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Windows vs. OSX: Full Comparison

Windows vs macOS: The Ultimate Comparison


When it comes to desktop operating systems, there are two clear industry leaders that have dominated the space for decades: Microsoft Windows and Apple‘s macOS (formerly OS X). Together, Windows and macOS power the vast majority of laptop and desktop computers around the world. While they serve the same fundamental purpose of providing a graphical interface for users to run applications and manage files, the two operating systems have distinct histories, philosophies, strengths and weaknesses.

In this comprehensive comparison, we‘ll take a deep dive into the key similarities and differences between Windows and macOS. By the end, you‘ll have a clear understanding of the pros and cons of each OS and be able to make an informed decision about which one is right for your needs. Let‘s get started!

History and Background

Microsoft first released Windows 1.0 in 1985 as a graphical operating system shell for MS-DOS. It introduced the concept of a multi-panel "window" interface, which quickly became the standard for how users interacted with personal computers. Over the next decade, Microsoft rapidly iterated on Windows and solidified its position as the dominant OS, especially for business and enterprise use.

Meanwhile, Apple introduced the first Macintosh computer with its classic Mac OS in 1984. The Mac OS pioneered many of the graphical user interface conventions we still use today, like the mouse, icons, folders, and menus. However, the Mac remained a relatively niche, premium product favored by educators, creatives, and countercultural types, never achieving close to Windows‘ market share.

In 2001, Apple launched OS X 10.0, a drastically redesigned version of the Mac OS built on Unix underpinnings. OS X brought the Mac OS into the modern era with preemptive multitasking, protected memory, and other advanced features. It later rebranded to simply "macOS" starting with version 10.12 in 2016.

Today, Windows maintains a roughly 76% market share among desktop operating systems, compared to about 14% for macOS. However, macOS has steadily gained share in consumer and education markets over the past 15 years on the strength of Apple‘s immensely popular iPhone, iPad, and MacBook products.

Key Similarities and Differences

User interface and design
In terms of look and feel, Windows and macOS have largely converged in recent years. Both use a desktop metaphor with app windows, system menus, a taskbar or dock for launching apps, and a notification center. However, there are still some notable UI/UX differences:

  • macOS has a global menu bar at the top of the screen, while Windows places menus in each app window.
  • macOS also has a cleaner, more minimalist aesthetic without a visible window chrome.
  • Windows allows more granular customization of the Start menu, taskbar, icon sizes, and other interface elements.
  • The Windows File Explorer uses a tree view to browse nested folders, while macOS‘ Finder uses a spatial view with sideways-scrolling folder paths.

Overall, Windows offers more customization and legacy conveniences, while macOS prioritizes visual simplicity and consistency across apps. It comes down to personal preference.

Ease of use
Out-of-the-box, macOS is generally considered easier for new computer users to learn, as it has fewer settings and customization options exposed by default. It comes with a good selection of simple, user-friendly apps for basic tasks and syncs data seamlessly with iPhones and iPads if you have them.

Windows exposes more of its system-level functionality up front, which can be overwhelming for casual users but gives more advanced users the ability to tweak settings to their liking. It also offers an "S Mode" that restricts apps to the Microsoft Store for a more curated experience on low-end devices.

Both OSes include comprehensive help documentation, either built-in or online. Third-party tech support is more accessible for Windows due to its larger market share.

Performance and stability
Since Apple controls the entire hardware and software stack, macOS is often praised for its reliability, stability and performance on supported Macs. Driver issues are rare since Apple only needs to target a small subset of Mac hardware configurations. Time Machine also makes it easy to restore your system in the event of a crash.

In contrast, Windows needs to support a vast number of hardware configurations from thousands of manufacturers. While Microsoft provides baseline hardware requirements for OEMs, the huge diversity of components means driver and compatibility issues do crop up more frequently versus the Mac. Backup and recovery is not as simple or integrated as Time Machine either.

That said, Windows‘ hardware flexibility is also an asset—it gives users, especially gamers and professionals, the ability to build extremely high-performance systems using the latest and greatest CPUs and GPUs. On the Mac, you‘re limited to the hardware Apple sells at any given time, often trailing several months or years behind the cutting edge.

In the collective consciousness, Macs are perceived as more "secure" than Windows PCs, but this is largely a myth born of security through obscurity—that is, fewer attackers target the Mac because of its smaller market share.

Make no mistake, macOS has its fair share of vulnerabilities and exploits that are no less technically sophisticated than Windows‘. In fact, 80% of malware detected on macOS in 2021 couldn‘t be identified by common antivirus engines, indicating the use of novel attack vectors that slip past traditional defenses. And Apple has had its share of embarrassing blunders, like the recent flaw that allowed anyone to gain root access without a password just by typing "root" as the username.

On newer Macs with the T2 Security Chip or Apple Silicon, Apple does implement some helpful hardware security features like encryption, secure boot, and runtime protections. But similar features are available on modern Windows PCs with a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) and virtualization-based security (VBS) enabled.

In practice, both OSes are reasonably secure by default as long as you follow best practices like installing updates promptly, using strong passwords, enabling disk encryption, and not downloading shady software. But no system is immune to user error or sophisticated social engineering attacks.

Software and app ecosystem
Historically, Windows has boasted the broadest and deepest bench of applications across all categories, from productivity to gaming to creative professional work. Many popular cross-platform apps like Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite were first developed for Windows before being ported to the Mac.

However, that gap has narrowed considerably in recent years as Macs have gained market share. The vast majority of popular consumer and business apps are now available natively on both platforms, including web browsers, collaboration tools, media editors, and so on.

Some key exceptions are that Windows still has a clear edge in gaming, with many AAA game developers targeting DirectX and not providing native macOS ports. It also offers a wider selection of niche enterprise software. On the flip side, macOS has a richer ecosystem of well-designed prosumer and indie apps, especially for creative fields like music production, video editing and UI/UX design.

For developers, Windows has the advantage of a massive open-source ecosystem, with the most extensive library of programming languages, frameworks and tools, many now maintained directly by Microsoft. With the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), developers can even run native Linux distributions directly within Windows.

On macOS, many open source packages need to be compiled from source or rely on a middleman package manager like Homebrew. And Apple‘s Xcode IDE only targets native macOS/iOS development, whereas Microsoft‘s Visual Studio Code supports everything under the sun.

Hardware compatibility
As mentioned, one of Windows‘ greatest strengths is its support for a mind-bogglingly huge range of first- and third-party hardware. Pre-built PCs range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands, allowing you to tailor specs like the CPU, GPU, RAM, storage and display to your exact needs and budget. Many PC manufacturers also allow significant customization of ports, biometrics, keyboard feel, color and materials.

With a Windows PC, you can upgrade individual components down the line as your needs change—add a faster CPU, more RAM, or a higher-capacity SSD without replacing your entire system. This flexibility makes Windows PCs ideal for gaming, VR and high-performance creative work. It also enables exotic form factors like ultraportable laptops, convertible 2-in-1s and gigantic curved all-in-ones.

In Apple‘s walled garden, you get the hardware they give you: a handful of laptop and desktop models, with a limited set of pre-configured specs at each tier. User-upgradeable parts are basically nonexistent in modern Macs, requiring a full system replacement every few years to keep pace with new technology and standards.

The upside is that Apple optimizes macOS to squeeze every ounce of performance out of a narrow set of components, and the in-house M1 chip has proven especially efficient. Creative apps like Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro are also designed to leverage the unique capabilities of the Mac hardware and OS frameworks.

If you want the maximum performance and configurability, especially for gaming, a Windows PC is the clear choice. But if you value Apple‘s deep hardware/software integration and are willing to pay a premium, a Mac delivers a very polished experience within its constraints.

The cheapest PCs running Windows start at just a couple hundred dollars, using low-end processors and limited RAM. These entry-level systems are suitable for basic computing tasks like web browsing, word processing, and video playback.

As you move up the stack, capable midrange Windows PCs for general productivity fall in the $500-1000 range. Premium ultrabooks and gaming rigs can easily run $2000-3000 or more for the highest specs and fanciest designs. The sky‘s the limit for professional workstations with server-grade components and specialized GPUs.

Apple has no interest in competing at the budget end of the market. The most affordable Mac is the $700 Mac mini desktop, with laptop prices starting at $1000 for a MacBook Air and quickly climbing to $2000+ for a 14" or 16" MacBook Pro. Desktop Macs start at $1300 for an iMac and range up to nearly $6000 for a loaded Mac Studio.

While Macs command a significant price premium over comparable Windows PCs, their users would argue that you get what you pay for in terms of build quality, attention to detail, customer support and longevity. Business users can also factor in reduced IT costs from easier device management and fewer support incidents. And Macs historically retain more of their value for resale than all but the nicest Windows PCs.

Ultimately, Macs will give you less bang for your buck purely from a price/performance standpoint. But if your budget allows it, you may find the Apple tax worth it for the unique benefits and cachet the Mac delivers. For anyone with less than a thousand bucks to spend on a computer, a Windows PC is likely your only viable option.

Best use cases

So, which operating system is right for you? The answer depends on your unique needs and preferences, but here are some general recommendations:

Choose Windows if you:

  • Are a gamer who wants the best performance and compatibility with the latest titles
  • Do CPU- or GPU-intensive work like 3D modeling, data science, AI/ML, etc. and need the fastest possible hardware
  • Want to be able to upgrade your computer‘s components individually over time
  • Prefer to customize or build your own system from scratch
  • Need compatibility with a wide range of niche software
  • Want the most bang for your buck

Choose macOS if you:

  • Use an iPhone, iPad and other Apple services and want the tightest integration
  • Appreciate Apple‘s distinctive design sense and attention to detail
  • Want a polished, reliable system that you don‘t have to think about
  • Do creative work optimized for Apple hardware like video editing or music production
  • Develop apps primarily for iOS or other Apple platforms
  • Are willing to pay a premium for build quality and customer support

Future Outlook

The future looks bright for both Windows and macOS. Microsoft continues to make strides in unifying the Windows user experience across device types, ramping up its own Surface hardware line, and making the OS more modular, flexible and open. With the new Windows 11 and continued investments in key areas like gaming, AI, mixed reality and the enterprise, Windows seems well positioned to maintain its lead, especially as PC sales stay strong.

Over in Cupertino, Apple Silicon has proven a revelation, enabling huge leaps in performance per watt that have closed the gap with all but the highest-end PC CPUs. And Apple‘s control over the full stack allows them to make macOS ever more deeply and seamlessly integrated with their custom hardware.

Looking farther out, it‘s conceivable that the line between desktop and mobile operating systems continues to blur. Microsoft is still pushing hard to make Windows a viable platform for mobile and ARM-based devices. And Apple has already brought multiple iOS features and design elements over to the Mac.

The two desktop giants also face increasing competition from Google‘s Chrome OS, which has seen strong adoption in the budget laptop and education markets. And as more work moves to the cloud and web apps improve in sophistication, the underlying OS may matter less over time.

But one thing is certain: Windows vs macOS is a rivalry with plenty of life left in it, and we all benefit from the continued innovation spurred by their competition. Whether you bleed Microsoft blue or Apple white, it‘s never been a better time to be a computer user.


As we‘ve seen, Windows and macOS each bring a lot to the table in their own unique ways. Choosing between them depends on a number of factors specific to your situation: your budget, your existing device ecosystem, the type of work you do, and your personal tastes.

Windows 10 offers unbeatable flexibility and compatibility, especially for gamers and spec-obsessed users, at a wide range of price points. macOS provides a singular, curated experience with deep integration across Apple‘s hardware and services, as well as flourishing creative and developer communities.

Both are mature, fully-featured operating systems that will capably handle the vast majority of computing tasks. You can‘t really go wrong either way. The decision comes down to which one fits your needs, personality and pocketbook best.

Hopefully this in-depth comparison has given you a clearer picture of where each OS shines and where your priorities lie, equipping you to make the right choice. Whichever you pick, you‘ll be using one of the two best desktop operating systems ever made. Happy computing!