The relative merits of the latest operating system releases from both Microsoft and Apple Computer have been debated at great length. PC Advisor got down and dirty with both packages to uncover the killer differences, and find out how they'll affect you, the end user.

This article appears in the November 06 issue of PC Advisor, onsale now in all good newsagents.

Vista vs Leopard
Backup and Restore Center vs Time Machine
Vista and Leopard have very similar approaches to backing up and restoring a system – Microsoft and Apple have both kept all the functions in a single location. Microsoft has concentrated on making the interface easier to understand and navigate, although Time Machine is arguably easier to use. But Time Machine’s space-themed interface won’t appeal to everyone.

Virtual Desktop Manager vs Spaces
Both of these features allow you to create virtual environments – separate desktops, in effect – for collections of applications to sit in. This is particularly useful when working on several tasks at once. But Virtual Desktop Manager has not been incorporated into Vista; it’s part of the free PowerToys download pack, which is currently compatible with XP but not Vista. Spaces is an integral part of Leopard.

Sidebar/Gadgets vs Dashboard/Widgets
Critics suggest that the Sidebar in Vista is a pale imitation of features from past Mac OSes and offers nothing original, but it will be unfamiliar to Windows users. Should you decide you don’t like it, it’s easy to get rid of. Leopard’s Web Clips feature, which allows parts of your favourite website to appear as Widgets on your desktop, is by far the outstanding function on offer here.

Windows Mail vs Mail
Outlook Express has got a new name in Vista, and it’s an obvious improvement on previous versions of Microsoft’s email client. An Instant Search feature should come in handy for most users, and Microsoft claims it’s more reliable when sending large attachments. Mail, Apple’s offering, seems to have been clogged up by ‘Stationery’. It does, however,incorporate a useful ‘to-do’ list.

Windows Search vs Spotlight
Apple doesn’t seem to have improved Spotlight very much since Tiger, so users won’t notice any difference. But Windows Search in Vista is much better than in any previous Windows OSes. A Search Folders feature has been introduced, which means all previous searches are saved to reduce wasted time. It’s much faster than in XP, too.

Windows Live Messenger vs iChat
Windows Live Messenger is already available in Windows XP, and it isn’t very different in Vista. However, users will recognise that it is much better than previous incarnations of MSN Messenger, with a cleaner UI and additional functions. iChat, Leopard’s built-in IM client, has a new feature called ‘Backdrops’, which is similar to a greenscreen – you can choose your own background when video-messaging.