A Mac user looks at the Windows 7 UI

While there are a few improvements, not much has changed

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A caveat: Windows 7 is in beta stage, so it's not complete. Who knows what Microsoft will change before it ships sometime in the next year?

Where Mac OS X beats the Windows 7 UI

Finder toolbar and search: Known for delighting its users, Mac OS X offers extras that you grow to love the more you use them. Take the Finder toolbar, which you can customize to burn contents to disc, for example, or to get a quick look at an item's contents. File search in Mac OS X is much more sophisticated and easier to use than it is in Windows, allowing you to search and sort by practically any criteria in a simple window UI. Windows 7, for its part, offers very limited per-search controls; you can use them only before you start a search. By comparison, you can easily add and refine search criteria at any time on the Mac, refining your results live as you do so. Plus, Mac OS X's special folder views -- columns and the CoverFlow image browser pioneered in iTunes -- make it much easier to navigate large file stores and image sets, respectively.

[See what has changed in Windows 7 with InfoWorld's performance tests, comparison to Vista and video tutorial. | Can your PC run Windows 7? Find out with the Windows Sentinel compatibility checker.]

Default desktop configuration: Microsoft clearly loves the blank slate, leaving its default desktop configuration for Windows clear except for the Recycle Bin. That's another reason I prefer the Mac: My hard drive is always in the Finder, giving me quick access when I need it. Sure, you can create an alias on the Windows desktop, but why require that step or the need to go through several mouse clicks in the Start menu? People access their files and folders frequently, so why bury them? Take a tip from XP and give your users the choice of removing default items on the desktop rather than burying them from the get-go, a philosophy Windows 7 carries over from Vista, unfortunately.

Control panels: Like Vista, Windows 7 insists on putting controls every which way. Say you right-click the desktop to change display settings. In XP, you get the settings in one window, with tabs to switch among them (the Mac has two system preferences, each with tabs, to switch between). In Windows 7, you get a window that has three sets of option lists, many of which open their own window. Soon your screen is littered with windows, each of which does one small piece of the customization task you wanted.

And I still wish Microsoft would get rid of its "friendly" view of control panels, which ask you to guess what Microsoft was thinking in terms of how it grouped its panels. Even if you know where each control panel could be found, the approach adds a second step to get to them. (As with Vista, you can switch to XP's more sensible "Classic" view.)

By contrast, the Mac system preference layout is better designed. It's easier to move among the panels, thanks to navigation controls and a menu that shows all available preference panels for quick access. Hardware-dependent feature display: Speaking of control panels and system preferences, Windows 7 includes BitLocker encryption capabilities that you set up with a control panel, but only after you turn on this feature will Windows tell you that your PC doesn't have the required TPM module. I much prefer Apple's approach: System preferences that are hardware-dependent appear only if that hardware is installed, and system preferences typically don't show options your Mac doesn't support.

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