What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Why is belly button fluff always blue? These questions have led to wars, famine and sleepless nights for millennia, but there's one with even greater importance -- which is better, Mac OS X or Windows Vista?
It's the question that won't go away, and no matter how many times the arguments are rehearsed, there never seems to be a proper resolution. The rows recently stepped up a gear with Apple adding fuel to the argument with its new advertising campaign, while Microsoft has applied.
The debate needs to end. It's time for a definitive answer. We've decided to settle the question once and for all in the fairest way possible -- with an Elizabethan-style duel.
Our 'actors' have assumed the roles of each operating system. Baron Vista is played by the big, brash fellow in the orange garb and Count OS X by the well-moisturised man in black.
Their task is to win the hand of the fair Maiden Mainstream, played as in olden times by the hairy bloke in the dress. They'll be trying to woo 'her' by completing a series of old-world challenges. The outcomes are determined by how good each OS' security, performance and usability aspects are.
Is OS X trendier, easier and safer than the competition? Or is Vista the new king of the hill? Which one gets the chick? The battle lines have been drawn, gloves have been slapped across faces -- it's time for a smackdown, Shakespeare style.
Security – Act 1, Scene 1
The combat begins on horseback. Much like the knights of yore protected a kingdom against marauding forces, our protagonists mount their trusty steeds to show the maiden just how much protection they can offer her against the outside world.
Baron Vista believes he has an edge -- the layer of chain mail beneath his frilly shirt is far more durable than that of his XP predecessor. It incorporates a number of highly advanced security features designed to keep him safe from attack.
Baron Vista is hoping that his prominence in the land won't make him a highly visible and often hated target. His worry is that the loathing he has inherited from his father, Lord XP, means many subversive forces are plotting his demise.
Count OS X, by comparison, is counting on his few enemies to see him through. His armour is forged from the fires of Unix, which he hopes will keep him safe from the common viruses that plague the land.
But enough preamble -- it's time for the duel. Charge!
Security – Act 1, Scene 2
The outcome was almost preordained. Baron Vista lies in a crumpled heap on the floor, having been unable to penetrate Count OS X's armour.
It's hardly surprising -- Windows' susceptibility to hackers and malware is well-documented. If your PC is connected to the Internet, there's a good chance digital nasties are forcing their way in. If not, your PC probably has the back door wide open anyway.
Microsoft is trying, though -- it has added the User Account Controls (UAC) feature, which prevents dangerous software from making changes to your PC. If Vista thinks a program could compromise its security, it'll suffer a panic attack, produce a dialogue box and tell you something bad might happen. It's effective for the most part, but the level of intrusion is infuriating. We almost hope the cybercrooks get through UAC so Microsoft has to invent a better solution.
Microsoft should be able to keep its OS safe by now, but out of the box, Vista is a sitting duck. Microsoft recommends you update its main shield, Windows Defender, every week, however with thousands of new spyware strains created every month, how can you be sure this is enough to protect your system? Virus protection is non-existent out of the box, too -- you'll have to buy that separately.
Buy an Apple PC and you can be confident of safety. It ships with all communication ports closed. Native services such as FTP access, remote login and printer sharing are all switched off by default so the chances of a hacker attack are minimal to say the least. Even without all this fancy protection, nobody's bothering to make viruses for Macs anyway, so it's the best bet for digital hypochondriacs.
Score: Mac OS X-1, Windows Vista-0
Performance – Act 2, Scene 1
We find our protagonists standing toe-to-toe, fury burning in their eyes; the maiden having fainted in terror. Baron Vista's loss in the battle for security leads him to challenge Count OS X to hand-to-hand combat. Fists will fly, noses will be broken and locals will gawk in wonder as our heroes trade blows. Who is faster? Who is stronger?
It isn't immediately obvious who has the performance advantage. Count OS X used to be rather unfit in days gone by, partly because of his fondness for the PowerPC processor. He's since cleaned up his act and adopted the healthier Intel processor favoured by the Baron. This makes our combatants evenly matched.
Will Count OS X prove to be more of a lover than a fighter? Would he rather compose a sonnet for the affections of the maiden than resort to fisticuffs? Or is Vista just a big ungainly blunderbuss who couldn't punch his way out of a paper bag? We like seeing people hurt themselves more than we like poetry -- let's see what happens when they trade blows.
Performance – Act 2, Scene 2
Count OS X puts up a good fight, but is pummelled mercilessly. Dizzy with pain and barely able to see Baron Vista wooing an impressed maiden, the count ponders why he was beaten. Both have lightning fists and quick responses.
We can find a winner even without resorting to talk of clock cycles and gigaflops. PCs are definitely the place to go if you want the latest technology.
PCs were privileged to the first Intel Core and Core 2 Duo CPUs, they've had access to high-speed wireless 802.11n wireless for some time, not to mention high-capacity Blu-ray and HD DVD drives.
OS X is no shrinking violet -- it excels in disciplines like video encoding and image processing, and can help you render a 3D necklace of posies really quickly.
Vista is arguably just as good at such foppish tasks, but has superior gaming abilities. Frag-happy mouse jockies are better off with a Windows PC because all the best graphics cards and games are released there before they're released for OS X. Vista looks set to extend its lead in this area even further with forthcoming DirectX 10 games.
Baron Vista takes the win.
Score: Mac OS X-1, Windows Vista-1
Usability – Act 3, Scene 1
Our heroes are wielding their swords to see how their respective operating systems fare as tools.
Count OS X reckons his OS is the epitome of logical design. Baron Vista disagrees, but they both have their foibles. Why on earth in OS X is the menu bar for any given application not attached to the application itself? Why is it fixed to the top of the screen, detached from the very thing it controls? Why in Vista do you have to click the 'Start' button when you want to stop using the PC?
Call us a little twisted, but we want them both to bleed in this round. Let's see who haemorrhages most.
Usability – Act 3, Scene 2
Swords clash, sparks fly and men grunt, but the showdown ends in stalemate.
Take Vista. It has a far better user interface than XP -- the file and application search facility is vastly improved and the cascading Start menu has been banished, but it only takes a few moments of use to discover pointless idiosyncrasies.
Microsoft constantly reminds us of how great Flip 3D is, but this feature doesn't help us find the right application window much faster than Alt-Tab did. It's very time consuming when you have many application windows to flip through, and it's in no way as efficient as OS X's Exposé feature.
Vista annoys us with its questionable stability, too. Yes, it's more robust than XP, and yes, the OS itself doesn't crash very often. But the applications that run on the OS are as prone to hang as ever. If this was a real sword fight and Baron Vista's sword temporarily stopped responding, it's doubtful Count OS X would stop to let him press ctrl-alt-del.
OS X doesn't do itself many favours, though. Why, after all these years can you not resize documents or applications by clicking any corner of the window? Why does Apple subscribe to the 'mystery meat' school of navigation, where the 'minimise', 'maximise' and 'close window' buttons at the top-left of a pane all look identical until you hover over them? Why doesn't the delete key let you delete files? Why instead do we have to press the Apple plus backspace keys? Using OS X is, at times, a bit like eating in the dark.
Oh, and where are the OS X games? And why does Front Row feel like the poor, backwards relation of Windows Media Center?
We're calling this one a draw. They're just as good as each other, and in some cases just as bad -- a pox upon both your houses!
Score: Mac OS X-2, Windows Vista-2
Finale – Act 4, Scene 1
With one victory a piece, plus a share of the spoils in the previous battle, Baron Vista and Count OS X are level pegging. Maiden Mainstream is more confused than ever about which of her potential suitors is the right one.
In a moment of weakness, Count OS X offers her the option of having them both in Parallels -- himself for everyday purposes, and Baron Vista in a sandbox when she wants to slum it.
This solution vexes the maiden -- she's infuriated by the suggestion that she should play the field like a cheap seductress and wants a conclusion to this bloody business post haste.
There's only one thing left to do -- our heroes will have to pull out their best hardware. It's time for pistols at dawn.
Finale – Act 4, Scene 2
The maiden counts to ten, her voice trembling with fear. Our combatants take ten paces and it's Baron Vista who turns first. He discharges his weapon a fraction of a second before Count OS X can pull the trigger, striking the Apple follower in the leg, drawing blood and ruining his outfit. This is the most hurtful injury an OS X user could endure.
The reasons behind this outcome are manifold. Count OS X had other things on his mind at the time of the shootout. He was perturbed by his Internet service provider's lack of support for Macs, and he was annoyed that his poncy outfit, which he paid over the odds for, was soiled during the fray.
There's also an element of karma to it. According to Greenpeace (click here for PDF), PCs are greener than their Mac brethren. A Mac "scores badly on almost all criteria", and Apple "fails to embrace the precautionary principle, withholds its full list of regulated substances and provides no timelines for eliminating toxics polyvinyl chloride (PVC)".
Score: Mac OS X-2, Windows Vista-3
At the end of the fracas, we find our trio alive and well -- certain individuals happier than others. It appears Maiden Mainstream is the most pleased -- she has found her beau, ditched her old flame and is looking forward to a life of bliss.
Baron Vista is an ideal suitor. He is malleable, easy to get on with and not afraid of trying new things, such as experimenting with new form factors. If he becomes ill, she can seek the advice of almost any physician in the land as everybody knows what makes Vista tick. Likewise, Vista is over the moon after winning the affections of his new lover. That isn't a look of despair he wears on his face -- it's an expression of unbridled passion.
Count OS X, though bested in the epic battle, doesn't mind losing the acceptance of the maiden. He's a cool enough customer to find company elsewhere, and even if he is unable to find someone, Steve Jobs will love him eternally.