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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: Web Browsing

Neither of the stock browsers are ones this writer uses on a daily basis, with that duty instead falling to Google Chrome.

Windows 8 hedges its bets though by having not one but two versions of Internet Explorer 10. The siblings are honed for the two different desktops, with the Modern UI version sporting a touch-friendly interface, replete with big buttons, and the other behaving more like the IE from Windows 7.

IE10 Modern UI Windows 8

One huge difference is the address bar is in the 'wrong' place at the bottom of the page in the Modern UI version (curse you, muscle memory). It’s true that this gives the whole screen over to the webpage, but it really does feel like a design choice that puts form above function as we constantly found ourselves reaching up only to find nowhere to enter a URL. Sticking with the 'hidden' theme, tabs and bookmarks are tucked away so you have to work to get to them.

In use, IE10 is zippy enough on both versions, but the over complication of the menu makes the Modern UI version one to avoid. The desktop edition, though, is solid, offers far more functionality, and gets the job done without any fuss.

IE 10 Windows 8 Desktop

Apple’s Safari browser is a conventional design more in line with the IE10 desktop edition. It finally has the address bar unified with the search function, bookmarks are available in drop-down menus that you can order any way you like, and the load times are slightly quicker than IE10, although not by much.

The dull overuse of grey in the menu bars isn’t pleasant to look at and the fact that tabs display only the name of a page and not the icon means it can get quite difficult to tell them apart if you work with lots of them open at the same time.

iCloud integration is a nice addition: open tabs are synchronised across other Macs and iDevices, making it easy to carry on reading the same page as you move between iPhone, iPad and Mac.

Safari tabs

Flash needs to be downloaded to use sites such as iPlayer which still rely on it, but this is a minor quibble.  

Window 8 vs Mac OS X: Sharing files over a network

HomeGroup is a simple way to set up sharing on a home network so that Windows machines can talk to each other and allow users to share a variety of files and attached devices such as printers.

Once a HomeGroup is set up, any other Windows 8, 7 or Vista machine can join it by entering the HomeGroup password. It’s an easy and effective solution which doesn’t require any knowledge of IP addresses, subnet masks and other parameters that normal people shouldn't have to bother with.

Using a HomeGroup you can keep data on one computer and allow others access to it. In wider area networks you can use the Shared folder option in SkyDrive to transfer files to PCs, Macs, or mobile devices.

Mountain Lion Airdrop

Apple has a similar function with File Sharing, that allows you to specify which folders or files are available to share with other computers on the network. It also has a Mac-specific feature called AirDrop with which you can send files directly to another user as long as they have the app running. It takes seconds to get up and running and creates an encrypted, peer-to-peer connection between the two computers over which files can be sent securely. It really is very easy to use and in our tests was much quicker than email.

Window 8 vs Mac OS X: Security

One stick that Mac users like to use to beat Windows adherents is the absence of viruses on OS X. Of course, they have a point, and it isn't simply the "security through obscurity" argument, although that's part of the equation. Hackers want your money and the easiest way to get it is by targeting the most popular operating system: Windows.

OS X uses a Unix-based file system and kernel which is harder to infect with a virus. It isn't invulnerable but you're a lot less likely to encounter a virus on a Mac than a PC.  

There have been a few public attacks on Macs in recent years, so Apple now includes Gatekeeper as an anti-malware protection feature in Mountain Lion. This works on the basis that developers are issued unique IDs which they use to sign their apps. If you download software outside the App Store, Gatekeeper will scan for the ID and warn you if the application doesn’t contain a valid signature.

Microsoft has improved many of the security features previously offered through Security Essentials, making the new OS the most secure version of Windows yet. SmartScreen affords a good level of protection against malware by using a process which examines software before installing it and gives warnings if it finds any inconsistencies. Windows Defender also fights off any incoming viruses, and the new UEFI secure boot that replaces the traditional BIOS should prove a hard nut to crack for bootloaders and rootkits.

Next page: Window 8 vs Mac OS X - Conclusion

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