If you're looking to buy one of the best home computers (opens in new tab) or the best laptops (opens in new tab) currently available, you'll need to make one particularly important decision -- do you want to go with a Windows device or one that runs macOS?
Both operating systems offer considerable advantages but they can also offer some disadvantages too. For many users, personal preference will be the key difference here but there are some important factors to take into account before you decide what to go for.
To help you decide what to do, we've taken a look at the key strengths and weaknesses that both operating systems provide to help you evaluate what's most important to you and your needs.
Windows vs macOS: Popularity and compatibility
Microsoft's Windows has the monopoly when it comes to global desktop market share. Holding around 77% of it (opens in new tab), it's the most popular OS by far. That means mostly everything is keen to be compatible with Windows and, in particular, Windows 10 as it's the latest version until Windows 11 arrives later this year.
What does that mean for you? A wider range of options. There are thousands of different desktops and laptops that work with Windows which means you can get some very cheap systems as well as some very high-end devices too, all depending on your budget.
Windows also has the biggest library of software out there so no matter what you need to do with your computer, you'll be able to do it with a Windows desktop or laptop.
One of the biggest issues for many people with macOS is that to use it, you only have a very limited choice of systems to buy. That's because unlike Windows, you can only use macOS on Apple products. That limits you to the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, Mac Pro or Mac Mini. While these systems cater for a variety of different needs and budgets, it's a far cry from the thousands of different Windows systems you can choose from.
On the plus side, you won't be overwhelmed with choice as each Mac tends to suit a specific purpose.
If you already own an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch then macOS works very well with these gadgets. It's possible to browse a website on your iPhone before seamlessly transitioning to your MacBook Pro, for instance. Similarly, you can do so with various documents you might be writing. Elsewhere, you can use the cloud to view your iPad's photos from your laptop or view files that are stored across your devices.
Essentially, once you become part of the Apple ecosystem with one purchase, Apple is keen to keep you coming back for more, so all its devices play very nicely together.
Macs have been traditionally popular with designers and video editors for a good reason. Certain high-end apps for such purposes are macOS only. This includes the likes of Final Cut Pro which is often considered the best video editing software out there.
Of course, if you have no intention on using your computer for specialist purposes, this won't matter, but this is where it's important to consider just why you need a new computer.
Winner: Windows (unless you're already in the Apple ecosystem)
Windows vs macOS: Updates
When it comes to update frequency, Windows updates come along far more often. Now, we're not talking about incremental updates. For both operating systems, security updates and patches are very regular. Instead, we're talking about how Windows 10 offers twice yearly updates which tend to add new features and more performance enhancements than a simple tweak. In contrast, macOS tends to have a significant update each year.
Does that make a difference? Well, sometimes Windows updates can cause temporary issues while macOS updates tend to be more stable, but if you're keen to have the latest changes then Windows will appeal.
Windows vs macOS: Gaming
Without a question, Windows is the far better platform if you like to game. macOS supports a number of games but it pales in comparison to the amount of games that Windows supports. In many ways, you can save money over time too with more Windows games available in Steam and Epic Games Store sales than you'll ever find on macOS.
Generally, you can buy a more powerful Windows gaming machine than when looking for a macOS-based system too, thanks to there being so many different configuration options out there for Windows devices.
Windows vs macOS: Security and ease of use
While macOS-based viruses and malware are growing in number, the risk of a virus infecting your system is still far lower when using macOS than using Windows. That means a more stable and secure experience that's particularly useful if you're a novice with using computers.
Related to that, macOS is generally simpler to use too, unless you've previously used Windows extensively. If so, you may need to take some time to relearn familiar techniques but, overall, macOS is a bit more intuitive than the Windows way of doing things. It's harder to 'break' anything and simple things like installing apps or games is usually quicker and more straightforward on macOS than using Windows. If you're looking for a system for someone who's never used a computer before, macOS can be a massive help here.
Should I buy Windows or macOS?
So, what should you buy? That decision is down to you.
In the past, macOS felt a little more niche - a format best aimed at designers and those that wanted stylish systems with limited functionality - but nowadays, you can still play games, run many of the same apps on both systems, and generally enjoy a very similar experience on either Windows or macOS. Both operating systems are very stable and increasingly secure but Windows is generally far cheaper to get involved with thanks to more expansive hardware options. It's also often the operating system we're all most used to using.
However, if you're looking for a system that 'just works' then macOS is a good bet providing you don't plan on playing many games and there isn't any Windows only software you need to run. Check that the apps you plan on using are compatible before you pursue this path.
Do your research, figure out exactly how you plan on using your new computer, and you can't go wrong.