Perhaps years ago you were persuaded by one of those “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” TV commercials to buy your first Apple computer. Or you might have grown up using Macs. But is it now time to switch to a machine that runs Microsoft Windows? That proposition is looking increasingly attractive these days.
Though Apple’s operating system and associated software remain elegant and accessible, the new MacBook Pro’s thin Touch Bar looks anemic compared with laptops with full touch screens, including the Microsoft Surface line. Many current Windows machines leverage their touch screens by letting you twist, fold, and even detach the keyboard. What’s more, Windows 10 is a much more coherent operating system than Windows 8.
In short, if you’re a longtime MacBook user looking for what’s fresh and innovative in your next laptop, you have good reasons to look at the world of Windows. If you’re considering a switch from Mac to Windows, here’s what you need to know:
Buying a Mac is easy: Only one company makes them, and Apple doesn’t even try to fill every product niche. On the Windows side, however, multiple manufacturers ship entire categories of computers Apple doesn’t even make.
The most interesting end of the PC business: two-in-one, or convertible, laptops. They come in various formats, some featuring a keyboard that folds flat behind the screen (such as the Lenovo Flex 4); on others (like the Microsoft Surface Book) the keyboard can be detached to let you use its touch screen as a tablet. Other models offer interesting interfaces ranging from various styluses to Microsoft’s pucklike Dial.
The world of Windows can also offer a significant price advantage. The cheapest Mac laptop—a 13-inch Air—costs around $999. For that money you could buy a Dell Inspiron 11 3000 for $180—and four more for your friends. If you want to spend around a grand on a single Windows machine, you can get a Lenovo Ideapad Y700, a 15.6-inch gaming-ready laptop with an Nvidia GeForce graphics card, a touch screen, and a 1-terabyte hard drive for $945.
An increasing number of Windows laptops offer an option that Apple reserves for the $1,800-and-up version of its MacBook Pro: biometric login. Microsoft’s Windows Hello, considerably upgraded in this summer’s Windows 10 Anniversary Update, lets you log in to a computer with a touch of your fingertip or by showing your face to a special camera setup.
In Windows XP’s day, Microsoft’s operating system was a malware magnet and smug Mac users would rest secure in their platform’s relative safety. But Microsoft has really focused on security in Windows 10, and online criminals have started paying more attention to Apple.
Even if Windows machines might still be more prone to malware than MacBooks, Mac users now have to be almost as wary as their Windows counterparts of ransomware and other malware attacks, especially because an increasingly common target for online adversaries is frequently distracted and sometimes confused human mind. Phishing emails and other online scams often don’t care what kind of computer you use, only that you click before you think.
The more your computing life runs through Web-hosted apps and services, the easier you’ll find it to switch operating systems. Your migration process won’t consist of much more than typing usernames and passwords into the new machine.
Anything you can use in a Web browser, such as Gmail, Twitter, or Facebook, should work the same as before on a PC. Windows 10 even offers stand-alone apps for mail and social media that don’t need a browser. If you are using these programs, though, you might miss some familiar features.
For example, Microsoft’s built-in Calendar app looks great and syncs your Google Calendar schedule without complaint. But it doesn’t support time zones, which could invite missed appointments when you’re on a business trip overseas, for instance.
Microsoft offers some good advice on how to move your files from a Mac to a Windows machine, but it neglects some probable complications.
For example, if you want to keep email messages that have been downloaded to your Mac—not those synced from a service like Gmail, Microsoft’s Outlook.com, or Apple’s iCloud—you’ll need to dump Window 10’s Mail app in favor of a third-party program that can import the messages.
Moving pictures from Apple’s iPhoto program will also take a lot longer than you’d like. Beyond the Mac app’s legendary lethargy when exporting images, its automatic categorization of pictures into “Moments” can leave you with hundreds of exported folders.
And although Windows 10’s Groove app is a fine music player, you’ll have to install Apple’s iTunes if you want to continue syncing those Death Cab for Cutie albums to your iPhone or iPad.
A decade of convergent evolution between Mac and Windows interfaces has left many commands and shortcuts identical. But others remain a one-platform experience, which invites confusion for anyone making a switch between the systems—in either direction.
Apple’s Quick Look file preview, available when you select a file and hit the space bar, ranks high on that list. It’s very convenient, and it doesn’t exist in Windows. You can restore that function with a Windows app called Seer, available in free and paid premium versions from SourceForge.
With others—for instance, the Mac Services menu that hides handy shortcuts to work with data—there is no ready alternative. You’ll just have to get used to different ways of doing things.
In general, the transition is likely to be quicker and easier than you think. How will you know when it’s done? When you sit in front of a friend’s Mac and instinctively touch its screen, or simply greet it with “Hey, Cortana.”