Microsoft Admits, Then Denies, Copying Mac OS X


It boggles the mind, it really does. Microsoft (s msft) tries so hard but for each step forward, it seems to take three steps back. Windows 7, Redmond’s answer to the train-wreck that was Vista (subscription required), has been out for just a matter of weeks and has managed to garner mostly positive reviews. But Microsoft can’t help itself. It has to do something silly, and, true to form, it has.

It seems Microsoft’s middle management can’t decide whether or not it ripped-off Mac OS X when it was redesigning its flagship product. This is the result of a bewildering comment from Microsoft Partner Group Manager Simon Aldous in an interview this week with PCR. He’s neither a developer nor a designer, and he didn’t work on Windows 7. But Aldous didn’t let that stop him saying this about Microsoft’s latest OS:

One of the things that people say an awful lot about the Apple Mac is that the OS is fantastic, that it’s very graphical and easy to use. What we’ve tried to do with Windows 7 […] is create a Mac look and feel in terms of graphics.

So. Aldous just made it clear; Windows 7 copies borrows its design from the Mac. Only, no, it doesn’t. Not according to a retort yesterday from Windows Communications Manager, Brandon LeBlanc. Writing on The Windows Blog, LeBlanc said:

An inaccurate quote has been floating around the Internet today about the design origins of Windows 7 and whether its look and feel was “borrowed” from Mac OS X. Unfortunately this came from a Microsoft employee who was not involved in any aspect of designing Windows 7. I hate to say this about one of our own, but his comments were inaccurate and uninformed.

The tech press is going bonkers about it, of course, but let’s be honest — when it comes to operating systems, the days when these two giants outright-copied one another and it mattered are far behind us. The common elements of an OS user interface are driven largely by user need/behavior. High resolution color displays and the ubiquity of the mouse and keyboard combo would have led to these similarities irrespective of the company behind them. Put simply, thirty-odd years of OS evolution would result inevitably in functional and aesthetic similarities.

What Are They Looking At?

When people say that Windows 7 “looks like” Mac OS X, I don’t understand exactly what it is they’re looking at.

Mac OS X’s Dock and Windows 7’s Taskbar are similar in function, but not design. The desktop and windows are, again, similar in function — but they don’t look the same.

Windows 7 has gone overboard with transparencies everywhere, to the detriment of ease of use. Mac OS X, on the other hand, introduced transparencies many years ago and has consistently dialled them down in successive OS updates.

Windows was long-criticized for its drab, gunship grey interface. XP and Vista moved gradually away from grey, and now Windows 7’s UI is an explosion of green and blue (or red or pink or purple or whatever godawful theme you choose). Mac OS X, on the other hand, remains a stately, elegant… gunship grey. Not at all like Windows 7. I suspect people mistake Microsoft’s bold-yet-vomit-enducingly-colorful design of Windows 7 with the elegance of Mac OS X.

I’m aware that these observations are subjective. My opinions are just that — my opinions. You might agree with me that it’s wrong to say Windows 7 and Mac OS X look “the same.” You might think I’m desperately uninformed and waste no time telling me as much. (In fact, the predictable result of any article comparing Windows with Mac OS X is the vitriol from commenters apparently unaware they’re reading TheAppleBlog.)

In any case, consider this; here we have two Microsoft execs, one in product sales, one in product design & development. The former sees how customers perceive the Mac to be a superior product, and tries to exploit that perception by ‘connecting’ Windows 7 to it. (“The Mac is great, so by copying it, Windows is great, too.” etc.) The latter has spent years working hard on this new OS and responds with understandable indignation to the suggestion his team copied anything from the competition.

Either way, it’s embarrassing. At a time when they ought to be extolling the wonders and miracles an upgrade to Windows 7 may bring, they’re instead drawing attention to their biggest rival.

I can’t help but imagine an email winging its way through Apple’s Marketing department this week, its subject line reading, “With competition like this, who needs an ad campaign?”


mark viana

what the hell?
seriously, this article is so pointless.

Alvaro Rojas

finaly they admited the truth. Whay Microsoft can’t be creatinve and create their own desing.


What a blunder.

It’s not easy to reverse the mistake made. They should move forward now and really make the products better. That’s the only way to success. There is no benefit and labeling things and calling sheep a cow, etc.


“Put simply, thirty-odd years of OS evolution would result inevitably in functional and aesthetic similarities.”

30 years of real evolution would result in much more OS diversification — to exploit the needs of different niches, not the homogenization we see now. Despite the protestations of the fanboys; there’s not really all that much different between OSX and Windows. If there was, it wouldn’t be so easy to switch.

We haven’t had 30 years of OS evolution, we’ve had 30 years of refinement of the same WIMP model (window/icon/menu/mouse). The marketplace doesn’t encourage real evolution, short term focus encourages climbing local maxima rather than exploring the space of what’s possible.

For real OS experiments you have to look outside the paradigm; OLPC’s Sugar, Squeak, Amiga, Be, Plan 9, Jazz, Lifestreams, Jeff Raskin’s HUI, even Emacs– for different ways of interacting with a computer environment.

I’m not saying all these are radically different; but each offer different metaphors, and that’s where you’ll find evolution.


“The marketplace doesn’t encourage real evolution”

Tell this to the people at MS who designed and marketed the Zune.

Most sales people and designers would say…The marketplace does encourages most of the evolution!


I would venture that its not so much “look” the same as “function” the same. Versus Windows XP, Windows 7 does a lot to try and hide the complexity and complete cluster#&%* that Windows is at its core. My favorite analogy for Windows is the Lipstick on a Pig. Windows 7 still has a registry like 9x/NT. It still has backwards conventions (and code) left over from Windows 3.1 (anybody who thinks this isn’t true, lay off the koolaid). Its still WINDOWS. Everybody OOoos and Aaahs over it at first, then when they try to do real work, they realize its the same or worse than the previous OS.

OS X has gotten increasingly better at keeping the geek-ish stuff well hidden from those who don’t want to see it. You can steadily see improvement as OS X has iterated. And they’ve had 6 major releases and a buttload of point releases in the time its taken Windows to do 3 Major releases and 5 services packs.

Apple has also been proactively deprecating, replacing, and updating CORE functionality, rather than just continually building on top of existing crap, Apple says “As of this version , , and won’t work any more. Deal with it” and more often than not, software developers keep pace with this (except for Adobe, another software Giant we’re going to see collapse in the next 5 years).

If Windows tried this, developers would revolt and the platform would collapse and the OS would be a bigger failure than ME and Vista combined. Hell look at the problems that were caused by the changes Vista brought. There is STILL hardware being produced that doesn’t have certified Vista drivers. And I know of at least 4 software packages whose authors have stated they have no current plans for versions that support Windows Vista or Windows 7 (one is a client/server app, yeah, no plans to support Server 2008 either, let alone Server 2008 R2). The same developer went as far to say that until Dell stops shipping XP downgrades, they’re not planning on releasing anything except updates for the XP/Server2k3 version. And if/when they DO decide to do it, when their customer base finally forces them to, do you really think they’re actually going to rewrite their entire apps to take advantage of all the new features Windows 7 offers? Pfffft.

Bill Garrett

Someone should check the status of that old Apple vs Microsoft lawsuit, to see if it’s been reopened in recent days. You remember, the one that dragged on for years, in which Apple accused Microsoft of copying the Mac “look and feel.” Everyone knows it was wrongly decided in Microsoft’s favor, but now, years later — a confession!


That court found that Microsoft did copy Mac’s look and feel, but Apple licensed Lisa Desktop and Macintosh Finder to Microsoft. So all copyrightable material Microsoft copied was allowable.


I agree Jason, i tend to read The Apple Blog less & less these days as I crave for fairer journalism. I get that its a blog & it simply is down to opinions, but adding more fuel to the usual Windows bashing fire isn’t really constructive nor covering any new or interesting ground for me.

I mean one minute the poster is saying that Gunship grey is ‘drab’ in relation to a Windows OS and then claiming it as ‘elegant’ only a few sentences later in relation to OSX. It’s tedious.

Ironically, Ubuntu looks more like OS X than what Windows 7 does, but unsurprisingly this doesn’t get covered by the blogs here. Fair journalism?

Nonetheless I myself use both OS’, OSX more than Windows & i actually think Windows 7 is a good operating system, the best so far from their camp. As a consumer this can only mean a good thing as both companies will strive to achieve better & better operating systems. Which ultimately, is the main concern for the consumer, not the squabbles of whether a colour scheme is ‘vomit-enducingly-colourful’ or whether inspiration has been drawn from its competitors.

Liam Cassidy

Hi John, thanks for posting your comment.

Just wanted to clarify that *I* didn’t claim Windows was drab, I said it was a long-held criticism of Windows design. Not *my* long-held criticism.

John Johnson

This is why companies typically put “don’t talk to the media unless you are an approved spokesman” in their employee training. Because otherwise when an employee (who, in this case, may or may not be stating the company line) blurts something out, it becomes “Microsoft said this.”

Certainly their _official_ position is that they did not copy. And regardless of whether they did or not internally, I’m certain they didn’t want this guy stating the official company line. D’oh!

Jason Burns

The only thing I would like to point out is the line “(In fact, the predictable result of any article comparing Windows with Mac OS X is the vitriol from commenters apparently unaware they’re reading TheAppleBlog.)” which seems like you think it releases you from being objective. Just because you openly admit you love Apple products, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t practice fair and ethical journalism. I love the site, and read it regularly, but as a Mac and Windows users, which I gather is quite common, it would be nice to see more unbiased articles that are fair with the qualities and faults of Apple products instead of bashing Microsoft no matter what and pretending Apple’s faults are well thought out brilliant design by Steve Jobs.


This isn’t journalism. It’s a blog for Apple lovers by Apple lovers. I don’t say this to knock it, it’s just not journalism.

Trust me, I’m a journalist.


i’ve found the reporting to be quite truthful. has it been balanced reporting? to be honest; in my opinion not really. how could the reporting be balanced though?

we’re comparing ms windows based products to OSX based products. there’s a vast difference in quality that still exists to this day. microsoft recently released an operating system that finally works the way it was designed in principal. many of these technologies have been used by osx users like myself for close to a decade.

i’m biased and perhaps a bit simplistic. i use osx at home and i work in an office that uses ms windows. my computing issues happen at work. my wife runs a business that uses mac based products. they have little to no operating system issues in their office. her tech support is on a per call basis whereas in my office, we require a fully committed IT contract that is substantially more expensive than the arrangement my wife has in her office.

i don’t know how you can truly remain objective with regards to ms based products when apple based products to this day clearly outpace them in every aspect. it’s not even close. all things considered, i think the guys here at the appleblog do a great job.

Joe L.

Yeah, the “windows just copied the Mac look-and-feel” really kicked into high gear soon after Vista was released, and it never made any sense to me either. Yes, the Vista interface is sleeker, more visually striking, and arguably more attractive on the surface (this says nothing about the usability or function of the UI changes) than any previous version of Windows. But just because they added eye candy doesn’t make it look at all like OS X. People seem to confuse flashiness with style. Vista/7 are flashy – shiny, bright, curvy, transparent, etc. OS X is stylish – yes, it has some flashy UI components, but in general, windows are pared down to the bare essentials.

Anyone who seriously thinks that Vista/7 copied overall look-and-feels from OS X simply needs to look at the default configurations of a Windows Explorer window vs. a Finder window. Windows Explorer, starting in Vista (maybe it’s gotten better in 7?) is a visual nightmare. Garish gradients and transparencies, buttons thrown about seemingly at random, toolbars, panels, sidebars galore, oversized borders, strange button/menu hybrids, excessive use of arrows, etc. The default Finder window couldn’t be any further away, stylistically. It’s simple (maybe too simple, some would say), clean, uncluttered. It only presents what you need to see. There are no oversized borders, it has smooth and well defined edges, the gradients are subtle, the buttons are clean and easy to read, it’s not overrun with panels and info bars nobody reads. Anybody repeating the “windows looks like Mac now” gambit is probably just parroting someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.


I agree, Windows 7 and OS X really don’t look alike. When I read that quote it made me think that he was referring to the efficiency of the OSX layout and how windows 7 was trying to provide that same level of efficiency. Which of course is perfectly legal, however I get the impression that Microsoft’s legal department saw the quote, hit their head against the desk, and told Microsoft to stop saying such things for their own sake.

Hanzs Wolfgang

The principals behind any operating system are always going to be the same, ease of use and consistent UI. If these have been copied from Apple then so what, every product ever released or to be released should have these elements.

I agree that both OS’s feel the same, but as for looking the same, they are miles apart. Yes the fundamental parts of the system are the same, the fact that they use a file system, or that they both allow you to connect to the internet. You could say that one car company copies another because they both have steering wheels and an engine, but the design of the car is different.

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