Since the beginning of time, mankind has been preoccupied with one overwhelming dilemma: Which is better, Windows or Mac OS?

Ok, I might be exaggerating slightly, but no two other rival platforms have generated such extensive arguments, reviews and comparisons. In fact, even by writing about this, I realize that I’m likely stirring up trouble, but it’s definitely a question worth asking, especially for entrepreneurs shopping for a new business computer.

My comparison is limited to system software only, based hypothetically on an identical hardware configuration. I’ll compare the latest iterations of the two operating systems – Windows 7 Enterprise and Mac OS X Lion – in the categories most important to startups:

  • Security
  • Compatibility
  • User interface

Security

Cyberspace can be a dangerous place where rogue viruses and dreaded spyware run amok. As such, entrepreneurs need to be digitally protected, especially if their computers contain important client and investor contacts, designs, prototypes and other business details.

Windows 7 drastically ramps up security and effectively plugs information holes. The Enterprise edition includes BitLocker (an enhanced drive encryption program), and a  built-in firewall which provide protective buffers against hackers, viruses, spyware and other malicious threats. However, it’s still only Windows and surfing the Internet without third-party security software is like crossing the Atlantic in a dinghy without a life jacket!

Mac OS X, on the other hand, has always been shrouded in a veil of immunity to viruses, hackers and all other things evil. It’s true, the operating system isn’t affected by nearly as many security issues as Windows, but don’t be fooled: Macs aren’t impervious to threats. Debate continues to rage over whether the Mac effect is due to better design or simply because of the comparative scarcity of Mac OS computers, which makes it impractical to create Mac viruses and spyware.

Whatever the case may be, Mac OS X Lion ships with strong security features. For example, Mac applications and processes are increasingly “sandboxed.” If a sandboxed application gets hacked or corrupted in any way, the damage or breach is contained within the application itself, thus preventing the spread to other files and programs.

Winner: Mac OS X Lion

Software and hardware compatibility

Operating system compatibility is important for entrepreneurs who want to use the latest, most cutting-edge programs and accessories while also having access to the legacy software that their businesses may be built upon.

Windows has easily dominated this category for many years. Even though Mac OS switched to an Intel-based infrastructure and can now run a wider range of third-party products, it still lags behind Windows because software and peripheral manufacturers cater primarily to the larger Windows market share. Mac OS support for enterprise-focused legacy products is also limited.

Windows 7 edges out Mac OS X Lion with a built-in virtual Windows XP platform, allowing for increased backward compatibility and support for legacy software and peripherals. This means you can always count on good old Windows to run whatever contraption you just bought on eBay, while on a Mac, there’s always an inherent doubt.

Winner: Windows 7

User interface

In an increasingly fast-paced business climate, entrepreneurs crave fast, efficient computers that have multitasking capabilities and streamlined graphical user interfaces (GUI). Comparing the GUI between Mac OS X and Windows 7 is like comparing an Apple to an orange (pun intended) – both operating systems provide their own unique user experience.

The redesigned Windows taskbar not only manages open programs, but also lets you launch new applications. And features like Aero Peek (which lets you preview minimized taskbar windows without actually opening them) and AeroSnap (which automatically resizes open windows to predefined dimensions) combine to create one of the best Windows experiences ever.

Mac operating systems have always been slick, simple and efficient, and Mac OS X Lion is no different. After all, the Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. However, a key change in the Lion interface is a new “launchpad” that integrates features from Apple’s iOS mobile operating system, letting you access all installed applications directly from the desktop, similar to the iPhone and iPad.

Winner:  Tied

And the winner is…

With one win each and a tie in the third category, we have an overall tie between Mac OS X Lion and Windows 7! This may leave you with the same unfulfilled satisfaction as plot-changing TV episodes that were actually mere dream sequences, but in the end it’s all about user preference. If your business requires the utmost security and data protection – Mac OS X Lion may be the better choice. If the success of your business depends on the latest programs and legacy products, then you can’t go wrong with Windows 7.

Whatever your choice, both Windows 7 and Mac OS X Lion are exceptional operating systems that are significantly more advanced than their respective predecessors.

Shenthuran Vijayananthan

Shenthuran was a Communications Associate at MaRS. See more…