Here's what you need to do in order to install Snow Leopard: Insert the installation disc and then go through a simple setup routine. You won't have to decide between a clean install and an upgrade. You won't have to mull over which version of Snow Leopard is best for you. You won't have to type in a lengthy registration code.
In Windows, you'll have to choose between a clean install and an upgrade. In addition, depending on your hardware configuration and version of Windows, it may take you some time to figure out which version of Windows 7 you can upgrade to.
Once you do all that, though, there are no real major differences between installing the operating systems. Snow Leopard took a little less time to install on my system, but apart from that, the installation process itself was quite similar.
Snow Leopard did do a better job of recognizing the hardware -- it did it without a hitch. Windows 7 at first didn't recognize my video card and so I had problems with screen resolution. However, Windows 7 quickly resolved the problem without any intervention on my part via Windows Update.
The Winner: Snow Leopard. It wins by a hair because of Windows 7's slight glitch with my hardware and the configuration choices you need to make. Aside from that, though, installation wasn't significantly different.
What do you do all day with an operating system? You primarily launch programs, and then switch among running programs and windows. To a certain extent, everything else is just window dressing.
So it's probably no surprise that some of the biggest changes to both Snow Leopard and Windows 7 have to do with the way you launch applications and switch among them. Snow Leopard's Dock was tweaked by integrating it with Exposé (a window-management feature); while Windows 7's taskbar was significantly reworked.
The Dock and the taskbar both do double-duty as application launchers and task switchers. The Dock is more aesthetically pleasing, with its application icons cut out in profile and highlighted against the Mac desktop, while the taskbar runs like a flat ribbon across the bottom of the Windows 7 screen.
Both added a nearly identical feature -- the ability to see thumbnails of all the windows open in an application. In Windows 7, when an application has multiple windows open, you'll see a stack of icons in the taskbar that match the number of windows open. Hover your mouse over the application's icon, and you'll see thumbnails of them all, spread out across the bottom of the screen. Similarly, in Snow Leopard, when you click on an application's icon in the Dock and hold it, you see thumbnails as well.
The taskbar's implementation is superior to the Dock's. The taskbar displays the number of windows open in an application because it shows a stack of icons -- the Dock has no visual clues like that. In addition, when you scroll through each thumbnail in Windows 7, you see a full preview of the window on your desktop, making it easier to determine which window you want to switch to. The Dock doesn't do this.
The Dock's implementation of thumbnails is also incomplete. In Snow Leopard, if you run a browser such as Safari or Firefox and then hold down its icon in the Dock, you won't be able to see all open tabs as separate thumbnails; instead you see only a single tab, and have no idea what other tabs are open. In Windows 7, each tab gets its own thumbnail, so you know exactly what's open in your browser.
The Windows 7 taskbar has something else that Snow Leopard doesn't: Jump Lists. When you right-click an application's icon in the taskbar in Windows 7, you get a menu offering various actions and tasks associated with that application. The list varies according to the application -- so when you right-click Microsoft Word, for example, you see a list of recently opened files, but when you click Internet Explorer, you see a list of your most frequently visited sites.
Of course, both OSes have other ways to switch from one task to another: Snow Leopard has Exposé, while Windows 7 uses the Alt-Tab key combination. Here it's more of a toss-up over which is superior.
Exposé has nifty features such as letting you move your pointer to a corner of the desktop to perform a task like putting the display to sleep, displaying all open windows, etc. And the Spaces feature lets you create multiple virtual desktops, each with its own look and application organization.
Alt-Tab, though, has one thing that Exposé doesn't: When you cycle through all your open windows, the background of the desktop shows that window, so you can more easily decide which program you want to switch to.
The Winner: Windows 7. The taskbar has more features such as Jump Lists and has more fully featured thumbnails. The Dock may be more elegant-looking, but in this case function is more important than form.