If you're like most people, you're not satisfied with the out-of-box experience offered by your operating system. You want to customize it and tweak it.
For doing this, it's hard to beat the straight-ahead simplicity and organization of Snow Leopard's System Preferences. It sports five categories: Personal, Hardware, Internet & Wireless, System, and Other. In each category you'll find a group of icons, such as Appearance, Desktop & Screen Saver, and so on. Click an icon, and you'll be presented with a straightforward menu for changing the way that feature works. It's as simple as customization gets.
Windows 7's Control Panel is far more complex. It has seven major categories and many subcategories, using a very confusing hierarchy. It has numerous applets for configuring Windows, but unlike System Preference, there is not a common interface among them all -- the interface of each applet is different, and so it takes quite a time to learn each. The learning curve is steep.
But there's also a big upside to that complexity: As a general rule, Windows is more configurable than Snow Leopard, with more options. And some of the applets are extremely useful and superior to what is available in Snow Leopard.
A good example of the contrasting approaches is Snow Leopard's Network System Preferences compared to the Windows 7's Network and Internet category in its Control Panel. In Snow Leopard, it's exceedingly easy to get at important network information such as TCP/IP and DNS configuration. In Windows 7, to get that information you have to dig deep through numerous applets and menus, and once you do it, it's not easy to remember how to do it again.
However, in Windows 7, you get more networking options and features, such as an excellent network map that visually displays all the devices on your network and lets you get information about them.
So while it's true that Microsoft could have done a better job for system configuration than the Control Panel, it has also tried to stuff many more features into it. Partly, the complex design goes with the complex territory.
The Winner: Windows 7. Many people might consider this a toss-up, but this choice reflects my predilection for tweaking and customizing. Those who want simplicity will appreciate Snow Leopard's System Preferences' easy and accessible way to configure the operating system. Tweakers who like as many choices as possible, no matter how confusing and inelegantly presented, will prefer Windows 7's Control Panel.
What good is an operating system without software that runs on it? No good at all. So it's worthwhile looking at how compatible existing software is with each operating system.
When it comes to compatibility with existing third-party applications for the Mac, Snow Leopard has some problems. As I've written in Snow Leopard: Which apps, utilities have been left behind?, I found a number of compatibility problems between Snow Leopard and software that I use on a daily basis. The excellent Xmarks bookmark synchronizer won't work on Safari in Snow Leopard, for example, and neither will the free office productivity suite NeoOffice. In addition, Adobe Systems has said that its Creative Suite 3, which includes Photoshop, may not run on Snow Leopard, although Creative Suite 4 should have no problems.
I've found several other utilities that won't work either, such as the very good Windows Sync synchronization tool from Windows. In some instances, betas of the utilities or applications already exist that fix the problem. In others, work is being done or planned, but not yet completed. Most likely, most if not all popular applications will eventually be compatible with Snow Leopard. But that's not the case today.
As for Windows 7, Microsoft seems to have learned the lessons of Windows Vista. Applications written for Windows Vista will work with Windows 7 -- I haven't found a single issue where that isn't the case. There's also a Windows XP mode that allows applications written for XP to run on Windows 7 and look as if they were running on it natively. True, it's a kludge, but at least it works. (Note that XP mode is available only for certain hardware and in certain versions of Windows 7.)
The Winner: Windows 7. That's for now, though. In relatively short order, Snow Leopard may have its compatibility problems worked out.