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OS Showdown: Will 8 Be Great? Will Mountain Lion Roar?

OS Showdown: Will 8 Be Great? Will Mountain Lion Roar?

Both Apple and Microsoft have previewed operating systems they plan to release later this year. Windows 8 will be a major revamp of Redmond's OS, designed to run on PCs and tablets alike. OS X Mountain Lion will be limited to desktops and laptops and will likely be a more conservative upgrade.

By Richard Adhikari MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
03/02/12 5:00 AM PT

Later in 2012, we'll see the arrival of two major operating systems: Microsoft Windows 8, a preview of which was offered to the general public earlier this week, and Apple's OS X Mountain Lion.

Are we lining up for a major OS showdown? Or are we not (hem!) comparing apples to apples?

Windows 8 will run on desktops, laptops, tablets and everything in between, while Mountain Lion, despite its incorporation of some features from mobile iOS, is restricted to desktops and laptops.

Microsoft's already touting Windows 8's security. For Mountain Lion there's Gatekeeper, a buffer that, if set to do so by the user, prevents the computer from installing apps that didn't come from Apple's official Mac App Store.

Microsoft is throwing Windows 8 open to developers, while there are fears that Mountain Lion is the leading edge of a move by Apple to further wall off its platform and that, in future releases, device drivers might also be required to be created by certified Apple devs.

"We may be looking at a difference in ambition between the two companies," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told MacNewsWorld." Microsoft "obviously regards Windows 8 as a sophisticated tool that can be used across multiple devices and form factors, and a solution that can unite multiple end user experiences. OS X ML (Mountain Lion), on the other hand, is simply one of an ongoing series of incremental Apple upgrade with a few iOS bells & whistles."

Apple "is building a really great buggy while Microsoft is building an early car," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, said. "Ironically, Apple is better positioned to build a better car and Microsoft to build a better buggy."

Two of a Kind - More or Less

Windows 8 and Mountain Lion are both similar in that they incorporate features from their respective mobile platforms.

Apple added greater levels of integration with various iOS applications, while Microsoft has the Windows Store, which offers apps for Windows 8. Both platforms sync with the cloud, offering storage of files, documents, photos and settings.

Both platforms will offer shared apps. Windows 8 apps will run on mobile devices and desktops, while Mountain Lion will offer desktop versions of some iOS apps. Touch is a big part of the mobile device world, and the Windows 8 Metro interface was designed for touch-enabled devices, while Apple keeps adding multitouch support to more and more of its apps.

Who's Gonna Win and Lose?

Both Windows 8 and Mountain Lion are in their preview stages, and it's not yet clear how consumers will take to either OS.

While Microsoft is making a "huge bet" with Windows 8, Apple is "taking a far more conservative path" with OS X, Enderle told MacNewsWorld. Microsoft is giving Windows 8 "far more support than normal" while Apple "has lost its top spokesman so is massively less able to position its product successfully than it once was."

That conservative approach means Apple "won't be able to leverage the strength of the iPad and iPhone as aggressively [as it should]," Enderle surmised. On the other hand, "Microsoft's approach puts them at greater risk of being connected strongly to Windows Phone 7.x, which has not performed well in the market."

However, Apple's comparatively conservative strategy with Mountain Lion "is possibly a wise move as it may have little negative effect on the platform and, in fact, could help it grow," Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, told MacNewsWorld.

Gatekeeper, perhaps Mountain Lion's most controversial feature, is capable of barring apps from sources other than the Apple Store. However, it's optional, Miller pointed out. He dismissed criticism of the feature as "merely fear-mongering."

The industry is in transition, with more and more work being done on handheld devices, so "new operating systems are not likely to have the same impact as before," Dan Kusnetzky, founder of the Kusnetzky Group, told MacNewsWorld.

Further, each OS has its own entrenched market, by and large. "For the most part, Mac is where people go if they don't like Microsoft, its business practices, its pricing or its products," Kusnetzky pointed out. "Windows 8 isn't likely to change that dynamic."

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