September 17, 2011, 9:06 AM — It's still far too early in Windows 8's development cycle to pit the nascent OS against its fully-baked competition. But Apple's recently released OSX Lion offers up the most recent, competing view of what a PC operating system should look like in the age of the smartphone and tablet.
I like to think I'm platform agnostic: I game on a Windows desktop, I work on an Ubuntu desktop, and I recently picked up a MacBook Air to replace an aging Windows laptop--and to complete the set, to be honest.
Lion has been my first real taste of Apple's take on the desktop OS (I've owned iPads and iPod Touches), and I'm liking what I've seen: it's a decidedly modern OS, blending lessons they've learned from iOS into a form that makes sense when you've got a proper keyboard and pointing device available.
That said, my admittedly limited time with Windows 8 has been something of an eye-opener. There's still quite a bit of time before it'll see the light of day, but Microsoft's vision of the future of operating systems reflects their time in the mobile space, and the culture war they've arguably lost in light of Apple's meteoric rise in popularity.
So how do the two OSes compare?
Judging a Book by its Cover
Mac fans are legion, so I'm sure that there are plenty out there who are willing to explain why a brushed-steel wrapper on absolutely everything is the pinnacle of design. The uniformity bleeds down from the frame right onto the user interface, without much in the way of customization options--barring third-party utilities, of course. I'm not much of a stickler for this sort of thing (form over function, always), but I find Windows 8's colorful aesthetic so much more... well, pleasant.
"Bright" and "Inviting" aren't words I like to ascribe to operating systems, or any other tool. But they're apt here. Given the choice between Apple's staid minimalism and the lively interface Microsoft has whipped up, I'm going to go gravitate towards something that's a little lively.
Beauty Is Skin Deep
But looks aren't everything, and the Metro UI is going to be the biggest hurdle for onlookers to get over--whatever your platform of choice.
It's important to understand that Microsoft hasn't simply shoehorned a Desktop OS into a tablet product. They've created an operating system to address the sea change in technology we've witnessed over the last few years, and they're kind enough to bring archaic, touch-free platforms along for the ride.