Mac Vs. Windows For Programming
Comparing the usefulness of Mac and Windows for programming is a worthwhile endeavor. You have likely heard from opinionated programmers that there is one clear choice over the other, but this is not necessarily always the case. There are some categories in which Mac scores high marks and some in which Windows is superior.
When comparing Mac and Windows for programming, the overall performance and ease of use are considered. Functionality is a bonus for Mac, which has a smooth command line. It is worth noting that Windows does provide its users with a wider diversity of tools, some of which can be quite useful.
You cannot conclude with such little information if you are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Mac and Windows. In the sections below, you’ll learn why Windows is better for many purposes and why Mac is considered the solid choice among many professional developers.
Advantages of Mac
When you are looking for a computer for programming, you need to find a system with good processing speeds, plenty of tools for development, and a convenient way to access the features you need. The Mac does score highly in many of these marks, including the command line system, which you will learn more about below.
By entering commands, you can carry out functions en masse without having to click all over the screen. You cannot perform programming without a reliable command system. Although Windows does have its command line system, you’ll learn below why it is considered inferior to the system found on Mac.
One of the primary advantages of using a MAC for programming is its UNIX-based system, particularly from a student’s perspective. If you have ever owned an iPhone, the macOS system will remind you of the iOS system. Apps and programs in the macOS system are centralized, making it easy to find what you’re looking for.
Advantages of macOS system:
- The majority of computer science courses are taught in UNIX.
- Most development software is made for UNIX
- UNIX systems are less prone to sudden shut-offs and are perceived as having a user-friendly interface.
The Berkeley Unix (BSD) and Linux operating systems are much alike the Unix-based operating system used in Mac, with Linux being an open-source version of the Unix-like operating systems.
You Can Still Run Windows Inside A Virtual Box
If you are working with Mac OS X, it is easy to run all the major operating systems on your machine. You can install 64-bit Windows on your Mac computer using a program called Boot Camp Assistant that will act as a setup wizard.
Installing macOS on your Microsoft computer can be a bit more challenging, since the processor may not be able to handle the operating program. You can, however, certainly install a Windows Subsystem for Linux on your Windows device, if you need this operating system.
Also, you cannot create any programs for OS-X or iOS on a Windows program. If you are a professional developer, you may need both operating systems because they both have tools that the other doesn’t. However, you could make the case that the Mac is superior in terms of cross-platform capability, due to the ability to install much of what you need through a Virtual Box.
Mac computers are commonly preferred by programmers because they offer a command-line environment that Windows computers simply do not. A command line allows users to interact with their computer by typing in commands from their keyboard rather than having to pick up their mouse and click on graphical elements over and over again.
There are many advantages to command lines:
- You’ll have better control over system functions.
- Node Package Manager (NPM) requires you to enter commands.
- Command-line is necessary for local backend development
If you dive into deeper detail on the NPM and the command line, it’s easy to see why this is necessary for programmers. It gives you control of large portions of your file system at once. If you have a good handle on your commands, you can perform tasks such as deleting large amounts of files without sending them to the trash bin.
Why are Mac users at an advantage? Unfortunately, the Windows operating system does not come with a command-line program that is straightforward to use. Windows users are more likely to gravitate towards the Linux OS and its command-line program than the Windows counterpart.
Development is 100% Done In-House
Unlike Windows, all of the software and hardware on Mac has been synthesized by the same manufacturer. Apple acts as both the hardware designer and the software developer for its computers and their operating system. This provides users with an advantage that Windows users do not have.
Windows relies on a host of third-party developers and designers. As such, all the different moving pieces in the Windows OS act like a jigsaw puzzle. It should work most of the time, but if you don’t have any issues, you may have to spend a lot of time digging around for a solution.
Apple, on the other hand, has had oversight of all the moving pieces in a Mac computer. This means that it should have no problem acting as one cohesive unit. If you do have any issues, a solution can be found through Apple support. Apple is also good about conducting extensive research for both compatibility and security whenever third-party apps and hardware is used in their products.
Xcode Can Only Be Used On Mac
Xcode allows you to develop applications for Mac, iPhone, iPad, and other Apple devices. You can run Xcode on Windows via a virtual machine, but the development software is certainly more convenient to access and run if you have a Mac computer. You can download XCode for free in the Mac app store while getting the app in Windows requires a little bit more finesse.
Learning how to program mobile apps is the wave of the future and the iPhone is the leading choice among consumers. In the first quarter of 2020 alone, more than 80 million copies of the new iPhone were sold. If developing mobile apps is your goal, there are few better ways to go than XCode, which allows you to easily develop apps for Apple devices.
Disadvantages of Mac
Although Mac may be widely considered king for reasons discussed above, there are still a few drawbacks to using the Mac for programming. There are certain categories in which Windows does have a Mac beat, particularly within the realm of video game development.
It is also easier to make repairs and upgrades on a Windows computer, due to the accessibility of hardware and software components. Mac computers also suffer from a variety of drawbacks that can make these devices less practical for casual programmers or students, who may lack the funds required to use a Mac for programming. You are encouraged to consider these drawbacks before springing for a Mac.
Apple products tend to be much pricier than devices holding Windows. This can put students and beginners with a low budget at a disadvantage. Fortunately, colleges do tend to offer students the necessary software at a reduced price. Some companies and schools may also be enrolled in a program with Apple that offers discounts on computers.
Mac computers also have a reputation for lasting longer than many Windows computers. As long as you take good care of your computer, the investment could end paying off. You are encouraged to purchase a model that has the ideal specifications, such as 16GB or more of RAM.
The MacOS does not provide a historical clipboard that can save the last several items that you copied. This means that if you copy an item and then forget to paste it, it will disappear altogether. This can be quite a disadvantage for programmers, since you may need to retrace your steps several times.
Microsoft 10, on the other hand, has a cloud-based clipboard built into the operating system. You can copy and paste both text and images from one PC to another. As many as 25 different entries are saved on the clipboard. Once this limit is reached, the oldest items are automatically deleted.
The vast majority of Mac computers only have Solid State Drive Storage (SDD), while Windows computers tend to have both SDD and Hard Disk Drive (HDD) storage. HDD storage tends to be more affordable and offers more space versus SDD storage. This gives Windows laptop users a little bit more versatility, especially if you are also looking for plenty of storage for doing things like gaming, photo editing, and video editing.
For the dedicated programmer, this is much less of a deterrent, although software engineering students are encouraged to purchase a laptop that has at least 512GB of Hard Drive space, with 100GB of it being unused at the start of the semester.
Quality SDDs are almost necessary for serious programmers because they do make a big difference in terms of computer programming. A computer with an SSD capacity of at least 256GB is considered a worthwhile investment for programmers. Even a computer with an SDD of 128GB will do better than a computer with a large mechanical hard drive.
Limited Opportunity For Hardware Upgrades
To access the CPU and RAM components of Mac computers, you have to dig deep into the hardware system. Unlike Windows, it is pretty much impossible to access these deeply integrated components if you want to make any upgrades or alterations to the system’s hardware.
For this reason, you are encouraged to focus heavily on the specifications during the purchase process. It may be the case that 8GB of RAM is enough, but 16GB will improve your processing speeds. The good news here is that the Mac has a reputation for being more durable than Windows, so you are less likely to need expensive upgrades later on down the road.
Fewer Choices In Terms of Devices
Windows laptops are manufactured by a wide diversity of companies. You will have many more choices as far as specifications go if you choose to go with Windows. You’ll also have more choices in terms of apps and games that you can download on your Windows computer. While this does offer Windows an advantage, it likely won’t matter as much for programmers for reasons discussed here.
If you are a serious programmer, your main object of concern is that you have a system that provides plenty of functional support. If you want to dive into the world of gaming, then you may just consider purchasing a Windows laptop for these purposes and getting a Mac for programming.
Advantages Of Windows
Windows do offer some advantages for programmers, as is discussed in the section below. What are the advantages of Windows for programming? Well, for one thing, the Windows system does offer some tools that are useful for performing programming for your workplace.
Windows computers are also quite popular. As such, a programmer will probably have to do work through Windows at some point, particularly if you are interested in game development. It’s worthwhile to learn about the various characteristics that set Windows apart from Mac for this reason.
Windows Subsystem For Linux
Since 2016, Microsoft has provided users the ability to run Ubuntu Linux in parallel with Windows 10. You may have heard this referred to as either “Bash on Windows”, “Ubuntu on Windows” or by its official name “Windows Subsystem For Linux (WSL)”. Whatever you call it, there are several advantages to this software, as long as you are aware of what it can and cannot accomplish.
In the WSL program, Linux OS and Windows are allowed to share the same hard drive. This can be useful for programming since it allows you to transfer copy and paste items between the two different operating systems. The term “bash” is used here because the entry point to Linux is a text-only bash shell, therefore limiting your ability to launch Windows programs from Linux and vice-versa.
Here is what Bash on Windows allows you to do:
- Run Linux compilers and development tools while running Visual Studio code natively on Windows.
- You can launch and run the graphical user interface (GUI) from Linux.
Better For Enterprise Programming
Even though the Mac system certainly has its fan club, Windows is far and away from the most used platform, both at home and at the office. If enterprise programming is your goal, then you’ll have to perform work through the Windows OS. This includes any development projects performed for a business or corporation, many of which run Windows on the desktop computers in their office.
Visual Studio For Enterprise
This is certainly one category that Microsoft has a good hold on. Visual Studio is a source code editor that comes in Professional and Enterprise packages with an abundance of tools including, but not limited to: code metrics, graphics debugging, and cross-platform development tools. The Professional and Enterprise packages do come with a monthly subscription fee, but you will have an opportunity to try things out with a free trial.
Better For Building Video Games
Windows computers are generally perceived as being superior to Mac computers for game development. Since these types of laptops are so popular among the general population, you’ll find that there will be much more demand for video games developed specifically for Windows rather than games designed specifically for Mac. Microsoft also provides tools that are much more convenient for game developers.
One of these is the Game Stack package, which includes :
- Developer tools, such as those for code editing and content creation
- Cross-platform online services, including Game Testing & AI learning
- A way to monetize the end product. The game you develop could conceivably be on Xbox someday.
There are 14 million different players on the Windows platform. The Windows 10 update offers improved graphics and cross-platform play, which is further causing users to flock to the Windows program. Developers will also find that they have many developer tools at their disposal when they develop games through Windows.
Windows Computers Often Have Touchscreens
Mac computers do not usually come with touchscreens, while many Windows laptops often do have this feature. Programmers may not consider this much a priority, however, there are certainly benefits to being able to use a touchscreen while you are programming.
This is particularly relevant in the younger, up and coming, class of programmers. Many members of the younger millennial/gen z are more familiar and comfortable with touchscreens than they are with keyboard keyboards. They may have grown accustomed to using tablets in class for various purposes.
Programmers may not think they have an immediate need for a touchscreen, but given the popularity of touchscreen apps, anyone who is developing apps for tablets or phones will need to have a good way to test these before they roll them out. For everyone else doing coding, a good keyboard and mouse input will do.
Easy To Repair/Replace Broken Hardware
Since Windows computers are so widely popular, it is much easier to find replacements for broken pieces of hardware. Apple products, on the other hand, have proprietary hardware that can be costlier to repair.
The consequence of this is that it almost makes more sense to send a broken Mac to a repair shop or back to the manufacturer than it does to try purchasing parts and replacing them yourself, even if you consider yourself a handyman. This also means that Mac users do tend to have less opportunity to fully customize their system’s hardware versus Windows users.
Disadvantages of Windows
The Windows program is not without its drawbacks. This system does have many characteristics that can make it appealing to a larger audience, but not so much for programmers, who are focused on tools and processes that non-programmers wouldn’t even think about.
Although the upfront costs of Windows laptops can be lesser, you’ll find that additional costs and inconveniences may lessen this advantage. You’ll also find that there are tasks for which the Windows system does not have the capabilities that are seen in the Mac.
Licensing Agreements And Paid Apps
In a day and age where you have an open-source system like Linux OS, there is perhaps not very much incentive to instead go with an operating system with a myriad of licensing agreements and pay-to-play apps.
This is the case with Windows, which does indeed offer users a large variety of tools. Unfortunately, you may have to pay to use these tools. For the professional and enterprise editions of Visual Studio, for example, you have to pay a subscription fee of $45 and $250 per month, respectively. It’s up to programmers to decide if these costs are worth it.
Less Stable Operating System & Less Security
The Windows operating system is less stable than the macOS. They are susceptible to crashes and the notorious “blue screen of death”. The macOS owes its superior stability to a design layout in which Apple treats the components as “one whole system” rather than a hodge-podge of different pieces.
Due to the popularity of Windows, you’ll also be more susceptible to malware, spyware, and ransomware viruses. The vulnerability of Windows means that users most certainly will want to invest in a reliable antivirus software package. Mac computers had historically been described as being “virus-free”, although this is not necessarily the case anymore.
Inconvenient For C++ Environments
For those unfamiliar, C++ is a coding language that is widely used for video game development. It is also commonly used to power search engines. Movie production and air travel. It is advantageous due to its ability to directly manipulate the hardware it runs on. It may be more convenient to run C++ on Mac versus Windows.
The debate between Mac and Windows for C++ boils down to your preference as far as development environments. Clion is a quality programming environment since students can be eligible for free downloads. This is reportedly easier to do on Mac simply for the reason that a Windows computer is naturally cluttered with various programs that seem to interfere with the installation process.
Annoying Forced Updates
Historically, Windows has been notorious for forcing updates at the worst of times, leaving programmers in the lurch for 15-20 minutes. This is not a characteristic seen in the MacOS, since rarely does the entire system have to be rebooted for an update to be completed. Rather, updates are periodically needed for specific applications.
The good news is that there are effective methods for keeping the automatic restarts at bay. You can go to the advanced settings to toggle updates off and may be able to pause updates for multiple days at a time. As such, it seems like this is less of an issue with Microsoft currently than it had been in the past.
Issues With The Drivers
The operating system on Windows is much more cluttered with various programs that you may never use. Rather than being located in centralized locations that make sense, these applications tend to be stored in a standalone fashion that users may find distracted. This can lead to issues with the drivers.
Those who have used Windows for software development in the past report that they have had to spend more time than they would like trying to find the right combination of settings before they can start programming.
The inclusion of so many different programs is part of what makes Windows an attractive option for many seeking a versatile machine. If you are a programmer this is not necessarily an advantage, since you are seeking out a computer for specific development-related tasks. If you have the savings, you may well consider getting a Mac for programming and a Windows device for gaming.
You may have a chance to pay lower upfront costs for Windows versus Mac, but these initial savings are not necessarily always worth it. Windows computers do have a bit of a reputation for holding hardware that eventually breaks down and needs to be replaced. Mac, on the other hand, has historically been hailed as the much more durable option between the two. As long as you can take good care of your Mac, you can reasonably expect it to last for 6 years or even more.
Final Thoughts: Which Is Better?
There is a reason why professional programmers choose Mac. These systems are known for both superior performance and ease of use in many categories. Although Windows does have a command-line system, for example, it’s worth noting that it holds a reputation for not being as useful. The clutter of apps and tools available in Windows can serve as a bit of an inconvenience, especially when updates and restarts are mandated.
However, there are categories in which Windows is superior. If you are a game developer, for example, it is hard to beat the ability to create a game that can be monetized on the Microsoft store. Windows is also the popular choice for enterprise programming, simply due to the global popularity of devices carrying Windows.