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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: Conclusion

We knew from the outset that Windows 8 would be in for a rough time with this test. Microsoft has taken on the problems of a major update to the underlying engine of an OS while at the same time implementing a radical overhaul of the UI. Both usually bring their own unique challenges but the combination of the two is a formidable task.

It was also facing a version of OS X that has, in typical Apple style, built incrementally on the lessons learnt from previous version, with nips and tucks here and there to subtly improve the experience.

The approaches to the two designs also tell their own story about the companies themselves. Apple had many years of playing second fiddle to Microsoft (in OS market share, and this still very much remains the case) and so developed a mentality where it would be less reliant on third parties for hardware or software.

As primarily a hardware company it needs to offer a complete user experience if it wants to sell you the expensive machines that adorn its high street stores. This means that, out of the box, a Mac comes with pretty much everything an average user needs, and some fun extras thrown in such as Garageband which can be used to create your own music.

Apple’s well-worn mantra of ‘it just works’ is borne out to be true in most cases with a solid OS that interacts smoothly with the various extra applications that are included. Entering this land of plenty though comes at a cost, with the starting point being £500 for a desktop machine that doesn’t even arrive with a monitor or keyboard, and laptops starting at £849.

Also, to take advantage of the advanced features such as AirDrop and iCloud you need at least one other Apple device. If you’re willing to make this commitment to a single supplier then the overall experience and interoperability of Mountain Lion is an excellent platform that feels mature and highly polished.

Microsoft’s new direction still feels like it’s in the development stage, with the Modern UI applications lacking functionality and - at times - even common sense. The traditional desktop is where most people have pitched their tents, with those that run Windows 8 at PC Advisor barely ever seeing the new Start Screen, but it's an uncomfortable compromise.

Whereas Mountain Lion offers you applications that work together to help you achieve your goals, Windows 8 is a little like two sides of a personality at war with itself, with the two versions of IE10 being a prime example.

Without additional software the OS is neutered and incapable of even some basic tasks like removing red-eye from photos. The worst thing is that it all seems so unnecessary. Under the frilly curtains of the Modern UI beats the heart of a powerful and well-designed engine, one that - if freed from the touch-obsessed overlay - would be, we think, the best version of Windows we’ve ever encountered.
Windows 8 is fast and stable, which in many ways are the things you most want from an OS. But the cost in user experience that the Modern UI demands, in terms of relearning how to use Windows, isn't worth the hassle when you consider the benefits (and that's with a touchscreen).

The Windows Store is bereft of quality apps, Microsoft's own applications are pretty but dumb, and only the Music app really looks like something that’s actually finished. Should this paucity of riches be the reason to hobble a whole desktop OS just so that tablets and phones look the same? We don’t think so.

Of course, once you move beyond the confines of the out-of-box experience you can tailor Windows to be almost anything you want with the superb range of third party options, which has always been one of the great freedoms of the OS. The problem is that for a Windows 8 machine to be truly usable you almost have to.

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