You’ve never seen Windows multitask like this. With a flick of your finger from the left side of the touchpad, you can switch applications in the blink of an eye. In Metro mode, you can also dock an app to the left or right side of the screen so you can see two programs side by side.
However, to see multiple open apps at once, Windows 8 forces you to swipe from the edge, then go back toward the edge to show a thumbnail view. It’s annoying. Alternatively, you can press Alt + Tab to see a row of thumbnails in the middle of your screen, which works in Desktop or Metro mode.
In Desktop mode, you can switch between programs as you always have by using the task bar.
It’s nice that Windows 8 lets you place apps side by side, but we don’t like that it works differently in Metro and desktop modes. In the former environment, you can dock an app in only two sizes: one-third of the screen or two-thirds. In desktop mode, you can snap two windows next to each other at the same size or re-size them as you wish.
Apple’s OS X gives you multiple ways to multitask. In addition to the always-visible dock, you can press Command + Tab to cycle through open apps. Perhaps the easiest way to see everything you’re working (and playing) on at once is the Mission Control, accessible via a four-finger swipe up. This feature gives you a birds-eye view of open apps.
If you have multiple full-screen apps open, you can four-swinger swipe between them. We wish this gesture applied to both windowed and full-screen apps, though. Why segregate them?
Having a dock that’s always visible and the ability to see all your open apps with a single gesture trumps the speed with which you can flip through apps on Windows 8. If Microsoft makes the thumbnail view the default one when swiping from the left, we’ll change our minds.
As with Windows Phone, Microsoft neatly integrates notifications into its Live Tiles in Windows 8. For example, the Email tile will tell you how many messages you have waiting. It’s obvious, but not in your face.
In addition, Windows 8 employs “toaster notifications” that pop up in the top right corner of your screen for certain applications. Right now, the list is limited to six apps, including Internet Explorer, Messaging and Xbox Live, but developers will also be able to plug into this system.
Windows 8 gives you a fair amount of control over notifications. You can turn them on or off or toggle them for specific apps within the settings menu.
Apple takes a different approach to notifications with Mountain Lion. Similar to iOS, the new Notification Center stores all your alerts, from calendar appointments and Game Center invitations to mail and App Store updates, in one list. To reveal your notifications, swipe from the right edge. (You can also click a circle in the top right corner to see your alerts.)
Mountain Lion also displays Notification Banners in the top right corner as they come in, and if there’s more than one, they get vertically stacked.
As for customizing notifications, Mountain Lion gives you even more flexibility than Windows 8. You can choose the alert style, how many alerts you want to show in Notification Center at one time, and whether to play a sound when notifications come in. Mountain Lion even lets you customize the order in which alerts appear based on the app. Finally, a Do Not Disturb switch silences all alerts.
Despite the fact that Mountain Lion’s Notification Center is very robust and you have a lot of control, we prefer the more subtle approach to alerts in Windows 8. They’re more inviting embedded within the tiles and deliver a more integrated experience.