In a recent discussion with a friend who was ready to replace her computer, she asked my advice about whether she should switch from Windows to Mac. Following are the main points I think anyone should take into account when considering this switch.

  1. Software Part One:  Make sure that any specialty software you use is well supported on the Mac. I say “well supported” because some software companies release a Mac version but focus more on the PC side, so the Mac version isn’t upgraded as often or supported as well. (This goes both ways, too.) Some specialized software is only available on one platform or the other, so be careful to check this out before making the switch. Of course if all you want a computer for is browsing the web and checking email, then this doesn’t matter to you.
  2. Software Part Two: For all the software you currently own, you will need to purchase the Mac version. Note that you can install Windows and then Windows software on a Mac using a “virtual machine,” and this is not difficult to do. I personally feel like having to switch to a VM to get things done is an interruption in my workflow, but that might just be me. If you require software that is not available on a Mac, I would say that if it is something you use only occasionally then you can use a VM and this should not prevent your switch, but if it is part of your daily workflow, this might keep you in the Windows camp.
    [April 2016 edit: These days with software subscriptions, this is far less of a deal-breaker. Just switch your subscription from Windows to Mac and you’re done with no extra cost.]
  3. Relearning the Interface. You can argue the Windows vs. Mac question all day with purists… but at the end of the day they are very similar. However, there are enough differences between the two that there will be a definite transition time of unlearning one system and learning the other. If you are an intensive computer user and are extremely competent on one OS, I think it will be harder for you to switch. The more you know and rely on the little tips and tricks and shortcuts and secret pathways to get stuff done, the harder it will be. Those efficiency aids exist in both platforms, but unlearning one way to learn another can be a hurdle. If you do make the switch, Google will serve up lots of pages with tips for unlearning Windows and learning the Mac.
  4. File Sharing. If you are part of a work group and will be sharing files, there is an argument for having  the same platform and software as the rest of your group. I have to use and share files all the time. I have nearly no problem with the Mac people on my team. But sharing with Linux (actually LibreOffice) people is one of my biggest headaches… which is sad because I am hugely in favor of LibreOffice.
  5. Support. If everyone in your support network is on a PC, then these people will either not know what to do for you if you need help with your Mac, or the amount of help they can give you will be limited. On the flip side, every Mac user I have ever known has gone to great lengths about how their system is so easy to use that they never need support. Your mileage may vary.

The moral of the story

The great Mac vs. PC debate in my view has become six of one, a half dozen of the other. As long as you take your software and other needs into consideration, whatever you decide will likely be the right decision. If you decide to switch, here’s a lengthy post with what to expect when moving from Windows to Mac. And if you stay with a Windows system, here’s a post on choosing your next Windows-based computer.

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One Response to Considering a Switch from Windows to Mac?

  1. Don says:

    Nice rational overview of the situation! As a Mac user, just wanted to add a few thoughts.

    The latest VMs (e.g. VMWare Fusion) have the ability to present Windows applications in individual windows rather than in a “VM window”, which makes them appear much more native to the user. Nice because sometimes the little things like that can really matter when being comfortable in your workflow.

    As to support, less is truly needed for a Mac – as the family “tech support”, I’ve seen this firsthand as family and friends migrated to the Mac. Anecdotal evidence, sure, but I’ve heard the same story from friends who are also the “tech support” for their circles.
    That said, don’t expect it to be zero – computers and software are inherently complicated, so be sure you have some resource to call on. One big difference is that the folks at the Apple stores actually know their products, and can truly help when you have questions or problems.

    One area where the Windows systems still wins big is in gaming. Although a lot of the major games (World of Warcraft, Diablo III, etc.) are available for the Mac, there are many games which aren’t. If PC gaming is a big factor, take a good look at the game situation before making the jump!

    To sum up I’ll just echo that if you use a lot of specialty software that is Windows-only, a Mac might not be the best choice. Much easier to migrate to a Mac if your uses are more mainstream.

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