Windows vs MacOS 2019

Decades ago, when my wife and I started a design business, we opted for Microsoft Windows. There were a couple of reasons. First, I was working as a programmer for a Microsoft shop, so I knew a fair amount about Windows. I could readily support Windows computers. Second, Macintosh was a “niche” computer (and still is). That is, its market share was in the single digits, versus Microsoft’s overwhelming dominance of the desktop. My wife, the designer, used and still uses Adobe Creative Suite for her design work.

We went on for years, through various versions of Windows. Finally, we were on Windows XP, which was generally quite a stable, reasonable version of Windows. Of course, nothing good ever lasts forever. And the day came when Microsoft released Windows Vista. If you’ve followed the trade press (and I did), you knew that Vista received a very chilly reception, and was known for its instabilities.

Now, you have to understand the way the Adobe Creative Suite business works. There are new versions of Creative Suite (CS) for each new version of the each operating system, both MacOS and Windows. We were happily running the XP version of CS. But here came the Vista version. We were in no way prepared to “upgrade” our OS to Vista, and likewise did not want to buy into the Vista version of CS.

What to do?

I’d been running Linux as my primary desktop since 1996 (on the Intel x86 platform). In that time, Apple’s Macintosh line had gone from the Motorola 680X0 family of processors, through to the IBM PowerPC line of processors. Then, in about 2006, Apple again changed platforms to the Intel x86 platform. This would simplify a lot of aspects of MacOS, particularly file sharing. And the change was more or less warmly received by the public.

In addition, MacOS had gone through a transition a few years before, borrowing heavily from Steve Jobs’ OpenStep operating system, used on his Next computers. This operating system was by far more Unix/Linux like than the prior MacOS versions.

So there was a combination of factors which came together at that time. The Macintosh was now on the Intel platform. And MacOS shared more with Linux/Unix than Windows did. It was possible I could provide platform support to my wife on an Apple machine, even though I didn’t know much about the platform directly. By switching to a Mac, we could avoid the dreaded Windows Vista, because CS was available natively on the Mac.

This would also be a chance to test a theory we had both had from the early days of computers: Is MacOS really superior to Windows? Our thought had always been that this was a myth, and that one’s ability to use a computer operating system depended more on what OS they learned first, rather than any other factors.

So I decided to plunk down $5000 for a Macintosh Pro and the software to run on it. We found a local vendor (now defunct), paid our money, and had the machine delivered. It worked fine, and the transition to MacOS wasn’t all that difficult for my wife. This seemed to be a good decision. (Even though for that price, I could have bought a far more powerful Windows machine. But I’d have been stuck with Vista.)

Of course, time proved otherwise. For one thing, Apple has hacked its version of BSD (MacOS) so thoroughly that it barely resembles an *nix operating system any more. Plus, Apple insists on its own homebrew language in order to do any real hacking on the platform. Needless to say, those dreams of me supporting the platform soon evaporated.

Next, Apple has engineered a very closed ecosystem. Want music? Go to the iTunes store. That’s it. That’s your choice. Multiply this many times over. The only way to do X on a Mac is to do it the Apple way. Any other way won’t work. Some things you’d think were just obvious tasks almost can’t be done on a Mac because of the way the software is designed to interact with Apple’s store and other software. And installing “new” software on the Mac is a nightmare. On Windows, you just grab a disk, throw it into the drive, and tell it to install. Linux is almost the same, except you typically install from online repositories. No such luck on the Mac. You have to install another layer of software first, which allows you to install the software you really want to install. Yum.

During the time that my wife worked with the Mac, Apple upgraded the operating system various times. But the final nail in the Apple coffin came when the next update of the OS could not be installed on this expensive Macintosh Pro. Of course, this also meant that we couldn’t purchase or use the upcoming version of Creative Suite. In other words, after many years of using MacOS, Apple effectively bricked my wife’s computer and prevented her from going forward on that platform, without us purchasing an entirely new Mac and software (at probably $5000+).

This action by Apple sealed my growing dislike for the company. We immediately went out and spent a fraction of the amount we would have spent on a Mac, for a better computer running Windows.

What this essay is really about is the aftermath of that decision and what it tells us about the respective companies and their cultures.

By the time I made this decision, Windows had gone through the much beloved Windows 7, Windows 8, and was now on Windows 10, supposedly the “last” version of Windows. If you’ve followed the Windows saga, you know that from XP to version 10, the interface of Windows had changed drastically, primarily to present a singular user experience across Microsoft’s desktops, laptops, tablets and phones. Of course, this was met with rage from the public, and version 10 has a switch which allows it to look more or less like Windows 7 or 8.

This radical change of interface was enough to aggravate my wife from the outset. We had to use the aforementioned switch, but even then, she had no experience with anything later than XP.

As for the user experience, Windows versus MacOS, I don’t really see a significant difference. They proceed from different assumptions. And to be honest, it’s clear that Apple has done more research into what makes a user interface “easy”. But I don’t consider MacOS inherently easier than Windows. Slicker, maybe.

I should do some clarification here. When MacOS first came out and was challenged by Windows, the two didn’t differ enough to call one easier or better than the other. Depends on which you learned first. You also can’t discount the inherent snobbishness of Apple fanboys. I know, I worked with one who constantly complained about Windows, and could do nothing but praise Mac. Turns out, she had worked for Apple Inc.

Over the course of decades, Microsoft has paid lip service to improving the look and feel of Windows, but has really made few significant improvements. On the other hand, Apple, with its isolated hardware audience, has spent decades upgrading its operating system. For example, there’s a thing on MacOS these days called “Cover Flow”, which is a real visual treat, and an obvious bonus for naive computer users. Overall, I think Apple has done a better job of maintaining their operating system. And obviously, they didn’t try to make phones, tablets, laptops and desktops all look the same. But it’s taken decades for Apple to come to this point. It seems as though Microsoft has more or less rested on their huge market share laurels, while Apple has continued to try to find ways to do operating systems better than Microsoft.

But the real problem has come from the fact that you no longer purchase Windows on a disc and run it for years. These days, Microsoft simply updates your OS whenever they like, and unless you’re running certain versions of Windows, you just get to grin and bear the updates. To make matters worse, Microsoft has made internal and business changes such that Windows is no longer that important a product for Microsoft. (There have even been rumors that at some point, they may switch to a Linux based system.)

All this sounds fine until you have to deal with the baked in bugs that each OS revision drags along with it. It seems clear from the quality of code Microsoft is putting out that Windows is low on their importance scale. This can’t be said for Apple. Apple has continued to update and ensure the integrity of their operating system code, even if you don’t like the periodic changes they make.

My wife wasn’t happy to have to go back to Windows in the first place. Understandable. But since I know a helluva lot more about computers, and I’m a programmer, I make the major platform decisions. Still, the horrid quality of updates has soured her against Windows even more. And I understand. On the other hand, there’s no chance I’m giving Apple thousands of dollars so they can brick my hardware in another few years. If I could buy an “decent” Apple machine for under a grand, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. But that’s not ever gonna happen with Apple.