Just before writing this article, I read two articles that compared the latest operating systems from Apple and Microsoft. The results were contradictory, and that’s to be expected when different people express their points of view. But having worked with the El Capitan public beta and the presumed final version of Windows 10, I have my own ideas. I caution you, however, that El Capitan is still two or three months from public release, so it’s apt to be shaky. But the most serious bugs in Windows 10 should have been fixed by now, since it has been officially released.
The biggest argument in favor of Windows 10 is that it’s closer in concept to Windows 7, and thus a more comfortable fit for most Windows users. As a result, there’s not much of a learning curve, and most things work pretty smoothly, although reviewers have run into more glitches than you might expect.
So Walt Mossberg of Re/code writes of his concerns with ongoing defects, particularly with the Cortana, the virtual digital assistant, a tentpole feature. While Cortana is not exactly new for Microsoft, it’s troubling that voice recognition quality remains hit or miss. From reading Mossberg’s experiences, it appears to be much worse than the early days of Siri.
But one of the comparisons between Windows 10 and El Capitan gives the former an advantage because of Cortana. Don’t forget that Apple was experimenting with voice recognition schemes on Macs back in the 1990s, starting with PlainTalk. It was quite simple compared to what Siri can manage nowadays, but it was always a tough sell to put such a feature on a desktop Mac. I see the value for those with disabilities, but otherwise it doesn’t pass the logic test, particularly in an office environment. Yes, it’s a personal computer, but far less of a personal device than a smartphone or a tablet, where digital assistants are more useful.
Yet another perceived advantage of Windows 10 is Continuum, a feature that allows the interface to adapt itself to use with a mouse or a touchscreen. I can see that as useful in the PC world, where laptops might be used both ways, although a situation where one is either unaware of the change, or fails to switch, is apt to cause confusion. But even when it works, it’s not applicable to Apple, which doesn’t make convertible PCs. So how does it become an advantage? The mind boggles!
Without an actual test to evaluate the Edge browser against Safari 9, the El Capitan version, it’s not really possible to suggest one is actually better than the other under normal use. Being able to scribble on a web page and send it off to someone, however, seems a thoroughly useless feature, the sort of thing that might sound relevant to software engineers who are out of touch with the real world, but hardly an advantage.
Integration with the Xbox game controller might also be an advantage if Apple had a comparable product, which they don’t. Perhaps the next Apple TV, although nothing is certain.
Now where the comparisons might have a point is multitasking, but it’s mixed. Apple’s Split View, similar to a feature that’s been available in Windows for a while, puts two app/document windows side by side. Windows 10 can manage four, but is that truly an advantage? Unless you have a large display, such as the one on a 27-inch iMac, that’s questionable. Otherwise it may generate clutter. And don’t forget how Microsoft’s new window management scheme is reminiscent of OS X’s Mission control, and the virtual desktop feature matches OS X’s Spaces. Well, except for the fact that Windows 10 virtual desktops don’t appear to survive a restart.
But that’s the problem with comparisons of this sort. They lack nuance, and it’s too easy to look at a feature on a bullet point list and claim it’s an advantage, when it may not be.
My feeling is that Windows 10 isn’t so much an argument for switching from a Mac. Rather, it’s an argument for staying with Windows, particularly after the Windows 8/8.1 debacle. By looking back, and ditching some of the worst junk from Windows 8, Microsoft has delivered an OS that is smooth and comfortable for most users. If the early bugs can be quickly eradicated, and it passes muster in the enterprise, businesses might even be tempted to eventually replace Windows 7, or Windows XP for that matter.
Will Windows 10 sell more PCs? Probably not at first, although PCs with Windows 10 are now available. However, it’s also a free upgrade for users of Windows 7 or later, at least for the first year. Since any decent PC purchased in the last few years will work fine with Windows 10, absent any driver issues, there’s little incentive to buy a new PC. At least the incentive to downgrade a new PC to Windows 7 may no longer be quite as compelling.
As it stands, PC sales are down. Perhaps Windows 10 will boost sales during the holiday season. Right now, however, the most profitable segment of the PC market belongs to Apple. That’s not something that’s apt to change, and overwrought feature comparisons between Windows 10 and El Capitan won’t make a difference in the real world.