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Windows 8 vs OS X Mountain Lion: which is the better operating system?

We pit the latest OS from Microsoft against Apple's

Window 8 vs Mac OS X: Email

One of the first things you typically set up when moving to a new computer is email. Both Windows 8 and OS X ask you to create IDs during setup to enable the operating systems to automatically configure their relevant applications.

This doesn’t tie you to an Microsoft or Apple email account, as both systems freely allow you to also use Gmail, Yahoo or whatever provider you like, but it does give you access to the other parts of the wider eco-system. One noticeable exception to the 'other providers' rule is that the Mail app on Windows doesn’t support POP3 accounts. To be fair there aren't many services that remain solely on this format, but if yours does then Windows 8's Mail app won't be much use.

In use, the two Mail apps are very different beasts. The OS X version is powerful and offers functions such as Smart Mailboxes, which filter contents by specific parameters set by the user. You can also mark different email addresses as VIPs, so they are separated from the general pack and more easily seen in the sea of email.

The various menus offer a high degree of control over the behaviour of your mail, and the unified inbox seamlessly draws together all of your correspondence from various accounts.

OS X Email

Conversation threads are grouped together neatly, text is cleverly examined so that events mentioned in mails can immediately be added to your calendar ("lunch at 12pm tomorrow" for example), and contacts can be added in a similar fashion.

The design of the app itself is a little bland and industrial looking, with barely any colour at all and a blockish, three-column layout. It can make the whole environment feel pretty stark as it essentially becomes a sea of grey, with even the icons eschewing decoration.

By contrast the Windows 8 Mail app is quite pretty. There still isn’t much in the way of colour, but the lack of too many hard lines gives the app a softer, more elegant visage very much in keeping with several of the other Windows 8 apps.

Mail app Windows 8

Unfortunately, looks are virtually all that's going for Mail because it certainly doesn’t have the brains to go with it. For sending and receiving emails it functions perfectly well, but if you want to create groups, filter messages by flagging, have a unified inbox for all your accounts, or anything remotely intelligent then you’ll be frustrated as none of this is possible.

Mail even struggles with images, failing to download them automatically even when you select that option in the settings. This is ironic as it’s one of the few settings in the options, and you can't view a large version of the thumbnail unless you save it to the hard disk and access it from the Photo app.

Attempting to use the Open With option only increases the sense of futility as it still appears broken after other Windows 8 updates. We wonder if this basic approach is a ploy by Microsoft to steer users to its online Outlook.com service, which is excellent, powerful, and far more like the classic Outlook experience that many people expect from Microsoft Mail.

Win 8 Mail image problem

Window 8 vs Mac OS X: Photos

Windows 8

If there’s one situation when a full screen application makes the most sense then it's when photographs are involved. The Windows 8 Photo app takes advantage of this with an image-heavy layout that sucks in pictures from your hard disk alongside (if you give permission) Facebook, Flickr, SkyDrive, OneNote, or your mobile phone if it has the SkyDrive app installed.

The 'collections' are laid out in a strip format by album and you can change the dominating background image to one of your choosing. Navigating this app is very easy with a touchscreen, as it feels and behaves for the most part like a tablet app. You can also share images with friends, but this is an email (or SkyDrive) only affair unless you link your contacts to Facebook or Twitter, which can make them somewhat unwieldy if you have a lot of online friends.

Win 8 Photos app

Sadly there are no editing functions at all within Photos, as it's purely a viewer. To alter the images you’ll need to launch the Desktop, find the image in File Explorer, then click Edit in the new 'ribbon' at the top.

This will launch Paint, a desktop application as ill-suited to editing photos as chocolate is for making teapots. Paint remains pretty much the same as it did in Windows 95, with very basic tools that are barely any use for enhancing photos. It’s all a far cry from even the simplest photo-editing apps available from most smartphones these days. It's a missed opportunity but if all you want to do is look at your pictures Photo is a fine way to do it.

OS X

In Mountain Lion, the Preview app is the default viewer for JPG files (among others) and includes some powerful editing tools to adjust colour, size, rotation and also lets you annotate images, check EXIF data and make contact sheets.

One of the standout features of OS X has always been the iLife suite of apps that comes with every Mac. iTunes will be familiar to most Windows users; Garageband is an excellent audio recording studio; iPhoto is Apple’s photo management and editing program.

iPhoto is a great app that sorts your various pictures into date order and allows you to apply a decent level of effects and corrections to your images. You can retouch blemishes, crop, straighten, fix red-eye, use a combination of filters, and even delve into the histogram to adjust exposure levels and a good deal more. It doesn’t allow advanced Photoshop-style manipulation such as layers, but for the majority of users there is more here than you’ll ever need and certainly a world away from the Windows poor offering.  

iPhoto

Next page: Window 8 vs Mac OS X - Contacts, Videos, Music, Games

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