite as simple as Leopard's Web clippings. Still, you can use IE 7 to subscribe to RSS feeds, which will then appear in the Feed Headlines gadget.

Leopard's Finder Takes a Cue From iTunes

Leopard wouldn't be much of a Mac OS update if Apple hadn't significantly altered Finder. The updated Finder includes the iTunes Cover Flow interface, which lets you scroll through thumbnails of your pictures, videos, documents, and folders. It's an interesting addition, but it could use some tweaking. Performance on older systems isn't exactly swift; and all folders use the same icon, regardless of the files inside them.

A Nice Take on Folders

While Vista's Explorer is hardly a model of uncluttered efficiency, it does contain some nice touches. Many files appear with helpful thumbnails for icons, and folders display little piles of thumbnails that offer a quick visual clue as to what's inside them.

Quick Look: Live Previews in Leopard

This close-up illustrates the power of Leopard's Quick Look, a universal file viewer that lets you see the contents of documents and videos without opening them. After finding a PDF document (shown here) in the Cover Flow interface, you could page through it by clicking the superimposed arrows.

Previews Through Small Apps

Preview a photo in Vista, and you get Windows Photo Gallery, a small application that lets you make quick edits to the file.

Automatic Listing of Shared Folders

Previous versions of OS X make you use the Go menu to connect to other PCs and Macs on your network that contain shared folders. Leopard finds them automatically and drops their icons in the Shared section of Finder's sidebar.

No More Network Neighborhood

The folksy name vanished in Vista's revised approach to exploring shared folders on your network, but networked PCs occupy a similar location on the sidebar of Windows Explorer. Typically, a Vista machine takes a while to search the network for nearby PCs.

Searching Leopard With Spotlight

Leopard doesn't introduce many changes to the Spotlight search feature in OS X. You can now use the Spotlight search box to make simple calculations, but the main improvement is speedy, well-categorized search results for files on your Mac.

Enhanced Searching in Vista

Vista focused on search integration as well. You can save searches, search from any Explorer window, and drill down through results easily. Still, even on well-equipped Windows machines, searches are rarely as fast as in Spotlight; and by default, results aren't segmented or organized as cleanly.

Stacks of Files

Here's a feature with no real Windows equivalent: Leopard's pretty new stacks feature lets you drag a folder or a group of files to the Dock for easy access. Click a stack icon, and the files fan out neatly if there are fewer than ten of them or pop into a small list menu if there are ten or more.

Too Many Apps for One Screen?

Leopard's Spaces feature can help you out if you'd like to arrange different apps on multiple virtual desktops. Used with some attention, it can serve as a nice way to reduce clutter.

XP's Multiple Desktop PowerToy

Vista doesn't include a built-in multiple-desktop manager, though plenty of free ones are available for Windows. For XP, Microsoft built a PowerToy that let users manage four virtual desktops. Microsoft hasn't yet released anything similar for Vista.

Task Switching the Mac Way

Our final comparison involves looking back at a classic OS X feature, Expose. Press a hot-key or wing your mouse pointer to a screen corner to bring up this thumbnail view of all of your open applications. Then click the one you want to bring to the front.

Vista's Flip 3D

Microsoft's Flip 3D takes a different approach to task switching, arranging application thumbnails in 3D so you can flip through them.

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