Deathmatch review: Windows 8.1 vs. OS X Yosemite

Windows 8.1 has languished as Microsoft seeks to move past its failure, while Apple has extended its Mac OS into an intriguing new direction

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Features: Windows 8.1 vs. OS X Yosemite

Windows 8.1: 7
OS X Yosemite: 9

Over the years, Apple has made OS X much more than an operating system. It's also a product suite, with a very capable email client, calendar manager, note-taker, browser, lightweight word processor, image editor/PDF markup tool, maps-and-directions app, media player, and instant messaging client.

If you buy a new Mac, you also get the very capable iWork productivity suite (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote), iPhoto (to be replaced next year with Photos, which is not yet in public beta), GarageBand, and iMovie apps for media manipulation and creation. For many users, these apps are all they need. Beyond the assortment of moderately to highly capable apps, OS X has exceptional support for human languages and for people with various kinds of disabilities.

Windows 8 offers much less than OS X across the board, partly because Microsoft wants people to buy or subscribe to its pricey Office suite, so tools such as WordPad and the Mail app in Metro provide only a subset of OS X's counterparts. You can of course pay extra for Microsoft Outlook in the Windows Desktop to get a full email client for Windows.

But even where Microsoft doesn't have a product it wants to sell you -- for example, media playback (Xbox Music, Xbox Video, and Windows Media Player) and PDF markup (Reader) -- its tools are decidedly inferior to OS X's (iTunes and Preview, respectively).

And after two and a half years, Metro's Mail app still doesn't support the oldest and most common type of email account (POP). Windows 8.1's services for sharing, notifications, and search are also less capable and more awkwardly implemented than OS X's equivalents.

Some of the Metro apps in Windows 8.1 are more functional than in Windows 8, and they're more like what's available in iOS and Android. For example, the Camera app supports panoramic shooting, and the Photos app allows for basic image manipulation such as cropping and color shifting, as in recent iOS and Android editions.

But the music and video players, calendar, and PDF apps are decidedly inferior to those in OS X. The Alarms app is inferior to what you get in iOS or Android, though OS X has no equivalent. Metro's Weather app is the most compelling of the Metro apps; OS X Yosemite's equivalent is a simple widget in the Notification Center. The Sports app remains a nicely customizable gateway to your favorite sports content.

Also new to Windows 8.1 are apps for scanning documents (long built in to OS X's Preview and Image Capture apps, where it makes more sense to integrate scanning capability) and maintaining reading lists of Web documents (which OS X's Safari has had for some time, and again a more sensible location for this capability). The Metro Calculator app is very much like OS X's ancient version. Microsoft seems to be throwing widgets into Metro to increase the list of features, rather than creating a suite of compelling apps.

The big new thing in Yosemite is Handoff and Continuity, the features that let Macs work with iOS devices more easily. Handoff is very intriguing, but unfortunately I found it unreliable on the Mac. Activities on my iPhone 6 or iPad Mini usually did not show up as available to Handoff on the OS X Dock, where they should appear. Ditto for the reverse. Yet Handoff worked nicely and consistently between my iPhone 6 and iPad Mini. For some reason, my 2012 MacBook Pro didn't often get the Handoff message, though it's compatible.

OS X Yosemite Handoff from Maps

The Handoff feature in OS X Yosemite -- when it works -- is a great convenience if you use an iOS device and want to move what you're doing on a mobile device to your Mac, or vice versa.

By contrast, Continuity worked fine on both a 2009 MacBook Pro and 2012 MacBook Pro: The FaceTime app noticed when my iPhone 6 got a call and let me take the call on my Mac via FaceTime Audio. The same goes for the Messages app with SMS text messages received on my iPhone 6. The rest of Continuity existed in prior versions of OS X and iOS, such as keeping alerts, iMessages, passwords, browser tabs, "where I left off" status, and so on in sync automatically across your iCloud-connected devices.

Handoff needs some work in OS X, clearly, but based on how it functions in iOS 8, the capability holds much promise.

Windows 8.1 has nothing like OS X's Handoff, and its equivalents to OS X's Continuity are limited to updating application settings, and in a tiny number of apps, "where I left off" status for documents.

Manageability: Windows 8.1 vs. OS X Yosemite

Windows 8.1: 9
OS X Yosemite: 7

If you're willing to spend the money, you can manage Windows 8 PCs every which way from Sunday using tools such as Microsoft's System Center. Remote installation, policy enforcement, application monitoring, software updating, and so forth are all available.

OS X Yosemite provides similar capabilities through its use of managed client profiles -- including enforcing use of disk encryption -- through OS X Server. Alternatively, OS X management capabilities are available through third-party tools such as those from Quest Software that plug into System Center or via MDM tools from the likes of Citrix Systems, Good Technology, and MobileIron.

OS X Mavericks rationalized the OS X policy set with iOS, so it's easier to manage Macs using the tools you likely have in place for mobile devices. Mavericks also supported enterprise-style app licensing for Mac App Store apps, a big shift IT should welcome. Yosemite keeps these and adds a few more policies to cover new features like Handoff.

But the degree of control available to Windows admins -- as well as the number of tools to exert that control -- is still far greater than is available for OS X admins.

Security: Windows 8.1 vs. OS X Yosemite

Windows 8.1: 8
OS X Yosemite: 9

With nearly every computer these days connected to the Internet, security is a big focus, including both application security and data security. Windows has been a malware magnet for years, and antivirus software has been only partially effective in protecting PCs.

Macs have been immune from most attacks, but in the last two years, the Mac has seen a handful of high-profile Trojan attacks through plug-in technologies such as Oracle Java and Adobe Flash. Windows, of course, suffers hundreds of such attacks each year.

Microsoft provides in Windows 8.1 the free but basic Windows Defender antimalware app (as it provided Security Essentials for earlier Windows versions), so you get some native defense against malware. Likewise, Apple has included antimalware detection since OS X Mountain Lion, with daily checks to update signatures and remove known malware.

But Windows' registry makes it harder to truly eliminate malware than Apple's Unix-based approach of relying on discrete files and folders that can simply be deleted if found to be harmful.

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