You can blame Vista and the constant pounding of Ctrl+Alt+Del that came with it. Or you can blame those clever Mac vs. PC ads. But about eight years ago, after growing up with Windows computers and countless games of “Solitaire,” I bought my first Mac. And I never looked back.
I’ve spent the past month solely using Windows 10, and I’ve fallen in love with Windows again. In fact, I’ve rarely missed Mac OS X. I’m more productive and faster at handling my many open windows on Microsoft
’s latest than on Apple’s. If you had told me a year ago that I’d write those words, I’d have said you’re on some mind-altering drug.
After unsuccessfully zigging for the past few years with Windows 8—which awkwardly layered a touch interface over old-school Windows—Microsoft has zagged back to the desktop it knows best with Windows 10.
Available starting Wednesday as a free upgrade on Windows 7 and 8 PCs, it takes the traditional underpinnings and spruces them up with a modern design, a helpful personal assistant and better windows-management tools. Unlike Windows 8, it stays out of your way, just letting you do what you need to do better. It’s what Windows should be in 2015.
It’s not surprising that I’ve fallen so hard for Windows 10. For nearly 30 years, the two computing rivals have picked and pulled features from each other. At this point, both Windows 10 and Apple’s upcoming Mac OS X El Capitan have so many nearly identical functions that at times it can feel like playing “Can You Spot the Difference?”
Microsoft can at last boast that it does a superior job at many of the new tricks. There’s just one little problem: the iPhone.
A Serious Multitasker
The resurrection of the Start menu, after being killed in Windows 8, was practically celebrated with all-night dancing by Windows users, but the real party should be for Task View. The feature, which displays a shrunken snapshot of all your open windows and programs, has been the single most important feature in my transition back to Windows.
That’s because the Mac has, for years, had a similar function called Exposé (now Mission Control) that I use constantly to jump between programs. Just like with OS X, you can access Task View on Windows by swiping three fingers up on a trackpad—if that laptop has a “precision trackpad” like on the Surface Pro 3 or new Dell XPS 13, that is.
But even on that impressive Dell, the trackpad seems to require the touch of an angel to consistently work correctly. So I’ve come to rely on the keyboard shortcut (Windows key + Tab). You can also click on the three-rectangle icon in the taskbar.
Ironically, I found my MacBook Air to be the best Windows 10 laptop. It may not have a touchscreen, but it was snappier, and beat the Dell and Surface for normal scrolling and navigating. (The three-finger swipe wasn’t enabled during my tests, however.) Windows 10 is in desperate need of a worthy PC laptop.
Another thing that’s made me a master Windows 10 multitasker is the ability to easily snap email to one side of the screen and a Web browser to the other. Microsoft included app-snapping in previous Windows versions, but now it suggests other open apps or windows to place next to it. It also lets you tile up to four windows on the screen. It’s a huge time saver, especially when helping herd the stray windows on my external monitor.
The feature is so great, Apple put it in its next version of OS X and iOS for the iPad. But Microsoft’s implementation is better, in part because it has addictive keyboard shortcuts (see chart).
Windows 10 includes virtual desktops that allow you to better organize your workspace: for instance, a zone for work (Excel and Outlook) and another for play (Twitter, Facebook and YouTube). I don’t use them though, not even on a Mac, which has had virtual desktops for six years.
A Serious Assistant
I’m now the Usain Bolt of Windows multitasking, but I’ve had a little help from the sidelines—quite literally. On the taskbar lives Cortana, Microsoft’s… Siri. But unlike Siri, Cortana predicts information you may want to know, based off of your email, calendar and searches. It’s a lot like Google
For instance, Cortana told me I had a workout class at 5:30 p.m. on my calendar and that I should leave in 15 minutes. However, she only has access to Microsoft’s Mail app, not Outlook, where my corporate mail lives, so she didn’t know I was flying to Hong Kong this week.
Cortana’s greatest use to me has been in app launching and quick searches. She responds to spoken commands and questions when she hears her name—“Hey, Cortana, what’s the weather in Hong Kong?” or “Hey, Cortana, launch Spotify”—though it’s quicker to type. She can quickly search the Web (but only with Bing), and can answer some questions in the window.
Apple still hasn’t brought Siri to the Mac, but the next OS X has an updated Spotlight that lets you do similar Internet-powered searches—weather, sports scores, stock quotes, etc.—right on the desktop.
A Serious Disconnect
Windows 10 lets you handle apps outstandingly well. The actual apps, however, aren’t so good. With the exception of OneNote, Microsoft’s note-taking app, almost all of Windows’ included apps lag behind Apple’s—and even Google’s—in features and design.
The Mail app is unsightly and confusing—a far cry from the mail app Microsoft offers for the iPhone. The Photos app doesn’t include half the fun tricks of Google Photos or Apple Photos. It’s sad that Paint (which may not have been updated since the Reagan administration) is still your best bet for image editing. There’s no simple built-in video editor program. (Bring back Windows Movie Maker!) I haven’t found a single reason to use the new Groove Music. And Microsoft Office isn’t included, or even very well integrated at this point. (Plus, the new Office for Mac is finally on par with the Windows version.)
This wouldn’t be such a bad situation if third-party apps picked up Microsoft’s slack, but that’s often not the case. While I was able to gather some of my essentials—Spotify, Wunderlist to-do app, Slack—either in the Windows Store or directly from software publishers, I never did find a Twitter app or cheap photo editor as good as what I use on my Mac.(You know what there isn’t a lack of? Windows anti-virus apps!) Microsoft made it easier for Android and iOS software to migrate to the new Windows, but the initiative hasn’t yet borne fruit.
But most of us spend our computer time in a Web browser. (As Google’s Chromebooks show, even computers that are just browsers sell pretty well these days!) Microsoft hopes we’ll hop on its new Edge browser. It’s fast and cleanly designed, and does some cool things like automatically showing phone numbers, addresses and reviews when you hit certain restaurant or retailer sites, and letting you sketch directly on Web pages. But Edge’s periodic performance issues and lack of browser plug-ins meant keeping Google Chrome as my default browser.
In fact, even on my Mac, I spend most my time using Google’s services. In most cases, they’re better, and unlike many of Apple’s, they’re easily accessible on Windows and the Web. Google is proving that you don’t need to own the OS to win.
For Microsoft, Apple’s smash-hit smartphone is a bigger problem than Google’s services. Mac owners still might be a niche group, but millions of people own and love iPhones. There’s unprecedented iPhone support in Windows 10, and Microsoft has an abundance of solid iPhone apps that it will remind you about when you plug in your iPhone.
But there will always be things I can’t do with an iPhone and a Windows PC, like pick up an incoming call right on my laptop, or easily iMessage my entire family. The iPhone has become the beating heart of so many of our digital lives, and Apple, in what I call the ecosystem trap, has engineered all its own devices to work better with it. With Windows 10, Microsoft has put a lot of muscle into getting its phones to integrate better—the only problem is that no one uses Windows Phones and things only seem to be getting worse. For Android phone owners, however, there’s never been a better time to own a Windows PC.
Things change. The battle between Windows and OS X is far less important than it was a decade ago. Yes, both operating systems help you get more done than ever, but when our time is spent using apps and services across different-sized screens, the traditional computer screen is just one piece of the puzzle.
Microsoft is simply missing too many of the other pieces for me to go back to a PC full time. Still, I’m keeping Windows 10 on my Mac—even if it’s just for a round of “Solitaire” every once in a while.