The Great Vista/Mac Showdown: Minimum requirements; Vista isn't bloatware

Vista or Mac OS X. What's it going to take to install and run the operating system you choose?
Written by Mitch Ratcliffe, Contributor

Vista or Mac OS X. What's it going to take to install and run the operating system you choose?

The knock against Windows has long been that it is bloatware, but on install, Vista system components are only two-thirds the size of Mac OS X components, even with the tablet components installed on the ThinkPad X60. However, the utilities and applications that come with a Windows install to provide device-specific services and support, as well as the bundled software are likely to take much more space than a clean Macintosh installation.

The MacBook Pro arrives with 18.36GB of software preloaded, including the operating system and libraries, along with a bunch of Apple applications for manipulating images and sound, making DVDs and photocomics. Operating system resources, including the 12.9 MB of user files created for the initial user account, take up approximately 11.1GB of hard drive space. On the MacBook Pro, which ships with a 120GB drive (111.47GB is available for use), Both OSes include a full suite of personal information management services.that means I have 90 percent of the drive left for applications and data.

Of course, that percentage of storage will vary with the size of the hard drive. For example, the MacBook Pro can be configured with a 160GB or 200GB drive for an extra $100 or $200, respectively.

Lenovo's ThinkPad X60 arrives with 25.8GB of pre-installed software, but only 7.188GB is associated with the Vista OS. Vista also creates a user file of 91.1MB—seven times the Mac user file size—for the initial user. The initial storage requirements advantage is largely illusory.

Vista is more compact than Mac OS X because many system features are farmed out as applications that can be augmented or replaced by third-party tools, where Apple keeps that functionality in the kernel and libraries.  For example, there is 41 percent more storage taken up at the outset by application software associated with the unique features of the ThinkPad, which ships with a full suite of ThinkVantage utilities and myriad Windows utilities, such as the new Vista Sidebar and Windows Defender security tools.

Since the X60 I am using has a 100GB drive (88.4GB usable), 29 percent of the drive is full at delivery. At this writing, can be configured with drives of up to 120GB ($90). 

What we see here is the contrast between a unitary approach to the hardware and software (Apple's) and an OEM-based approach to hardware (Microsoft's). Apple  bundles very little third-party software at delivery, though notably a Microsoft Office trial is included, a remnant of Microsoft's investment in Apple on Steve Jobs' return in 1997. Microsoft assumes Vista will be augmented extensively, indeed that it must to enable features of individual OEMs' hardware.

Both OSes include a full suite of personal information management services today. When you begin using either of these computers, you'll be able to send and receive email, schedule a meeting on a calendar, put a contact into a database and save your pictures. Windows Mail, which replaces Outlook Express in Vista, is comparable to Apple Mail in functionality. While Ed Bott may think Windows Photo Gallery is a killer feature, I remain unconvinced, though the use of tagging and ratings in the application is an intriguing difference compared to Apple's iPhoto—what remains to be seen is how those tags and ratings are exposed for community use by developers and Windows Live.

What the Mac delivers out of the box is a personal media suite—Photo Booth, Comic Life, Garage Band, iDVD, iMovie HD and iWeb—that the user who wants to publish to the Web and CD or DVD will find very useful and a lot of fun. But for the business user who doesn't need these tools or wants to avoid the distraction of bending one's images in Photo Booth, most of this is dross and could be thrown away, saving 4GB of space, which widens the Mac's lead in compact initial installation.

Some software on the ThinkPad X60 could be thrown away, as well, however much more of these installed tools, notably the Windows Calendaring, Collaboration (which provides a local network meeting capability similar to the Bonjour networking services in Mac OS X), Defender and Journal, among others, are really just placeholders for Office applications that you'll need to add (we'll get to that later). I did free up about 50MB by immediately deleting Google's Desktop, Toolbar and Picasa. Until we find out with certainty that Microsoft has pulled off the trick of making Vista secure, you'll still need a third-party security application. Lenovo plans to continue to bundle Norton Internet Security with its systems.

Notably, Lenovo's ThinkPad Power Management utility has a Vista known-compatibility issue. OEMs are still catching up with Vista, as more than a half Gigabyte of mostly driver updates downloaded and were added to the system files when I first booted this computer. Yes, the Mac downloaded a lot of updates, too, but the amount of storage used declined by about 200MB after those downloads. Vista will get larger as more drivers are released.

A number of readers have suggested I should be doing this comparison with two low-end machines, but that's no fun when you're trying to fit this comparison into the full-time work already on your plate. The MacBook Pro and ThinkPad X60 were chosen to demonstrate strengths of each system and to be part of my daily workflow. Yet we can extrapolate from basic comparisons, such as initial storage requirements, basic differences between the two operating systems and how they'll perform on lower-end systems.

Neither of these OSes should be installed on a system with less than a 100GB drive if you want to get much use out of them. Based on the performance ratings offered by Microsoft, Core Duo, Core 2 Duo or comparable processors are preferable, which places the low-end "optimal" system for Vista or Mac laptops in the $1,200 to $1,400 range today. On the desktop side, one can purchase a Mac Mini or a Vista-equipped PC for as little as $500, but you'll likely spend around $750

Whatever the system, though, the Mac OS X system itself initially will be somewhat larger—between 2GB and 4GB bigger than Vista, depending on the Vista components loaded. But you'll likely get a lot of additional application software with Vista that makes its initial storage consumption greater than Mac OS X. At this rudimentary level, the contest is a wash, unless you are severely constrained in terms of the hard drive space available. These are not systems built for for the low-end, but to be differentiated at the high end of the market, as well.

The real differences between Vista and Mac OS X begin to emerge as old system settings and applications are migrated to the new system, which we'll turn to next. 

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