Here's another small, but telling, issue with the basic applications from each company. While the Mac's Mail has been improved to work with Exchange Server 2007 out of the box, Windows Live Mail requires that the Exchange Server use the IMAP 4 protocol (rather than the native Exchange protocols) to delver mail. I’m not sure why this is so, but if you want to have Exchange functionality without buying additional software, then the Mac is the better answer. Go figure.
There are, of course, some additional apps and functions that are common to both operating systems. Each comes with its own browser, Internet Explorer 8 for Windows 7 and Safari 4 for Snow Leopard. Each is much improved over previous editions, and each is a modern, tabbed, fully functional Web browser. IE8 has far more add-in programs available than Safari 4. Whether you consider this a good or bad thing depends heavily on your philosophy of the Web browser. Me? I use Firefox as my principal browser on both platforms.
File sharing on local networks is relatively straightforward on both systems, with each even finding the other on its list of available computers. It’s worth noting that both the Mac and Windows 7 have file sharing and local network features that become much richer and easier to use if they’re part of a homogenous network -- if all the computers on the network are either Macs or Windows 7 machines. When traveling outside my local network I found Snow Leopard to be the easier system to use when finding and making connections to other networks. Windows 7 is much better than Vista at making wireless network connections, but it still wanted to put too many networks in the “unknown” category and hang on to public settings even after I came back to my office network. It’s much better than it was, but Snow Leopard still requires much less user involvement for most situations.
Backup is a critical area that Snow Leopard still wins outright. With Time Machine I plug in a USB hard drive and forget about it. Windows Backup is sufficient for most individual users, but it requires setup and isn’t nearly as simple as Time Machine. Since, for most users, setting up any backup routine is an issue of overcoming lethargy and complication, the Snow Leopard solution wins here.
Verdict: The basic applications from both Microsoft and Apple are far better than they were even two years ago, and you can’t beat the price. Although the system utilities for networking, file sharing, backups, and other tasks are largely equivalent on both platforms, the Mac's are typically simpler to use. The advantage here, while not huge, goes to Snow Leopard.