The release of Windows 10 is imminent, and the hype machine is in full flow. Meanwhile, Apple's busy beavering away on Mac OS X El Capitan. Queue up the tribal camps for the latest round of Apple vs Microsoft bashing. Here are two cents from someone who has seen it all before...
Image: Brett Jordan
Windows 10 is only days away from deployment as I write this. The actual release date for OS X El Capitan is still a little unknown, but it's quite safe to say that it'll be before the end of the year. Either that, or a whole bunch of Apple OS devs will be in the market for new backsides, having had theirs comprehensively chewed off by Tim Cook.
What's unique here is that for the majority of users of either operating system, they'll be able to score an upgrade from their existing OS for absolutely nothing. Apple's been offering OS upgrades for qualifying Mac hardware for a few generations now, but Microsoft's a new entrant in this category, at least in the first year of Windows 10's release. Yes, you will still be able to "buy" Windows 10 if you really want to, but there aren't too many usage cases beyond pure system builders where I could see anyone doing so.
Which means that for most people, updating will be either a matter of upgrading what they've already got, or when they go to buy a new laptop or PC, finding that it comes with Windows 10 or El Capitan preinstalled.
Upgraders and buyers
The first wave is likely to be mostly the upgraders, with the obvious caveat being that the closer you get to the minimum specifications for either OS the fewer features are likely to run properly, if at all. Upgrading in either case may not be advisable if it's your primary machine, because bugs aren't always apparent on day one, but a few months down the track it's not a bad idea simply to keep onboard with any ongoing or emergent security issues.
Yes, Macs can and do get malware, identity theft problems and the whole nasty world of online security to deal with. Pretending they don't is simply sticking your head in the sand.
It's tough to breathe sand.
Then there's the folks who are only likely to hit a new operating system when they buy a new machine. That could be next week if you're unlucky with that cup of coffee, or a year down the track when your gracefully ageing but now entirely decrepit PC or Mac finally gives up the ghost. Sure, you're not really getting either OS for "free" in this case, because you've had to invest in the qualifying hardware for anything from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on your requirements. Still, it's hardly a line item, and a hardware upgrade could be an excuse to "jump camps" into either the Mac OS X or Windows worlds.
I'm more than certain that the release of Windows 10 and El Capitan will further fuel the endless waves of "PCs are better than Macs" arguments (and the reverse) online. The Internet, was, after all, invented for military purposes (AKA, a fight of some sort), so arguing online is essentially written into its DNA.
The thing is, I reckon we're much better off with solid competition from both camps. There are impressive elements in Windows 10 that have been in Mac OS X for some time, and equally, elements in Mac OS that have or were cribbed from the Windows playbook as well. The dividing line between the two in an age of Internet-connected apps is incredibly thin outside of some very specific application areas.
I've been a tech journalist long enough to interview hundreds of different IT professionals working across both camps, all with some very solid reasons for their decisions that go beyond simple tribalism, from special effects people using Macs because they could happily rely on parts and warranties being both global and easy to source to finance wizards using Windows because the Mac market wasn't large enough for them to properly run software. In pretty much every case, outside the tribalism, it's usually a case of finding the right tool for the job and getting on with the work at hand, rather than fussing about whether you're in the Redmond or Cupertino camps.
As for me, I work primarily off a Mac, having made that particular jump about eight years ago. That's less to do with any particular OS love or hate, however; I have to keep myself up to date with Windows as well to do my particular job, and there's no huge gap in the Windows world that would mean I couldn't work on a Windows box.
(Or a Linux, one, now that I think about it. Just putting that in there to keep the Open Source crowd happy.)
Best of both worlds
I jumped because I found that the Macs I was using tended to last a little longer than the comparable PCs of the time. That's not a hard and fast rule; just anecdotal data, really, but I'm comfortable enough and happy enough working within the Mac sphere for what I do in the most part. Equally, though, throw me in front of a nice Windows laptop like the Surface Pro 3, and I'll simply get down to work.
Apple loves presenting a very controlled experience within its own design rules, and playing in the Mac OS X camp is largely a matter of doing things Apple's way. That has some benefits when it comes to optimisations, but equally annoyances when (not if) things go wrong. Microsoft's more open with Windows, but that brings with it the annoyance loop of being shifted from a given software vendor to Microsoft and back again if things go wrong. Equally, Microsoft's not above having its own power plays if it decides that a certain bit of its inhouse software should have prevalence over another way of managing a task.
That's why while I think it's interesting to have two "new" operating systems on the very immediate horizon, I'm hopeful that both will survive and thrive. Microsoft wants Windows 10 "everywhere", and while Apple hasn't made that exact declaration, it's not hard to see that this is also its aim.
That would be a poor result for us as IT consumers and professionals, because it would inevitably stagnate innovation and even smoothed out emulation of features across operating systems. I don't much care for the boring and tired "Mac vs PC" arguments, but I do hope the war continues on. Windows 10 looks really good, and so does El Capitan, but only continuing pressure to improve will ensure that improvements continue to be made.
Now, if you really must, you can argue below about why I'm wrong and your PC is better than a Mac, or vice versa. I've been around the Internet long enough to know that this is what it always boils down to.