Monday, July 7, 2008

Mac or PC Part 3a: Operating System - Perks

Welcome to the third installment of the Mac or PC mini-series: Operating System - Perks. I call this section "perks" because it is really an explanation of the features of each operating system that are unique to it. I don't want to talk about the things that each operating system does that the other does just as well like mail applications or iTunes. You will notice, however, that I will focus on certain things that, although both can do, one does better. I want to explore the perks of each operating system as extensively as possible so we will do Vista today and Leopard tomorrow. So let's get started.

Aero: this is the sleek new GUI (graphics user interface) that is a part of the new PC user experience. I briefly mentioned this new feature in my last post but it is certainly of note here. Really, Aero by itself is too broad. Lets narrow it down by the features of the new GUI:
  1. Glass: This is what makes the whole environment look glossy and transparent. You can even customize the colors of your windows to give it the look and feel you prefer the most. The transparency of the windows can be increased so that the windows are practically see-through. Look at the picture to the right and notice that the borders surrounding each of the windwos are practically transparant. This gives Vista a very sophisticated look.
  2. High dpi: Vista comes with greaters dpi (dots per inch) power. Basically, the resolution is better using Vista than in any previous version of Windows.
  3. Live Thumbnails: This is nifty little feature that allows you to see what a minimized window is simply by putting the cursor over the top of it. It expands an image of the window so you can figure out if that is the one you really wanted to open. See the picture on the Right.
  4. Windows Flip and Flip 3-D: Windows Flip by itself is not a new or unique feature. The 3-D version is though. Flip allows you to select between windows on your desktop by pressing alt+tab. A selecter opens up that allows you to tab through to find the window you want. Flip 3-D does the same thing, only it actually arranges the windows in a 3-D fashion and allows you to pick one. I like this feature and it definitely adds to the user experience of Vista.
I have to be fair here. While these features are really nice, they make Vista an extremely heavy operating system. The idea behind Vista, according to Microsoft, was to make it easier to focus on content rather than the environment. Well, I guess I'm not sure if they accomplished that by focusing on the environment and loading it down with features. A lot of Vista users, myself included, agree that Vista is too heavy for its own good. Which is actually why, in the windows family, I prefer the XP diet. Vista users would be interested in the ReadyBoost feature (see below) that offsets this rather significant disadvantage.

Office Apps: I personally feel that Microsoft Office 2007 is the most innovative package of office applications available. The "ribbon" idea is extremely easy to use. The buttons on the ribbon make it very easy to get what you want in a document, spreadsheet, or database. I will admit that it does require the user to learn the nuances, however, once learned, Office 2007 is a powerful office suite. I really like it. To make a direct comparison with Office 2008 for Mac, the PC version is much more powerful. I am not sure if this is because Microsoft does not want to make an "as-awesome" version of Office for Mac or if Mac users don't think that the PC style is "as-awesome" as the Mac style. Basically, I hate that Office Mac uses a toolbox which is far inferior to the ribbon on Office PC. Either way, because I personally dislike Office 2008 for Mac I virtualize Office 2007 for PC on my Mac. I included two screenshots so you can see the ribbon in 2007 and the toolbox in 2008.

ReadyBoost: This feature compensates for some of the heavier aspects of Vista, specifically those memory taxing aspects of Vista. ReadyBoost is probably one of the coolest features I have seen on a PC in a long time. Basically, it allows you to use a thumb drive as memory. It works by sending any overflow from the system memory to a cache on the thumb drive. When you initially plug in a thumb drive into your computer, Vista will recognize it and ask you what you want to do with it (i.e. open it, play the music on it, play a video, etc.). You will also be asked if you want the drive as your ReadyBoost drive. If it doesn't ask you that, go to My Computer, right click and select properties, click the ready boost tab and set up the drive that way. You can allot up to half of the drives capacity (i.e. 2 gb for a 4 gb stick, 4 for an 8, etc) up to 4gb total. I just happen to have tried it on both the 2 gb and 4gb setting (I have a 4gb and 8gb stick) and the 4gb was almost superfluous. Using 1gb of system memory I ran an operation that took around 15 seconds (eons - it felt like). Adding ReadyBoost with 2gb extra memory, the same operating took 2.5 seconds. Using 4gb of memory it took around 2 seconds. So it works and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. There is a claimed disadvantage to this feature pointing to the fact that flash memory can only carry out a finite number of "writes" and that eventually your drive will be worn out. This is true, but it will take around 10 years for most drives.

That does it for Vista, stay tuned tomorrow for the post on Leopard.

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