[PC Tips and Tricks] Clash of the Titans: Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks vs Windows 8.1

I'm aware about two elephants in the room with the title of this post. First, the wording. Cliché, I realize that. Also, both the operating systems listed aren't actually released to the general public yet (sigh). Thing is though, both of these products represent the next step forward for Apple and Microsoft; the next "big deal" or the "improvement edition." What's the deal? Who's got what, and what are each of these bringing to the Mac and Windows table. What's better?[yeah yeah, calm down all you fanboys!] What's the same, and what'll it mean for the companies once they're released. Read on to find out! Flexes scroll-wheel finger...

New Stuff in Windows 8.1

Let's start with our friend from Redmond. I'm just going over what Microsoft has stuffed into their latest iteration of their touch friendly OS for...well...pretty much any form-factor device you can think of. Named a rather unfriendly "8.1" (I reckon Windows 8 SP1 would have been fine, seeing as its free [cheer of approval Steve Ballmer!]) this edition of Microsoft Windows isn't an update to the OS in the way Vista to 7, or 7 to 8 was. Instead it's more in line with Microsoft's rapid-fire release schedule, where the devs have to sweat it out pounding their code through approval to deliver something (preferably something working) every single year. Suckers for punishment perhaps? Anyway, the build was previewed at the flashy //BUILD conference [remember that's where 8 was announced] and in similar manner as with its predecessor, 8.1 was released early as a tester- "Preview" and is actually available for download at Microsoft's site if you're keen [most of it is, apparently, still breaking so hold your horses for now.]

Here's what we know Microsoft has done with the OS:

  • A START BUTTON! Yes, Windows 8.1 has one, see?! Sorry to burst your bubble though, when you click it you'll get the Start Screen or the Apps list. Unlucky.
    Win8.1 start button (c) TechRadar
  • Roar from the Windows 7 crowd: 8.1 allows you to boot straight to desktop, ripping away the Metro Start screen.
  • Hated the single-pic job on the Win8 lockscreen? Microsoft has put a pic slideshow feature for the lockscreen into 8.1.
  • Hell you could make nasty colour combinations for the Metro 8 start screen. Now, you can do so even more, with more colour and personalization options on the Metro Start screen in 8.1. What is kinda cool is having your desktop wallpaper as Start Menu background. Good job Microsoft.
  • The Start menu tiles, that everyone called "Windows Phone on a bigger screen" have been tweaked for 8.1. Extra tile size options, tile moving is enhanced, and better grouping options. Jeez, it sounds like a CTM sale here!
  • Look at all those colors--urgh, focus on the tiles and not the pattern..
  • "I need a hero!!"...well in Win8.1 you have it, 'cause that's what the Search interface is called. (Hero, in case you weren't with it yet) Apparently it's excellent, similar to Google's content search, and aggregates a search term to your PC files, the 'Net, and any online services you've got installed.
  • If you've used Windows 8 for any amount of time you'll know there are things missing from the built-in People, Mail, Calendar etc. apps. Microsoft obviously reckoned so too because they've run through the code with a fine-toothed comb and squashed some bugs and added new features. The ability to edit photos from the...Photos app, for example. Sound as obvious to you as it does to me? Yeah, I know. Luckily, this "doh" feature missing from 8 has been added in 8.1.
  • Who on earth thought 70-30 screen-snapping was a good idea? Like seriously. Why should Win8 only let you snap one app TINY, and the other app across 70% of your screen? Thankfully the 8.1 update lets you snap away 50-50, and 70-30, so at least no more frustration-aneurysms for users.
  • The Metro style PC Settings suck on Windows 8. 8.1 fixes that. That's pretty much all there is to it.
This is by no means a full list of the stuff changed in Windows 8.1. I'm downloading a copy now, and will report back on what's new soon. Anyhow, onward to Cupertino.

New Stuff in Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks

I've yet to decide whether it should be "OS X Mavericks", "Mac 10.9 Mavericks" or something, but the whole name seems clumsy. Semantics aside, Apple has bow-tied "200 new enhancements" to their latest release of the desktop OS. Apple's own WWDC was where the evolution of the desktop product was announced. Before I emphasize the desktop too much, Apple has apparently gone all-out trying to squash OS X and iOS together, only time will tell whether it's a winning combination. As Mavericks is only available to Apple dev programmes, and will be a paid product when it hits primetime, we'll go with what we've been told by Cupertino itself and the proper journos for now. Mavericks, unlike Windows 8.1 apparently, is a platform update (that's significant, in case you were wondering) so lets take a look at what's cooking in the first non-cat named OS X release in awhile:

  • On its predecessor Mountain Lion, multi-monitor support was ...sketchy to say the least. That's been tweaked in Mavericks, thankfully. Apple TV desktop streaming is apparently also much improved from the big cat version.
  • Apple haven't been caught napping...or maybe they have? "App Nap" is what they call the app memory optimization system, along with CPU optimization for the more mobile MacBook brethren, allowing for better battery life and better performance throughout.
  • If you've used the Apple Finder--wait, dumb statement, that's pretty much the only way to get to anything you want in OS X, so you HAVE used it. As I was saying, Finder can be infuriating when you need to get to more than one place, and keep those places open. Safari-style tabs let you have multiple locations open in one Finder window. Sweet!
  • iOS ahoy! Big Daddy Cook (or whoever in R&D actually) ported Maps and iBooks from Apple's mobile OS to the desktop variant. About time, because before Mavericks, it was annoying to have to buy books from your OS X device, then have to have another iOS device to read the darn thing. Luckily, now reading and syncing is possible. Woot!
  • Last year's big cat release gave OS X a notification panel. Mavericks puts it on steriods, letting you do and see much more from the notification tray.
  • Safari has been given a Chrome-like tweak with top sites shown on the home screen. Not bad.
  • Apple's Keychain system is downright cool. It remembers all your passwords, credit card info, and generates AES-256bit secure codes on demand. Plus it syncs across all your iStuff. If your iCloud account gets hackedm you ask? Yeah, about that.
Like the Windows release, there's much more to the ...uh...most unorthodox OS X to date, but it's mainly under wraps due to the release restrictions. 

How This All Stacks Up

Windows 8.1: Windows 8 was a big change from it's mainstay predecessor. People loved 7. People kinda don't feel as warm and fuzzy toward 8. Now if you hate 8 for fundamentals like ditching the start menu, 8.1 won't bring you ululating to the Windows Store to grab an update copy, because, quite frankly, it doesn't fix those issues.

What I like about 8.1: I can't really comment as yet (6 hours left on the download) but having adopted Windows 8 fairly early, the way Metro and the original Windows interface switched felt like being hit on the head with a hammer. Granted 8.1 doesn't fix it completely, but it should make the transition you experience, more like being hit by a feather duster. The tiles editing is good news, I feel like I'm in "Kid Safe Mode" trying to modify my Start Screen. The same with snapping, that's enough to get me to upgrade. Freedom man! Plus those who vehemently hate Metro will enjoy suppression of the Metro UI upon boot.

What I don't like about 8.1: The Windows Explorer reshuffling and removing showing the library is annoying, if it ain't broke... From what I hear (I'll inform later) the Metro apps STILL aren't baked all the way through. Come on Redmond, if you want people to adopt a radical OS with touch-centric apps, make those apps work! Finally, this complaint is about Windows 8.x in general...too much cloud integration. For South Africa, out Net isn't fast enough to replace normal storage methods. Also, try using another cloud service, you can, but it renders like half of Windows' options pointless because they all point to SkyDrive.

Finally, Windows 8.1 is available NOW as a Preview, scheduled for release "in the summer"...call it late 2013. Price: free, heck yeah.

OS X Mavericks...hoo-aah!
Mac OS X Mavericks: Mavericks is like a production line really, when Mountain Lion debuted, the eager-beavers practically dived for their credit cards, but slowly and surely, most Apple users came around, no haters as such. I see the same thing with Mavericks, it's not an update that will kill you if you don't have it, but it'll probably be well worth your while if you're a hardcore Mac fan.

What I like about Mavericks: Look I'm going to be honest, I'm no Mac expert, in fact I got properly acquainted with Mountain Lion a few weeks ago. So I'm not entirely expert with OS X at all. What I can say though, is the Finder fixes are welcome, everyone likes multiple tabs in one windows for navigating your Mac's stuff. Also, The notification tray was a bit...bare...(no not just because I didn't have any notifications) so enhancements with how I interact there is helpful.

What I don't like about Mavericks: Okay so this isn't Mavericks specific, it's ...a continuous issue I guess. The UI looks outdated, it really does. OS X hasn't changed in overall UI look in years and it's...boring. Plus desaturation on Mavericks' UI windows is confusing because often I'd navigate with colours, greying EVERYTHING out is a little ridiculous. iOS has gone "flat" following Android and Win8's steps, maybe if OS X tried something similar, the UI would look less...2008?

Finally, Mavericks should be available from Apple NOW as a Beta if you're part of the dev program, and for everyone else later this year. Expect to fork out about $25, call it R251 in our money.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it! Check us out on Facebook and comment here or in the forums on anything you've read!

by Matt de Neef  |  IndeterminateDesigns Team


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