Windows 8 sports a panoramic “Metro-style” interface that invites sideways scrolling and a UI that should look familiar to Windows Phone users. Is that a good thing? In many ways, yes. Windows 8’s Start screen uses Live Tiles that really make the OS come alive. For instance, the tile for the Weather app shows you the latest conditions at a glance, while you can personalize the Photo app tile with your favorite picture. OS X Lion doesn’t have anything like this feature.
Windows 8 makes it easy to move app tiles so you can customize the Start screen however you wish. Plus, using the Semantic Zoom feature, you can zoom out to rename groups of tiles and re-position them as you see fit. Scrolling to the right with your mouse (or swiping with your finger) lets you navigate through all of your apps.
Microsoft is also keeping the desktop in Windows 8, which is treated as an app, but provides most of the functionality to which Windows users are accustomed. You can pin desktop programs to the Task bar, use the improved Windows Explorer for finding files and close unresponsive apps via the enhanced Task Manager. Unfortunately, the Metro and desktop interfaces feel disconnected. There are two separate Internet Explorer browsers — one for each mode. There are also two separate settings menus.
In a controversial move, Microsoft removed the traditional Start button with a button that takes you back to the Start screen. This design decision will likely alienate a lot of users. In fact, some hackers have already devised ways to bring the Start button back.
Mountain Lion has an interface similar to the original Lion that attempts to blend some of the best aspects of iOS with desktop computing. There’s a dock for quickly accessing your favorite apps, similar to Windows’ Task bar. But you can also see all of your pre-installed apps and items downloaded from the App Store in an iPad-like grid called Launchpad. Just use a four-finger pinch gesture or press the F4 key.
Similar to iOS, when you drag an app icon on top of another in Launchpad, OS X Mountain Lion automatically creates a folder based on the types of apps you’re pairing together. For instance, when we dragged and dropped Email on Notes, Mountain Lion created a folder called Productivity. Going back to the desktop is as simple as spreading four fingers apart on the trackpad.
Mission Control continues to be a hallmark feature of OS X, which provides a single view of everything that’s going on in your notebook. The center area houses your desktop and apps that aren’t running at full screen. If you want to cut down on the clutter, you can add a desktop space just by clicking on the + button in the upper-right corner. You can also drag open windows into newly created Spaces up top.
Between Mission Control and Launchpad, Mountain Lion can be disorienting, but at least the dock remains persistent in every mode.
Microsoft scores serious points in this round because Windows 8’s Start screen is more personal and dynamic than Mountain Lion. However, Windows 8 can feel like you’re using two different operating systems. Mountain Lion is more cohesive.