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Windows and Mac: Differences in Everyday Operating System Use

written by: Nicholas•edited by: Michael Dougherty•updated: 11/14/2010

As different as the two operating systems also have many similarities as well. Learn more about these differences in terms of actual usability. Both operating systems are good, but you may prefer the simplicity of OS X over Windows.

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    Chances are good that you have used Windows or Windows 7 before. However, not as many people have actually used a Mac computer, which makes deciding whether or not to switch to Mac a confusing task. Both operating systems rely on basic principles to allow you to do the things you do on your computer. Everything from running programs to browsing the internet is in some way intertwined with the UI (User Interface) of each operating system. Check out some of these Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X basic principles.

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    Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X - Windows 7 Taskbar vs. Mac OS X Dock

    Windows Taskbar Windows 7 uses the taskbar as an easy way to launch programs, access the Start Menu, monitor programs (in the tray), or even check the time. Notably, the Windows 7 taskbar is much improved over previous versions of Windows such as XP or Vista. The newest feature integrated with the Windows 7 taskbar is called Taskbar Previews. Taskbar Previews is basically an easy way to monitor open programs and applications without actually opening up the program into full window view. To use the Taskbar Preview feature, you must have a Windows 7 Aero theme enabled. From there, you can simply hover your mouse over an active icon to get a preview.

    The Windows 7 taskbar is something that you will use very frequently, probably every time you use your computer. Items can be added to the taskbar via right-click, and selecting the 'Pin to Taskbar' option from the context menu. Alternatively, programs can be rearranged and reordered in the Windows 7 taskbar by dragging and dropping.

    Another notable feature of the Windows 7 taskbar is the tray icon area, which is often used by applications to display alerts and other important information. For example, Windows 7 uses a tray icon to alert you whenever there are automatic updates available.

    The very right side of the Windows 7 taskbar displays the clock. Just to the right of the clock is a thin, rectangular blank spot that can be used to clear the desktop.

    The Windows 7 taskbar can be relocated to the left, right, or top of the desktop.

    The Windows 7 taskbar is one of the most commonly used everyday operating system features within Windows 7.

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    Mac OS X Dock The Mac OS X dock is very much the Mac equivalent to the Windows 7 taskbar. Like the Windows 7 taskbar, the Mac OS X dock is used to launch commonly used programs quickly and easily. One of the most current versions of Mac OS, Mac OS X Snow Leopard, uses a more featured, visually appealing dock than previous Mac OS versions. Notably, the Mac OS X dock has some unique features as well.

    The Mac OS X dock is one of the most widely used features within Mac OS, and it is a rather convenient tool for launching applications, opening folders, and more. Mac OS X dock includes a magnificaiton feature that many Mac users enjoy. When turned on, dock magnification allows the dock to expand in the area that the mouse is placed. For example, if your hover your mouse over a certain application in the dock, the dock will 'bubble up' so that you can get a clearer view of that particular application. When you hover over a certain application in the dock, the name of that application is also displayed.

    Although the Mac OS dock does not have an equivalent to the Windows 7 taskbar preview, it does have some other cool features of it's own. Notably, the Mac OS dock can hold folders. Each folder that you drop into the Mac OS dock has the ability to be displayed as a Folder or Stack. Although different in appearance, both Folder view and Stack view have the same concept. They allow you to open up a quick view of a folder, and jump directly to a document or program inside of the folder without opening up a new window. Mac OS X Snow Leopard has an applications folder in the dock, allowing you to jump to any application on your Mac quickly and easily without having to navigate through different locations.

    That's it for part 1. So far, we've only covered the slight differences in Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X basic interface. Be sure to continue on to page 2, where we will list even more everyday features that differ between the two operating systems. If you are trying to decide on whether to get a Mac vs. PC, there are several other things to note.

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    As far as Mac vs. PC, much of it actually comes down to operating system. Much of the time, the comparison should really be Windows vs. Mac OS. The operating system is essentially what makes the computer, as it is the central of every task you will do on a computer. This article covers Windows PC vs. Mac OS, and breaks down the two operating systems. Learn more about Windows 7 programs vs. Mac OS programs, and details about each operating system's media capabilities.
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    Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X - Windows 7 Taskbar vs. Mac OS X Dock (Continued...)

    The Mac OS X dock can be repositioned to the bottom, left or right of the screen but not the top, as Mac OS X utilizes a top taskbar for various other functions.

    Now that we have covered the basic functionality differences of Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X taskbar and dock, please note some of the following Mac equivalents:

    • With Mac OS, the clock is located in the upper taskbar rather then the dock. Thus, the time is at the top of the screen.
    • If using a laptop, the battery charge indicator and wireless network utility are located on the upper taskbar as well, vs. Windows 7, where the battery charge indicator and wireless network utility are located in the Windows 7 Taskbar.
    • Earlier, we mentioned that the Mac OS dock has a magnification feature. The Windows 7 taskbar has a similar feature if you have a Windows 7 Aero theme enabled, which is an under illumination for each icon that you scroll over.

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    Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X - Windows 7 Start Menu vs. Mac OS X Finder

    Since we already covered Windows 7 taskbar vs. Mac OS X dock, it should be noted that the Windows 7 Start Menu is located in the Windows taskbar, and the Mac OS X Finder is located in the Mac dock.

    Start Menu Icon Windows 7's Start Menu is strongly considered to be the main navigation point in the Windows UI. Just about anything and everything can be found using the Start Menu. Not only that, but you can also run commands. The Windows 7 Start Menu is convenient and well designed, as it has many stationary buttons such as Documents, Pictures, Music, Games, Computer, Control Panel, etc... for easy navigating to certain places. The Windows 7 Start Menu navigation is simple enough, and just about everything can be found by clicking the All Programs listing. Notably, the Windows 7 Start Menu also has an integrated search box, which allows you to search through files on your PC.

    Mac OS's Finder is strongly considered to be the main navigation point in the Mac UI. Like the Start Menu, Finder Finder can be used to access just about anything on your computer. The main difference between the Start Menu and Finder is: The Start Menu operates using a list interface vs. The Finder uses a window interface. Opening up the Mac OS Finder basically opens up a master window, where you can quickly access the Macintosh Hard Drive, shared devices, and specific user files, applications and documents.

    We have just reached a mid point in the article, where we can draw a couple of conclusions on Mac OS vs. Windows 7. As far as the equivalents between the Windows 7 taskbar and Start Menu vs. the Mac OS dock and Finder, both are equally capable.

    The biggest difference thus far is that Mac OS X constantly uses two elements to control programs, folders and applications, which are the dock and upper taskbar. Windows 7 heavily relies on one element to control most things, which is the Windows 7 taskbar. You will learn more about why on the next page.

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    This article may be beneficial for anyone trying to decide whether or not to switch from PC to Mac or Mac to PC. For the most part, both operating systems have their strengths and weaknesses, and UI user interface has a lot to do with how the operating system works. This article covers the equivalent controls and functions of Mac vs. PC, and breaks down each operating system in-depth. Get to know the operating system for Mac vs. PC before purchasing your next computer.
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    Mac vs. PC - Mac OS Taskbar vs. Windows 7 Active Window Controls

    On page 2 of our series, we mentioned that Mac OS X utilized both the dock and upper taskbar to manage most operations vs. Windows 7, which mainly utilizes a taskbar only. This section focuses on why.

    Mac OS X uses the upper taskbar for many program specific tools and commands. For example, whenever you open up a program in Mac OS X, that program instantly takes control of the Mac OS X upper toolbar. As an example, if you were to open up the Safari web browser, you would notice that when Safari is the active window, the upper Mac OS X toolbar displays Safari properties and tools. The upper toolbar is chameleon like, and adapts to each program, so if you switch from Safari to iTunes, the upper toolbar changes to suite iTunes. Common options for programs, which are displayed in the upper Mac toolbar are: File, Edit, View, Window, and Help.

    Windows 7 utilized in-window program specific controls. For example, if you open up Firefox in Windows, the File, Edit, View, Tools, History, etc... options are all located directly at the top of that specific Window.

    Mac OS X and Windows 7 are similar in program specific controls, but you should note the location of each, especially if you are considering switching from Mac to PC, or vice versa.

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    Mac OS iTunes vs. Windows 7 Media Center

    iTunes Obviously, iTunes can be downloaded free and installed on Window PCs, as iPod users who have PCs need this feature. However, as far as default media players, Mac OS X uses iTunes and Windows 7 uses Media Center.

    Although both iTunes and Windows Media Center do many of the same things, such as play MP3s and videos, they are actually quite different.

    Mac OS iTunes is basically a music playback tool. However, the vast evolution of the iTunes store has made iTunes into a tool for watching TV shows and movies as well. Also, if you own an iPod or iPad, iTunes serves as the basic control center for adding music and other media. Notably, music and video streaming is also done on Macs via iTunes. One thing that iTunes does not do... play DVD movies. For DVDs, Mac computers use a native application called iDVD.

    Windows Media Center Windows 7 Media Center is a music, video, and TV show playback tool, similar to iTunes in functionality, but much different in appearance. For the most part, Windows 7 Media Center is actually more of an all-in-one application. Not only can it be used to store your favorite MP3s, TV shows, and movies, but it can also be used to play DVDs as well. In fact, many people use Windows Media Center as the center of their home theater setups, as Windows 7 Media Center's UI (user interface) is loosely built to be an entertainment program.

    Mac computers do have a TV based entertainment app as well, but it is not integrated with iTunes. The app is called Front Row, and is used by many Mac users as a home theater base.

    iTunes and Windows Media Center are not equivalent.

    iTunes + iDVD + Front Row vs. Windows Media Center is a much better comparison.

    Notably, iLife also includes a program called Garage Band.

    So far, we've covered basic navigation differences between PC vs. Mac, as well as entertainment and media options. Continue on to the next page to learn even more differences in everyday Mac vs. PC use.

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    This article focuses on the default programs that Mac vs. PC offer. For the everyday computer user, default programs for editing photos, videos, checking mail, and even playing MP3s are commonly used. Learn more about what Mac OS offers and Windows offers in terms of default applications, which are used on a daily basis. Although both operating systems offer similar programs, Apple's iLife is quite different then Windows Live Pack.
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    Mac vs. PC - Mail and Messaging

    Windows Live Mail Windows 7 PCs, by default, do not come equipped with a solid mail and messaging system. However, Microsoft does provide Windows 7 users with a fully Windows compatible solution in Windows Live. Upon downloading and installing Windows Live (free), you will have Windows Live Mail and Windows Live Messenger installed on your PC. These two programs are very popular, and there is a good chance that you have used Windows Live Messenger before, as it is previously known as MSN Messenger. Windows Live Mail, not to be mistaken for Microsoft Outlook, is a very simple, easy to use desktop mail client that offers a very usable UI.

    Macs, by default, do come with mail and messaging applications. The default messaging system of Mac users is a program called iChat. Like many Apple programs, iChat is a bit unorthadox, and is different than traditional messaging platforms. Notably, iChat is heavily based on video chat, where Windows Live Messenger is not. However, iChat Mac Mail can be used for text messaging and voice as well.

    Mac's come with a desktop email client, simply called Mail. Mail is a lot like Windows Live Mail in the fact that it is easy to use and has a simple interface. Both mail apps are pretty straightforward, and uncomplicated to learn.

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    Mac vs. PC - Photo and Video Editing

    live movie maker icon More and more, everyday computer users are turning into amateur photographers and video editors. Thus, it may be important to consider what video and photo software each operating system utilizes.

    Windows 7 PCs utilize Windows Live Movie Maker as a default video editor. Like Windows Live Mail, Movie Maker does not come installed on Windows 7, so you have to download it as part of the Windows Live pack (free). As far as features, Windows Live Movie Maker is effective, yet user friendly, just like all other elements included in Windows live. It's not too powerful of a video editor, but can be used for most basic tasks that an everyday video editor would need.

    Windows 7 PCs utilize Windows Live Photo Gallery as a default photo editor, and you guessed it, Windows Live Photo Gallery must be downloaded with Windows Live pack. As far as effectiveness, Windows Live Photo Gallery offers only the most basic of photo editing features. It is definitely no Adobe Photoshop, but it does offer some unique features that make it more of a photo organizer than editor.

    Apple iMovie Macs utilize iMovie as a default movie editor. It comes equipped with every new Mac, or can be purchased separately in Apple's iLife set. iMovie is simple, but effective for handling basic movie producing tasks. Although it doesn't offer a lot of in-depth editing capabilities, it does have the power to piece together a basic amateur movie.

    Macs utilize iPhoto as a default photo editor and organizer. iPhoto's notable feature is geo-tagging and facial recognition, which allows you to tag photos based on where they were taken. This is a cool feature for anyone that travels a lot. Aside from that, iPhoto is fairly basic, and very similar to Windows Live Photo Gallery in nature.

    That's it for page 4. Be sure to check out page 5 where we will cover some more technical operating system differences between Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X.

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    This section covers the more technical differences between Windows based PCs and Mac OS X. This article focuses on how Windows programs work and how Mac programs work, and also covers the major application file formats of each operating system. Learn about what types of applications and programs are involved in Mac vs. PC, to better determine compatibility and capability of each operating system.
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    Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X for Everyday Computer Use

    MacBook If you have not yet read the other pages in the series, it is strongly recommended that you do so. Mainly, everything previous to this page covers the basic differences in Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X operating system use, and also reviews Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X media capabilities. At this point, it's quite clear that Windows 7 and Mac OS X are quite similar to each other. Each respective operating system offers an alterantive to the competitor, even for photo editing and video editing.

    Is one operating system better for everyday use? Not necessarily. Picking a winner between the two operating systems is quickly becoming a controversial topic. To better understand the major differences in the Mac vs. PC battle, be sue to check out the other series articles. There will be links for them at the bottom of this page.

    Other than what is already covered, there are some more technical aspects of each operating system, which we will cover next.

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    Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X - Technical Differences

    EXE File Windows 7 utilizes a major program format of .EXE. For example, if you download and install a new program on your PC, it will almost always be of .EXE format. Aside from the name .EXE, there is not much that else to it.

    Mac OS X utilizes a major program format of .App. So, if you download and install a new program on your Mac, it will almost certainly be a .App file. Aside from the file extension name .App, there is not much else to it. .App is a Mac format.

    .App's typically do not work on Windows PCs, and .EXE's typically do not work on Macs, at least not by default.

    Above, it was mentioned that .EXE and .App are the major file formats for installing programs and applications on Macs and PCs. DMG Logo However, Macs and PCs use some common file formats as well. For example, compression formats.

    You may download a Zip file or RAR file on a Windows computer, which will need to be extracted to get to the files. Macs are essentially the same, as they use the compressed Zip and RAR format as well.

    You can run Windows apps on a Mac using VMware Fusion, other virtualization software, or BootCamp.

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    Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X - UNIX

    Unix Based Mac OS X is a UNIX based operating system, which to say the most, is a bit more technical than most people would care for. Basically, UNIX involves the platform on which an operating system is built, how it functions, and the coding behind it.

    Windows is not UNIX based, and has it's own unique build. Many people will say that UNIX is a more secure platform, but that is much of an opinion. Microsoft likes to come out with many of it's own standards. For example, .NET and Silverlight.

    However, Apple does the same thing.

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    Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X - Conclusion

    Apple Computers This article was mainly written to note some differences between general Mac vs. PC equivalents. Both Mac OS and Windows 7 are very different, but very alike as well. For everyday computer use, Mac OS X is really not that difficult to get used to, if you are switching from PC. Alternatively, Windows 7 is not that difficult to get used to if you are switching from Mac. Check out some of the recommended series articles below, as they detail more about Windows and Mac OS X. For example, many consider Macs to be more simple, but Windows PCs to be more powerful.

    Windows 7 Logo 

Understanding Macs - Mac vs PC

This four part series details the simple differences between Macs and PCs, the advantages of Mac vs PC, and concludes with which is better, Mac or PC.
  1. Understanding Macs - Differences Between Mac and PC
  2. Windows and Mac: Differences in Everyday Operating System Use
  3. The Benefits of Mac vs. PC
  4. Which is Better - Mac or PC?