Editor's note: This marks the debut of a new series of articles on TheStreet.com pitting two big companies against each other. today, Apple vs. Microsoft.

The two heavyweight contenders are headed for the ring. Which computer operating system will emerge as the champ:

Apple's

(AAPL) - Get Report

OS X or

Microsoft's

(MSFT) - Get Report

Windows 7?

In this new weekly series, I'll review the head-to-head battle of products while my colleagues James Rogers and Scott Moritz will handle the equity. Today, James looks at the

importance of the operating systems to the two companies' businesses

.

Arch Rivals: Apple Vs. Windows

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Back to the tale of the tape:

Apple's contender is its OS X 10.5 OS. It's nicknamed Leopard, and is the latest version of the never-ending series of modern-day operating systems that are all amazingly user friendly, graphically rich and feature laden as well as being easy to learn, use and master. You really can't ask for much more than that.

Microsoft's current offering is Windows Vista. It has been problematic in its 32-bit form (what most people use) and pretty stable (although not as flexible in some circumstances) in its 64-bit version.

But Microsoft invites people to try a beta version of their next operating systems. In this case, I have to admit that Windows 7 is a huge improvement. Good looking and incredibly nimble, Windows 7 will finally be a worthy opponent of OS X.

I know one is a real release and the other a beta, but I feel I can compare them to each other because both have been released to users. I would prefer trying an OS X beta for the comparison if Apple would make them available.

I have both operating systems running on my desk here at

TheStreet.com

and have to tell you that they are both terrific. I'm running OS X 10.5 on a Mac mini (2 GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 1 GB of RAM) through a monstrous, 21-inch Asus HD LCD monitor, and the computing experience is first rate all the way.

Windows 7 beta (32-bit) is running on an ancient

Hewlett-Packard

(HPQ) - Get Report

desktop box (containing a 2.60 GHz Pentium 4 and 1.5 GB of RAM) into a 17-inch HP monitor. The combination runs rings around the same computer when it chugged along in Windows XP.

Featurewise, both are similar in many ways. Ease of use is also a toss-up. It will come down to which operating system or large company's product you prefer. There is one warning: Since Windows 7 is a beta, many things can happen before its final release (rumored to be very early in 2010). What Microsoft doesn't want to do is add enough bloat-ware to slow Windows 7 down to a crawl, like Redmond did with the final release version of Vista.

Then again, Apple now knows what's new in Windows 7 and has plenty of time to counter with new operating system features of its own for the next version of OS X. Also, Apple will be showing at the Consumers Electronics Show in Las Vegas next January for the first time ever. An upgraded version of its operating system might just be a great item to announce there.

For now, the winner is Apple's OS X. But who knows a year from now!

Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.