IT Pro is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Head to Head: Mac OS X 10.7 Lion vs Windows 7

The eternal question: which is better, Windows or Mac OS? With the release of a new Mac OS, 10.7 Lion, David Ludlow takes another look at this age-old debate.

Backwards Compatibility

Microsoft has the clear upper-hand in terms of backwards compatibility for applications and has done so for a long time. In part, this is because it's evolved each version of Windows from compatible code and has had the safety of using the same hardware instruction set for years. As a OS that has traditionally been used in business, Microsoft knows the value of making sure that old software continues to run on its new operating system.

...and you'll never see Rosetta, or your PowerPC applications again, if you upgrade from Snow Leopard to Lion.

...and you'll never see Rosetta, or your PowerPC applications again, if you upgrade from Snow Leopard to Lion.

Many applications will simply run on Windows 7 in the same way they did previous versions of Windows. However, if that's not the case Windows 7, as with older versions of the operating system, has Compatibility settings that can be applied to any installed application. This lets you fool an application into thinking it's being run on an older version of Windows, down to Windows XP. It can even be used to reduce the number of screen colours, lower the screen resolution and disable advanced desktop animations and graphics.

Should any of these settings fail, Windows 7 has a trick up its sleeve with Windows XP Mode. This feature of Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise or Ultimate creates a special XP virtual machine that's pre-configured. The clever part about it is that any software installed in the virtual machine is automatically made available via the Windows 7 Start Menu. It's a simple and effective way for companies to upgrade and ensure that their old software will continue to work.

Unfortunately, backwards compatibility wasn't high on Apple's list for OS X Lion. In fairness to the company, in the last 10 years it has moved its OS codebase and switched from PowerPC to x86 processors, complicating the matter. Still, with Lion Apple isn't helping and has removed support for Rosetta, which allowed PowerPC apps to run on Intel hardware. Even more annoyingly, it did so silently without making any announcements informing existing OS X users who may still use many PowerPC programs which can't be upgraded for a variety of reasons.

For home users, this isn't likely to be much of an issue and there are bound to be new versions or replacements to old apps available. At work, it's a different situation, particularly if your company is relying on a bit of bespoke software. Unless you're willing to get this replaced or rewritten, upgrading to Lion will completely break any software that was written for PowerPC.

Virtualisation isn't necessarily going to help, either. While Apple changed the license agreement to allow virtual instances of Lion to be run, the same doesn't apply for Snow Leopard. Snow Leopard Server can be virtualised, but this is an extra step that will require a license upgrade for every computer.

The difficulty with Apple's decision is that new hardware will come pre-installed with Lion and can't be downgraded. If your business relies on older Mac hardware and software, moving to Lion could be a step too far.

So what's our verdict?

Verdict

It's very hard to pick a winner from the two operating systems, as both have their strengths and weaknesses. Apple's OS X is generally a bit easier to use, particularly on a desktop, but its support for multiple monitors and backwards compatibility is inelegant and clunky at best. OS X Lion is cheaper than Windows 7 per license, but Apple's hardware is more expensive. For that reason, Windows computers are generally a bit cheaper to buy. If you've got users that just need email, word processing and web browsing, Windows 7 computers are probably the best bet: they'll be cheaper, and the domain integration makes them easier to lock down. If you've got Mac-specific applications, OS X Lion is a great operating system, but make sure you get a Lion server on the network to help lock the machines down.

WINDOWS 7 Processor: 1GHz or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor RAM: 1GB (32-bit) or 2GB (64-bit) Hard disk space: 16GB available (32-bit) or 20GB (64-bit) Graphics card: DirectX 9 compatible with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver BitLocker requires Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 1.2 Windows XP Mode requires an additional 1 GB of RAM and an additional 15 GB of available hard disk space. MAC OS X LION 10.7 Mac computer with an Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 or Xeon processor RAM: 2GB minimum Operating system: Mac OS X v10.6.6 or later (v10.6.8 recommended) Hard disk space: 7GB available

Featured Resources

What 2023 will mean for the industry

What do most IT decision makers really think will be the important trends and challenges in the coming year?

Free Download

2022 Magic quadrant for Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)

SIEM is evolving into a security platform with multiple features and deployment models

Free Download

IDC MarketScape: Worldwide unified endpoint management services

2022 vendor assessment

Free Download

Magic quadrant for application performance monitoring and observability

Enabling continuous updating of diverse & dynamic application environments

View Now

Recommended

The three keys to successful AI and ML outcomes
Whitepaper

The three keys to successful AI and ML outcomes

26 Jan 2023
How to speed up Windows 10
Microsoft Windows

How to speed up Windows 10

19 Dec 2022
How to virtualise Windows 7 inside Windows 10
Microsoft Windows

How to virtualise Windows 7 inside Windows 10

16 Dec 2022
How to recover deleted emails in Outlook
email providers

How to recover deleted emails in Outlook

25 Nov 2022

Most Popular

Dutch hacker steals data from virtually entire population of Austria
data breaches

Dutch hacker steals data from virtually entire population of Austria

26 Jan 2023
GTA V vulnerability exposes PC users to partial remote code execution attacks
vulnerability

GTA V vulnerability exposes PC users to partial remote code execution attacks

23 Jan 2023
European partners expect growth this year, here are three ways they will achieve it
Sponsored

European partners expect growth this year, here are three ways they will achieve it

17 Jan 2023