Did I really just switch from Mac to Windows?

[This ran on Sunday in my weekly newsletter, The Magnet]

I bought my first computer, an Apple ][e, in early 1985. I think the total price (including the monitor and external 5 ¼" floppy disk drive) was about $3,000. I had to get an Apple credit card since I had no savings. I still have the card, 35 years later.

I loved ][e. I played Wizardry and all the Infocom text adventures on it, and when I got a modem, I explored BBSes every night. But sometime in 1988, I bought a PC because it was about half the price of an Apple computer and much more powerful. After that, I kept buying PCs when it was time to upgrade.

It wasn't until 2002 — after having used Billy Idol's Mac to design his Cyberpunk album cover and using a Mac at Wired magazine when I was an editor there — that I finally pulled the trigger and bought another Mac of my own. I loved the elegance of the Mac's operating system compared to Windows, which at the time was clunky, bloated, and buggy. When I told my friend Alberta that I'd switched, she told her friend who was a creative director at Apple's advertising agency Chiat Day, and he asked me if I'd like to be in a TV commercial for Apple about switching. (On the day Steve Jobs died in 2011, Bloomberg BusinessWeek asked me to write about being in the commercial.)

I've been happily using Macs ever since. But a little over a month ago, a representative for Gateway computers asked me if I'd like to try one of its new laptops. I was planning to say no thank you, but my 17-year-old daughter convinced me to give it a try. She's a gamer and programmer and switched from a Mac to a Windows machine when she was 14 or 15. She insisted I was giving Windows short shrift. So I emailed the representative and said OK. A few days later, I received a Creator Series 15.6" Notebook (Model: GWTN156-2).

The first thing I noticed was the full-size keyboard with a numerical keypad. Mac laptops don't come with them. Booting up the machine revealed a second pleasant surprise: no bloatware! One of the things I hated about buying Windows computers in the 1990s was how they came pre-installed with all sorts of crappy applications that were hard to un-install. The Gateway machine was, for the most part, clean. It came with a Norton virus checker, but it was probably a good thing to keep. There was also a link to a web game of some kind, but it was easy to uninstall.

After using the Gateway for a month, here are my impressions:

  • Windows 10 is much better than previous versions of Windows. Over the years, Windows seems to have caught up with OS X. It's crisp, snappy, responsive. It's also easy to use and surprisingly intuitive. Configuring Windows was a breeze — in earlier versions of Windows, it was easy to get lost in nightmarishly arcane, deeply-nested configuration menus. Now it's a snap.
  • Cloud-based computing makes it easy to bounce between operating systems. My Chrome bookmarks and extensions and Gmail were instantly available in Windows. Since I spend most of my time using web-based apps in the Chrome browser, it was easy to forget that I was using Windows. The other apps I use — 1Password, TextExpander, Adobe Creative Cloud, Discord, Dropbox, Word, PowerPoint, iTunes, even iCloud — easily synced up with files stored in the cloud, and they are, for the most part, identical to the Mac versions. I was up and running almost immediately after booting up the Gateway machine for the first time.
  • PC hardware has tremendous bang for the buck compared to Apple hardware. Earlier this summer, I bought a MacBook Pro and maxed out the memory, storage, and processor options. It cost almost $3,000. It was a bit faster than the 2015 MacBook Pro I had before, but after using it for a while, I realized it wasn't worth buying. The cooling fan on the new MacBook Pro almost constantly spins while in use. On the other hand, the Gateway costs $800, and the fan only spins up if I have lots of browser tabs open and Creative Cloud apps running.
  • The "Type here to search" field at the bottom of the display instantly returns search results for files and settings. It's much faster than OS X's Spotlight. This has come in handy a lot when I need to customize my settings.

Of course, there are a couple of things I miss about the Mac:

  • The touchpad is not nearly as good as Apple's trackpad. It has a texture that causes my finger to skip across the surface, and it's missing some of the gesture control options I have come to rely on. For that reason, I usually use a wireless mouse.
  • I like Mac's Finder more than Windows' File Explorer. Fortunately, I was able to find utilities to replace some of the things that were missing from File Explorer. For instance, QuickLook gives me the ability to preview a file by hitting the space bar, a feature I use dozens of times a day on my Mac. I was tempted to reskin Windows 10 to make it look like OS X, like this guy did, but I decided against it — having an almost-but-not-quite Mac would take it into Uncanny Valley territory. I'm not going to try to make Windows feel more Mac-like because I suspect that I need to get used to Windows.

What next? I think I'm going to keep using Windows from now on. I do feel weird about it; it feels like switching political parties. I've been a loyal Mac user for almost 20 years. But in that time span, Windows has evolved into an excellent operating system. This, and the fact that Windows computers are much less expensive than Apple computers, is enough to put me in the Windows camp.