Opinion – As long as we can remember, Apple has always been viewed as being much more creative and innovative than Microsoft. If there was a new feature in Windows, you could bet that the comparison with Apple would follow almost immediately – and allegations that Microsoft simply copied what Apple had already. There is an ongoing argument, even if many Mac OS X “innovations” are borrowed from the open-source community. Expose windows manager? Borrowed from a long list of Linux UI add-ons. Spaces? Linux has had virtual desktops for years. Windows 7 came out of almost nowhere with some new features we believe Apple not only should take serious, but integrate in OS X as well.
Microsoft has never been apologetic about copying OS X features, but Windows 7 packs a long list of unique end-user features that even OS X Snow Leopard may lack, as far as we know today. Take the new taskbar in Windows 7. Although it adopts OS X’s Dock philosophy, Microsoft made it its own with live thumbnail task previews and other nifty little details. Let’s not forget about multi-touch, Libraries or Device Stage. We can’t deny that Windows 7 delivers several innovative features that make today’s OS X look old. The fact that Apple decided hit the feature break in Snow Leopard, could cost the company dearly. Can Microsoft finally beat Apple at its own game? Here are our top five Windows 7 features we believe Apple should copy from Microsoft.
1. Multi-Touch: It seems that Windows 7, not OS X, will become the first consumer OS to bring multi-touch capability to the masses after all. We were afraid Microsoft will try to sell Windows 7 on the multi-touch pitch alone but are, in fact, pleasantly surprised with the implementation. There is an on-screen virtual keyboard and gestures for common mouse actions, like dragging and right-clicking, that work throughout Windows 7 and applications like Paint and Microsoft Earth. Click on a taskbar icon to reveal the Jump List or draw a “b” in Internet Explorer 8 to go backwards. Gestures are tied into mouse navigation calls, so any Windows application will be able to support multi-touch right away. Windows 7 is multi-touch on desktops done right and Microsoft should be credited for that.
2. Windows 7 taskbar: The Dock in OS X means business, but the new, taller taskbar in Windows 7 has nifty features, like live thumbnails that fan out in a row when you hover the mouse pointer over an application icon in the taskbar. Thumbnails are created not only for the windows an application has opened, but for tabs as well. Hover over the Internet Explorer 8 icon and the thumbnails show all opened tabs. When you hover over a thumbnail, you get a full-sized screenshot of a window or a tab without switching the application. Task thumbnails enable faster task switching and more efficient windows management than the Dock + Expose combo in OS X. Like it or not, we believe the new taskbar in Windows 7 is a whole step ahead of the Dock in OS X.
Read on the next page: Libraries, Play, Device Stage
3. Libraries: Both Windows and OS X have special folders for storing documents, images, music, videos, etc. But don’t you just hate it when you fill up your hard drive with music, having to move all MP3s to a larger drive and then re-route the Music folder to this new location? Not anymore. In Windows 7, you simply add a new location to your Music folder. The Library feature allows your MP3s to reside on any number of internal, external and network locations, while they appear to reside inside the Music folder. Better yet, the new Federated Search enables you to search Libraries, too, so you can easily locate media files across multiple locations. A fantastic new feature.
4. Play To and Windows Media Center: Windows has become better multimedia center than OS X, period. The Jump To feature enables you to send video and audio output from one PC to a network-enabled media player, home stereo and even other PCs on the network – a trivial and tremendously useful feature OS X still lacks. More importantly, Apple’s FrontRow is really no match for Windows Media Center, which now looks much more attractive thanks to more eligible fonts and has become much more useful due to the addition of Internet TV and the ability to customize its start menu. Apple limits Front Row to iTunes and refuses to add DVR capabilities.
5. Device Stage: Windows 7 brings a new feature that shows all the features and documents relating you hardware in a single window. Connect your mobile phone and it appears in Windows Explorer. Click on it and a window comes up with vendor-branded background (if a vendor supports this feature) that might show basic information about the cellphone, its capabilities, links to its manual and the latest driver, in addition to advanced features like syncing capabilities, copying videos and images from a device, setting ringtones, etc. Just like it is the case with Vista, you have to search down through various system features and applications to access different capabilities of a device. Before Windows 7, we never thought there was a better way of doing this. Device Stage not only feels right, it is a better approach to assemble your key hardware in one place.
Of course, the problem with all these features is that they aren’t available yet and we won’t be able to take a look at the entire feature set until the first beta arrives in early 2009. But we believe that it would be a good idea for Apple to take a closer look at Microsoft ideas.