Apple's latest operating system update, Mac OS X Snow Leopard, should be ready to roll on August 28. While Apple says the new OS is "refined, not reinvented," it'll become the de facto competitor to Microsoft Windows 7 come October. Which one is likely to get the best of the skirmish?
We love a good argument, so here are five innovations for each OS being touted by their respective makers.
Mac OS X Snow Leopard
Exposé Interactivity: The feature that shows all windows together is no longer a simple means for switching among them. It will be possible to drag content from one previewed window to the other. Exposé will also work for individual applications by clicking and holding their icons in the dock. As a workaround for the minuscule preview windows in the dock, these improvements aren't bad.
Smart Services: Control-clickers will delight in new context-sensitive menus that appear when you perform the Windows-equivalent of a right click. For instance, highlighting and control-clicking text in a web browser lets you send the text to an email or import it to iTunes as a spoken word track.
Smaller Install: Upgrade to Snow Leopard, and you'll get 7GB of your hard drive back. That's not a feature per se, but it's certainly an innovation. The last thing we want is an operating system that's continually gaining weight.
VoiceOver: Though it won't be used by the majority of Mac owners, VoiceOver is arguably the most expansive addition to OSX. This tool for visually-impaired users essentially turns the trackpad into a screen reader, supporting special gestures to switch between windows and audio feedback when clicking.
Chinese Character Input: Okay, most of us won't use this feature either, but it's still pretty cool. After opening an input window, users can draw sketch Chinese characters on their trackpads and then select from a list of possibilities. It's as good a reason as any to start learning.
Invisible Windows: The answer, of sorts, to OS X's Exposé lets users turn all open windows into bare outlines by moving the mouse to the screen's bottom right corner. From there, shaking a window makes all others minimise, and shaking it again brings them back up. A related window-management feature lets you quickly size windows to half the screen, allowing for side-by-side comparisons.
Jump Lists: It's no longer necessary to hunt through a folder of recent documents to pick up work where you left off. By right-clicking icons Windows 7's new dock (a feature cribbed from OS X), users can jump to recent documents or perform common tasks, such as resuming an old playlist in Windows Media Player.
Internet Access to Home Media: Got two computers, or a friend who wants to look at photos from your last get-together? Clicking a button within Windows Media Player opens up photos, videos, and music for streaming to other PCs. No party will ever be safe again from your weird musical tastes.
Touch Friendly: Should the touchscreen craze finally take off, Windows 7 will be ready with a mode that's tailor-made for tablets. Start menu and taskbar icons are larger, and Web browsing can be done with a finger. Multitouch is also supported, with pinch and twist gestures for zooming and rotating.
HomeGroup: Sharing content between networked computers is nothing new, but Windows 7 makes it easier with HomeGroup. The feature lets any new computer joining your home network link up to existing ones, allowing for file transfers. Printers are also shared automatically, so no one has to be kicked off the master computer to print a document.