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Mac OS X vs. Windows 7: Who has the best upgrade?

Apple and Microsoft are both going to release major operating systems this year, but who offers the best upgrade.

Apple and Microsoft are fighting for the mindshare of consumers as both companies prepare to roll out upgrades to their operating systems later this year.

Apple on Monday showed Worldwide Developers Conference attendees Snow Leopard, the next major version of Mac OS X. Apple has been very open about the fact that Snow Leopard is meant to be an under-the-hood maintenance release, focusing on performance enhancements to the operating system.

Windows 7 is essentially Microsoft's maintenance release for Vista, that according to many accounts was a failure for the company. Putting aside all of the back and forth between the two companies, one industry analyst feels it comes down to the consumer.

"It's really immaterial the degree of the rewrite in the operating system," Ross Rubin, director of analysis for market research firm NPD, told CNET. "The key is the consumer benefit."

Apple introduces Mac OS X Snow Leopard at the WWDC. Jim Dalrymple

While early testing of Windows 7 seems to bear out improvements in the operating system, Microsoft is coming off a very bad consumer experience with Windows Vista. That is not a trivial obstacle for it to overcome.

Microsoft will have to fight the industry perception that Windows 7 is just Vista with a few fixes. That could certainly lead to slower adoption of the new operating system out of the gate.

Apple on the other hand is coming off one of the most successful operating system launches in the company's history. Mac OS X Leopard was a solid release, packed with features. Overall, Leopard had relatively few problems throughout its life cycle.

Apple doesn't have to fight off that negative perception from its users or the industry. Macs have been selling better than ever and there is no sense that will slow down anytime soon.

Typically, Apple sells its new operating systems for $129. That's a flat fee. Everyone gets the same version that includes all features and enhancements. However, Leopard users will be offered an upgrade to Snow Leopard for $29. Microsoft has yet to release its upgrade pricing, but it is expected to be much higher.

"The OS war is on in a big way," said Michael Gartenberg, vice president of Strategy and Analysis at Interpret. "Charging $29 won't win Apple any converts, but Microsoft is going to look really bad with its upgrade pricing."

It's clear that Microsoft has a much bigger channel to push Windows 7 to customers, but we've seen with the Vista release that doesn't always mean success for an operating system.

Apple is coming from a strong position with Mac OS X Leopard, so upgrades to its newest Snow Leopard release should be very strong.

Apple said Snow Leopard is expected to ship in September. Microsoft will release Windows 7 in October.