mweerden: NT has been designed for multi-user from day one, so this is not really a reason. However, you are right about that process creation plays a less important role on NT than on Unix as NT, in contrast to Unix, favors multithreading over multiprocessing.
Rob, it is true that fork is relatively cheap when COW is used, but as a matter of fact, fork is mostly followed by an exec. And an exec has to load all images as well. Discussing the performance of fork therefore is only part of the truth.
When discussing the speed of process creation, it is probably a good idea to distinguish between NT and Windows/Win32. As far as NT (i.e. the kernel itself) goes, I do not think process creation (NtCreateProcess) and thread creation (NtCreateThread) is significantly slower as on the average Unix. There might be a little bit more going on, but I do not see the primary reason for the performance difference here.
If you look at Win32, however, you'll notice that it adds quite a bit of overhead to process creation. For one, it requires the CSRSS to be notified about process creation, which involves LPC. It requires at least kernel32 to be loaded additionally, and it has to perform a number of additional bookkeeping work items to be done before the process is considered to be a full-fledged Win32 process. And let's not forget about all the additional overhead imposed by parsing manifests, checking if the image requires a compatbility shim, checking whether software restriction policies apply, yada yada.
That said, I see the overall slowdown in the sum of all those little things that have to be done in addition to the raw creation of a process, VA space, and initial thread. But as said in the beginning -- due to the favoring of multithreading over multitasking, the only software that is seriously affected by this additional expense is poorly ported Unix software. Although this sitatuion changes when software like Chrome and IE8 suddenly rediscover the benefits of multiprocessing and begin to frequently start up and teardown processes...