Windows isn’t simply a choice for cheapskates or the ignorant. Once you set aside the security issue, Windows PCs remain one of the most technologically advanced platforms. Only Windows offers the constant evolution of new hardware and software. Want the latest Nvidia or AMD graphics card? Just plop it in. Want to activate the PhysX capabilities of your GeForce card? Just install new drivers.
The 64-bit transition will also be a hallmark of the Windows platform. We’re already seeing 64-bit computing enter the mainstream. Dell and HP are now shipping notebooks and desktops with Vista x64 installed by default. For the average consumer, the transition to 64-bit means a more stable operating system. The gap between x64 and x32 driver support is quickly closing down although some popular devices such as digital cameras still lack x64 support.
Mac OS X used to be the platform of choice for the graphics professional, but things may change in 2009 thanks to Adobe CS4. With professional digital still cameras producing increasingly large files, and 4K video becoming more popular, even for independent studios, the need for >4 GB support is clear. The 64-bit version of Adobe CS4 only supports Windows Vista–Mac users have to wait until CS5. In addition, Adobe Creative Suite 4 also marks the dawn of visual computing for the independent professional. Advanced effects and H.264 transcoding will all be accelerated on the GPU, and companies such as Nvidia are already developing optimized hardware for this market such as the Quadro CX.
If I wanted the best system for Adobe CS4 today, I would spec a Windows Vista x64 machine with a pair of Intel Core 2 Quad or Xeon CPUs, the Nvidia Quadro CX, and an HP Dreamcolor LP2480zx running 10-bit DisplayPort. There’s nothing from Apple that can come close. The release of Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) may provide improved GPU capabilities, but that still doesn’t address the 64-bit limitation of Adobe CS4 on Mac OS X, or my ability to throw a faster AMD GPU or a GeForce “CX2” as they are released.
The Windows Color System is a very sophisticated platform based on Canon’s Kyuanos technology, which improves the capabilities of color correction including expanded dynamic range (beyond 32-bits per channel) and extended gamut (beyond three-color channels). In the real-world, this is less effective because the majority of devices still run traditional color management features. Windows Vista also introduced a new printing system (XPS), which for practical purposes, means that 16-bit color processing can be achieved with Canon photo printers. Mac OS X has the edge in “real-world” color management in the sense that monitor profiles are automatically loaded and 16-bit printing support is available for both Epson and Canon printers.
Windows Vista’s Future Remains Bright
It doesn’t matter that some companies are choosing to stick with Windows XP, that more and more college students are switching to a Mac, or that Microsoft continues to patch critical vulnerabilities on a regular basis. For all the grandstanding, marketing, and finger pointing that exists, Windows will continue to be the dominant desktop operating system in the years to come. It covers all the bases: from the computer novice on a tight budget who walks into a Best Buy to the uber-geek who wants the more powerful system for gaming or multimedia creation.
Even so, Windows will continue to see its market share dwindle over time. This is not a reflection of any inherent failure in Windows, but the simple fact that it’s virtually impossible to gain market share in a world that’s already saturated.