Mac Musings

Windows XP Is Faster, but Mac OS X Is Superior in Many Ways

Daniel Knight - 2008.04.11 -

Scott Hansen, an artist and musician in San Francisco, has provided the most honest assessment of the differences between Macs and Windows PCs that I've read, and his conclusions are sure to disappoint some Mac partisans.

Hansen uses Photoshop a lot and has been migrating from Windows XP to Mac OS X. He states right up front that he is "totally in love" with OS X - but there are areas where Windows is better.

The Mac is visually superior, creating a more enjoyable user experience. After using the Mac, Hansen states that he is disappointed every time he goes back to Windows - it's that big a difference. He says, "the beauty and simplicity of the OS X interface is an incredible achievement." And, of course, things tend to "just work" on the Mac, making it a less frustrating user experience.

His second point is that Mac OS X is much more stable than Windows when using Photoshop. He complains that working with Photoshop "in Windows is wrought with errors, bugs, crashes, and lost work." And it's not just one particular machine - this has been his constant experience over the years with Windows XP. By comparison, he says that Photoshop on the Mac has never crashed or misbehaved.

His third point is one some Mac lovers won't like hearing: For raw performance, Windows XP beats Mac OS X. Hansen has run both operating systems on the same hardware, his own optimized Photoshop system with a 4.2 GHz (overclocked) Core 2 Extreme Quad Core CPU, and XP wins every speed comparison. He speculates that this is because OS X has more overhead - more tasks running in the background.

This is something we've discussed here in the past: Every operating system has to make tradeoffs, has to find its own balance point. You can go for maximum speed, maximum ease of use, maximum number of features, maximum interface smoothness, maximum security, etc. But a smooth interface and robust multitasking uses computing power, so you're sacrificing some speed for a better experience. That's the choice the Mac OS has always made by putting the user experience first.

Losing out to Windows in Photoshop is a change from the PowerPC past, when Steve Jobs would compare a Mac with a Windows PC running a huge macro script in Photoshop during his keynote, and the Mac would blow the PC away. Now that we're all using the same Intel Core 2 processors, the overhead of OS X gives Windows XP an advantage in terms of raw computing power applied to the current application. (No word on whether this is still the case with Vista, which most Windows users wish had never been invented. Hansen is coming to OS X from XP, not Vista.)

"the myriad superiorities of the OS X experience far outweigh any performance benefit you might realize within XP."

However, while we have lost bragging rights for Photoshop performance, Hansen notes that "the myriad superiorities of the OS X experience far outweigh any performance benefit you might realize within XP." Those are words Apple should put on billboards.

In the end, Hansen declares it a tie between Windows XP and Mac OS X. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Of course, that's because he's comparing Windows XP with OS X. In Hansen's own words, Vista sucks. He calls it "a complete and utter disaster" and suggests it prefaces Windows' eventual and inevitable decline.

And what is he buying? A MacBook Pro is his choice as his default computer. He's putting his money where it will give him the best computing experience, and that's the Mac platform hands down.