macOS + Windows

Mac vs Windows: Differences Between Windows and Mac Operating Systems (2021)

You’ll find passionate people on both sides of the Mac vs Windows debate. These two operating systems dominate the marketplace for personal and professional computers. Although both options provide similar outcomes, you’ll find several differences between them that solve specific needs.

This guide will take you through the crucial differences between the two platforms in 2020 so that you can choose the appropriate option for your personal or professional needs.

Comparison of Windows vs Mac Computers

When Microsoft and Apple were absolute competitors in the home computer market during the 1980s and 1990s, both systems’ hardware and software components were almost unique.

As the technology evolved over the years, these platforms have come much closer to parity. The primary difference is that Apple is an internal product with its iMac, MacBook, and Mac Mini series, whereas Microsoft licenses Windows to multiple vendors. That means Apple has more control over the user experience.

These additional comparison points are worth considering if you’re in the market for a new computer today.

1. Market Share

Market Share

Windows holds a significant market share compared to Mac systems. About 3 out of every 4 computers (77.74%) that people are using globally right now use the Microsoft platform. MacOS currently holds a 17% part of the market, while Linux and ChromeOS clean up the remaining percentages.

Why does Windows have such a dominant percentage of the computing marketplace? This comparison requires us to look at Microsoft’s history with IBM briefly.

When the computer developer needed a product to compete with the Apple I and Apple II, IBM contacted Microsoft. At the time, the only item in their portfolio was called Microsoft Basic, and even it had been allegedly copied from another company.

IBM asked them to provide DOS to the personal computer, eventually resulting in a $1 billion campaign against Apple products.

Although IBM’s efforts failed for itself, Microsoft benefitted from the marketing campaigns. When people use macOS, they often feel that the system is better. Since that effort to discredit Apple became part of society’s thoughts about the Mac vs PC debate, you can still hear people using the advertising pitch as their justification to buy what is ultimately a more expensive system.

2. Price and TCO

Price and TCO

When comparing the cost of a PC vs Mac, we must evaluate the initial expense and the ongoing operations to discover which platform offers the better deal.

Although the price tag might suggest that Apple products cost more, the total cost of ownership (TCO) is lower with Mac than for a Windows PC.

The cheapest laptop for Apple typically retails at $999. It comes with everything that you need to become functional immediately, including macOS for free. You can link to a domain, access Active Directory, and have File Vault, XProtect, and full disk encryption without any additional software.

Windows PC users must add all of these features to their operating system independently or spend about $200 for the Pro version of Windows 10 to get Bitlocker. Even then, you must purchase antivirus software separately from the system.

You might pay less for an entry-level PC than you would for a MacBook Air, but it takes up to three times the cost and twice the troubleshooting calls to set up a Windows computer compared to one built by Apple.

3. Installation and Setup

Installation and Setup

The installation process, when comparing Windows and macOS, is relatively similar. Both operating systems come with wizards that help you get your new computer working within a few minutes.

Both options allow you to get your computer operational without signing into an account with Microsoft or Apple. You’ll also find that the PC or Mac delivers a richer experience when you have a profile with one of these companies.

You’ll also find that both companies have their computers recognize and install the drivers you need for your peripherals. External storage, keyboards, and mice are all relatively painless to use thanks to the included wizards.

If you have a PC, Microsoft allows Cortana to help you with the installation. When you need to update macOS, you can go through your System Preferences or ask Siri to give you some help.

Although there are minor changes to the installation workflow, both computers and operating systems deliver an equitable result.

4. Design and Interface

Design and Interface

This comparison point is a virtual tie between Macs and PCs. When you use Apple, you’ll get to work with Siri for voice recognition needs. This technology allows you to activate the operating system vocally to open apps, dictate content, or browse the Internet.

Microsoft provides a similar system with Cortana.

The one advantage that a Windows PC offers involves the touch interface that works with the digital assistant.

Apple has been relatively hesitant to introduce this option to consumers for their Mac systems, whereas most Windows vendors offer at least one choice.

Even when the latest computers were announced at the Apple Event in November 2020, none of the new Macs included this technology.

Although touchscreen applications aren’t 100% essential for most users, it does help graphic designers and other artists to create online works. This area might be the one place where Windows is consistently better than Mac right now.

5. Accessibility and User Experience

Accessibility and User Experience

When you purchase a Mac computer, you’re often getting an as-is experience. If you want to upgrade your purchase, the only options available are the RAM and hard drive. Everything else requires a technician to do the work, and that means it could be cheaper to buy another computer with the stats you want anyway.

Most Windows PCs have numerous ways to upgrade your computer so that you have a scalable product. Even if you want to upgrade your current system to have gaming performance, you can buy and install most of the hardware yourself.

Since different vendors are part of the Windows family, the diversity allows you to have more choices. That advantage comes with the disadvantage of making the problem-solving process more complicated.

If you own a Mac, most of your issues are quickly resolved with a phone call to customer service.

6. Ecosystem

ecosystem

When you purchase a Windows PC, you have hundreds of different choices that can fit your individualized needs. Over a dozen of today’s computer manufacturers have licensing agreements to use this operating system, which means you have more ways to find the exact computer for specific requirements.

Apple delivers more of a premium approach to its ecosystem. When you don’t care about your computing system’s technical components, the Mac series takes care of you by ensuring you have what you need. There are usually only six styles with limited configuration options, but they all try to deliver a one-size-fits-all approach.

That means the difference between Windows and Mac is more about philosophy.

When you choose a Windows PC, you’re buying into a franchise with individualized corporate visions of what success means. If you purchase a Mac, you’re getting a singular philosophy of interconnectedness with other products.

7. Software Compatibility

Software Compatibility

If we wrote this comparison guide two decades ago, it would be a simple choice to pick between Mac vs PC. Creative people went with Apple and productive teams stuck with Microsoft.

Today’s software world is 180 degrees different from that initial marketplace. You’ll still find more office applications available on Windows, but you can use Office 365 with a Mac version to get the same functionality – at the same price!

Even Adobe® Creative Suite comes with a subscription option for Mac users.

Since most software options come from the cloud instead of using disk-based mechanisms, it doesn’t matter if you choose Mac or PC in this comparison. Unless you’re using Edge or Safari, your browser doesn’t care about your operating system.

8. Gaming and Entertainment

Gaming and Entertainment

If you want to set up a gaming computer at home, you’re almost always stuck with a Windows PC. You can even stream games from the last-gen consoles on your equipment.

Although you’ll find numerous games in the App Store for your Mac, the title availability is nowhere near what PC users have at their disposal. Almost any game you’d find for a PlayStation or Xbox is available to play on a Windows computer.

That doesn’t mean you cannot turn your Mac into a gaming computer. Some rumors even suggest that Apple could be making a $5,000 system to rival Windows in this market with a design similar to the iMac Pro.

It just takes more work and money to make a gaming Mac, which is why most people flock to a PC platform when they want to play.

9. Overall Security

Overall Security

Since its inception, Windows products have seen more ransomware, viruses, malware, trojan attacks, and other system breaches when compared to Apple products.

If you bought an Apple computer in the 2000s, some sellers even told you that it was “virus-free,” and that protective software wasn’t necessary.

When comparing Windows and macOS today, both operating systems have structures embedded in their software to stop these attacks. Microsoft and Apple continuously update their definitions to keep users as safe as possible.

You still typically need third-party help with antivirus, anti-malware, and firewall solutions for your Mac or PC.

The only genuine benefit in this PC vs Mac comparison is that Apple products still face a lower attack frequency. Everything else is relatively equal when looking at the two operating systems.

Please Note: You should not operate any computer with personal data on it without appropriate protective mechanisms. Although Apple and Microsoft provide a foundation for this protection, it should not be considered a comprehensive solution.

10. Customer Satisfaction

Customer Satisfaction

Apple and Microsoft (along with Microsoft’s vendors) have a relatively stable market share. If you feel satisfied with your operating system, you’ll typically stick with it.

Some people feel that you need an Apple for photo processing or music recording. Others say that Windows delivers superior home office software supports.

The truth in this comparison point is that these operating systems have parity.

Your one advantage with macOS over Windows is that you can access apps like Garageband with your computer. That means you get more functionality out of the box for a comparable price because you can access a comprehensive DAW with recording capabilities without additional investments.

The free DAW downloads for Windows (and other comparable apps that Apple offers at no charge) don’t provide the same functionality.

If you buy a high-end Windows PC today, it’s about the same price as a MacBook or an iMac. The best value might be the Mac Mini, although you must purchase a compatible monitor to gain system functionality.

Additional Differences to Consider: Mac vs Windows

The primary honorable mention for the primary differences between Mac vs Windows involves the act of signing into your desktop or laptop.

When you use a Mac with a touch bar or biometrics button, you can complete the login with a simple touch. If you own companion products, such as an Apple Watch, iPhone, or iPad, you can log in through those devices.

Once you have everything on and working, you can quickly transfer information between the devices. If you have a browser up on your iPhone or Mac, you can connect to other components in your home network to see the same information. Only the latest Windows PCs in 2020 have started offering a similar feature.

If you have a PC, Windows 10 delivers several biometric login options and their Hello feature. A facial recognition service, similar to what iPhones offer, is available on the higher-end PCs. You also get fingerprint readers or a PIN to make this process more secure.

The second honorable mention for comparison points involves how the operating systems function. When you use Windows, it offers a start button and an initial menu that lets you quickly access your documents, settings, or apps you use the most.

When you have macOS, there isn’t a similar workflow process to follow. You can move the apps you frequently use to your Dock for instant access, but there isn’t a natural workflow process that happens automatically for you. Although it seems like a disadvantage, Apple lets you control how fast you want access to items instead of assuming what your needs are in this area.

History and Technical Specifications of Mac vs Windows

Although you’ll find passionate people who love Windows or macOS for their own reasons, how does each brand fare in the general public?

You might remember the advertising wars in the early 2000s when Justin Long represented a young, hip Mac while John Hodgman was the older and more out-of-touch PC.

That campaign lasted for three years, producing almost 70 different advertisements for people to consider.

It was a reversal of what IBM did to Apple in the 1980s when it finally released a personal computer for home use.

Apple had already been selling computers in that space for almost a decade. When IBM paired up with Microsoft, they created campaigns that made it seem elitist for people to own one of those home devices.

Although Apple acknowledged that the marketing was working, they showed people how their computing was better. In 1983, the company took out a double-page advertisement that promoted the benefits of email.

When we look at the Mac vs PC debate to see what system created the modern GUI, Apple comes out the winner. The Macintosh was the first system to feature a mouse with this benefit, with Microsoft joining the market with Windows in 1985 to latch onto that success.

It wasn’t until the 1990s, when the market shifted toward IBM-based PCs operating Windows, that Apple’s market share started declining.

Although three-quarters of personal computers are still Windows PCs, Apple is making a comeback. In 2009, Microsoft had over 90% of the market.

Even IBM has come around, saying that it is more expensive for them to manage PCs than to have a Mac. Their cost comparison over four years was over $500 when using Apple products.

In Conclusion: Where Are You in the Mac vs Windows Debate?

When you start thinking about a Mac vs Windows, you could shoot for some middle ground. You can operate emulators or partition your internal drive on an Apple computer so that it loads with the Windows operating system you prefer.

If you use that solution, it’s possible to get the best of both worlds.

You can also go in reverse and install macOS on a PC if that is your preference. 

That means you can find an appropriate answer that works for you in the Windows vs Mac debate. What operating system do you see yourself preferring, and why?

Jeff Cochin has spent a better part of his writing career helping users recover lost data from their personal and work devices. When not describing the best way to avoid a costly data loss, Jeff likes to spend time outside and go on short cycling adventures.
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