Let’s get ready to rumble in this upgrade battle. XP to Vista versus Tiger to Leopard.

The weekend that Leopard was released I decided to upgrade both my systems at once. I upgraded my MBP from Tiger to Leopard at the same time that I upgraded my windows desktop from XP to Vista.

Purpose–

My wife wants to upgrade to Leopard. My father wants to upgrade to Vista. The purpose of this experiment was to see if I should recommend these upgrades to my family and the tech-recipes audience.

Background–

In the OS X corner, I have my Apple laptop that is used for most of my day to day work–browsing, photo editing, blogging, programming, and such. It already has Vista installed on it in Parallels. It was running tight without obvious problems prior to the upgrade. In the XP corner, I have my trusty desktop system that is used mainly for audio/video editing, gaming, and Office. It too was running well prior to the upgrade. The XP box did contain an elderly ds2416 audio mixing card that can be flakey. I removed it completely prior to the upgrade because I have not researched drivers for it yet.

Both systems received adequate back-up before the upgrade. Despite my personal preference for wipes and fresh installs, I purposefully decided to do straight upgrades on both systems for this battle.

I enjoy using both windows and OS X systems and frequently write tutorials regarding both. (I got no agenda/prejudice.)

Leopard Install–

I started the installation disk, answered a few questions, and let it fly. Like in Tiger, .Mac is thrown in your face. I did not time the process but it seemed to be about an hour. The system requested an update of the OS over the internet soon after the install completed. The update process took just a few minutes. No error messages or difficulties during the install.

The transparent menu bar, 3-D dock, and the new folder styles are immediately noticeable. However, clicking around yields no real surprises. For the most part, the basic functionality is consistent from Tiger.

Vista Install–

I started the installation disk and was asked to pick the flavor of Vista that I had purchased. I used the traditional x86 version (as everybody probably should be doing.) The deferral of the serial number and activation process was a nice change from XP’s installation. The install process updates itself over the internet prior to the actual act of installation which is really smart. Unfortunately it did not prevent a IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL Stop BSOD error. I tried to do a repair install as suggested by the installation wizard without success. Eventually, google helped me find the issue, and the installation proceeded successfully after I pulled out a couple of sticks of memory to get below the 3 gig limit.

After installation, the new windows eye-candy interface Aero was not enabled for some reason. Aero was manually enabled without difficulty. Trying to go to the control panel caused explorer to die probably from an incompatible .cpl file. I updated Vista through Windows update. The downloading and installing of those updates actually look longer than the entire Leopard install did. Some of the updates did not install correctly. My Microsoft bluetooth mouse and keyboard would not work.

Most programs worked as expected; however, explorer and other windows processes would die unexpectedly. Here is my favorite error message out of several: Microsoft Windows Operating System has stopped working. Nice.

Windows Operating System has stopped working

Many core aspects of navigation within Vista has changed from XP. Aero is certainly a beautiful and striking change from XP. The Start Menu changes are powerful but will be confusing to the average upgrading user. Navigation through Explorer with breadcrumbs is more radical than Leopard’s Breadcrumb navigation option.

Post-Installation Problems–

My Leopard install does not browse my network. I cannot see shares. iTunes does not see my AppleTV. My wife’s Tiger box browses it without difficulty, and I can directly connect without problems. Firefox, Cyberduck, and Adium are less stable or have annoying superficial changes after the upgrade. The fact that the Documents and Download folder icons are indistinguishable is annoying to me; however, that’s a OS X style issue more than a problem.

leopard documents and download folder icons

I feel no speed difference between Tiger and Leopard. I am currently using the Leopard upgraded box as my main laptop and see no reason to do a clean or archive type of upgrade at this time.

My Vista box continued to be very unstable with random crashes. I made a rough estimation that it would take me longer to debug the crashes than to restore my data from a clean installation. My clean installation of Vista worked much better. Even after the clean installation, the new Aero interface caused a slight, but detectable, drag on my system. A moderate upgrade of the video card helped make the system more brisk but not quite to XP levels. Copying and moving files is obviously slower. Running some programs required ‘Run as Administrator’ type of work-arounds.

Conclusion–

My Leopard installation went smoothly. Having never done an OS X upgrade before, I was expecting absolute perfection. Q always tells me that “OS X just works.” Things were not perfect, but the issues were minor.

My Vista upgrade was a disaster. Even if you ignore the show-stopping BSOD during installation, the upgraded product was ultimately unusable. The complete fresh install of Vista is not perfect either, but most of the eye candy and advancements are impressive. The Vista to XP jump is a much more ambitious step for Microsoft than the safer Tiger to Leopard jump for Apple.

My goal for this project was not to recommend one OS over the other. I use them both regularly, and the zealot fanboy arguments between the camps are silly. I wanted to contrast the upgrade experience between Leopard and Vista. This little experiment certainly answers many questions for me.

Once a patch is released to fix Leopard’s network issues, I will recommend that my wife upgrades her MBP. I will plead that my father not upgrade to Vista. The installation issues and the change in the user interface would challenge his (and thus my) sanity. As a lifelong windows user, I was appalled at the disaster that was the Vista upgrade process. For people purchasing top class windows hardware, I would be willing to recommend a Vista clean install. I do not believe that a clean install on older hardware is probably worth it.

My Personal Leopard Grades:

- Installation Process: A. Perfect.
- New Features: B. Time Machine, Stacks. (Techrx Tutorials)
- New Bugs: C. Network browsing.
- Consistent/Familiar User Interface: B.
- Eye-Candy Improvements: C. Changes can not be easily enabled/disabled.

My Personal Vista Grades:

- Installation Process: F. BSOD. Unusable upgraded product.
- New Features: B. Sidebar. DirectX10. Better security. (Techrx Tutorials)
- New Bugs: C. Slower copying.
- Consistent/Familiar User Interface: C.
- Eye-Candy Improvements: B. Up to OS X quality but customizable. Slows system.

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