Windows versus Apple Operating Systems: Computer buyer’s guide for small business.

Operating systems provide the interface between users and applications, and a computer’s hardware.

When considering desktops and laptops, Microsoft Windows has over 90% of the operating system market for computers, with Apple OS X (pronounced OS “ten”) holding just over 7%. These are, effectively, the only choices to define the look and feel of how your computer operates.

When considering smartphones, Google Android has nearly 50% of the market, with Apple iOS at just over 40%. Microsoft has less than 3% with the Windows Phone platform.

Depending on the hardware, tablets can run either “full” operating systems like desktops and laptops, or, “mobile” operating systems like smartphones. Thus, tablets fall across both categories of operating systems.

This guide is focused on computers that run full operating systems, so I will focus on Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X.

The sections that follow, describe a number of comparison areas between Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X (desktop views shown respectively below).

This guide concludes with a summary table.

Windows 10 desktop

Microsoft Windows 10 desktop with menu open

Apple OS X desktop

Apple OS X Yosemite with menu open.

Availability

Apple OS X is only available when buying an Apple computer such as a MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro or iMac.

While there are some options for running OS X on non Apple hardware, this is not supported by Apple.

While Apple manufactures its own computers, the hardware used is not exclusive to Apple. The same processors, hard disks, displays technologies etc. are found on both Windows and Apple devices.

Microsoft Windows has a different approach to Apple, in that other companies manufacture the computer hardware, and then put the Windows operating system on the computer.

Lenovo, HP and Dell are examples of companies making computers with Microsoft Windows.

Latest versions

For both Windows and OS X major changes to operating systems are identified through new version releases, and a new name, as identified below.

Microsoft Windows Apple OS X
Windows 7 (Oct 2009)
Windows 8 (Oct 2012)
Windows 8.1 (Oct 2014)
Windows 10 (July 2015)
Mountain Lion (July 2012)
Mavericks (Oct 2013)
Yosemite (Oct 2014)
El Capitan (Sept 2015)

 

It is important to note that Microsoft Windows computer manufacturers have a habit of pre-installing additional software before selling their computers. Much of this software is free for 30 days and then requires a purchase, and providing the manufacturers with additional revenue. Unfortunately, the impact of this software, according to Microsoft’s own testing, is slower start-up, slower shutdown, less battery time, and annoying popups to buy software as shown in the above picture.

Microsoft signature edition benefits

Microsoft Windows non-signature edition versus signature edition (Source: microsoft.com).

The industry term for this pre-installed software is “bloatware”.

The most notorious bloatware installation in recent times is when the major computer manufacturer Lenovo sold Microsoft Windows computers with software that introduced a serious security vulnerability when using security websites such as banking sites.
If you do purchase a Microsoft Windows computer, the best option is to avoid pre-installed software so you can purchase only what you want and need, rather than accepting “bloatware”.

Unfortunately, “bloatware” can be hard to avoid on Microsoft Windows. However, Microsoft does provide an option through its online store and “Signature” edition computers, which are completely bloatware free.

Apple computers do not suffer from the bloatware problem, and are released for sale exactly as Apple intends.

Multiple editions to each version

For each version of operating system, Microsoft provided multiple editions, each with a different price and its different features.
From a small business perspective, the “pro” and “enterprise” versions of Windows are if you want central management through the Microsoft Windows Active Directory platform, or want to take advantage of the disk encryption “BitLocker” feature.

The pro version of Windows costs about $100/£99 (inc. VAT) to upgrade from the standard version of Windows. The enterprise version of Windows is only available through a support agreement with Microsoft which, amongst other things, entitles subscribers to version upgrades to Microsoft Windows (perhaps not quite as valuable due to the current free upgrade offer for the latest version of Windows).

Apple provides just one edition of the OS X operating system.

New versions included free

When a new version is released for Microsoft, it has not always been available for free. That said, with the release of Windows 10, users of Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 can upgrade to Windows 10 for free if they upgrade within the first year of availability.
Apple has also been providing free upgrades to most recent operating system versions.

Version support life

Both Microsoft and Apple provide free updates to their operating system (an “update” applies when the operating system version remains unchanged, while an “upgrade” takes the operating system from one version to the next).

Microsoft generally provides 10 years of security updates from initial version release, with the first five years including features updates and fixes. The below table provides the timings for mainstream (first five years) and extended (second five years) support.

Microsoft Windows version Mainstream support Extended support
7 Jan 2015 Jan 2020
8 Jan 2018 Jan 2023
8.1 Jan 2018 Jan 2023
10 Oct 2020 Oct 2025

 

Apple does not publish a formal support schedule, but in recent years, version support has equated to about three years. Thus, referring to the versions in the earlier table, when El Capitan is released, support and version updates are expected to stop for Mountain Lion.

Touch screen optimised

Touch screen optimised means the operating system is optimised for use with a finger or stylus, rather than a cursor and a mouse.

Tablets require, and come with, touch optimisation. However, laptops and desktops may, or may not, come with touch optimisation.

Apple’s tablet, the iPad, uses a touch optimised operating systems called iOS.

OS X is not touch optimised, and this operating system is used on all Apple laptops and desktops. Thus it is not possible to have a touch optimised laptop or desktop from Apple.

For a Windows computer to be touch optimised, you need both the computer display to be touch optimised, and you need Microsoft Windows 8 or Windows 10.

desktop touchscreen actions

Windows 7 is not touch optimised, thus even if the computer has touch capabilities, you will not get a touch experience. That said, I have never seen a touch capable device available with Windows 7!

Central management of operating system configuration

Central configuration management is important in small businesses where multiple devices need to be managed.

While there is no specific rule, once you have more than five users, there will be benefits to centralising management.
There are various central management methods, with the most common being Microsoft Windows Active Directory for Microsoft and, also, Apple operating system devices.

Apple provides a solution through OS X Server, which is limited to managing Apple devices only.

Central management platforms are not within the scope of this guide, however, it is useful to be aware of the options.

Email, calendar and contacts

Microsoft Windows includes applications for email, calendar and contacts as part of the operating system installation: Windows Mail, Windows Calendar and “People” respectively.

These applications are relatively basic, and not as advanced as the integrated mail and calendar desktop application Microsoft Outlook.

Apple OS X includes Apple Mail for email, calendar and contact management.

Productivity software (presentations, documents and spreadsheets)

Microsoft has a key strategy of providing subscription services for productivity software called Office 365.

Office 365 covers a suite of software that includes presentations (PowerPoint), documents (Word) and spreadsheets (Excel). There are also other options for instant messaging, video conferencing, document storage, and email hosting.
Office 365 is a subscription service that comes with an annual fee per user, and allows up to five installations of the included software on various computers that belong to each licensed user. Microsoft does provide a non-subscription service for their software but that is beyond the scope of this guide.

The Microsoft strategy includes making Office 365 available on all leading operating systems, be they mobile or desktop. As a result, the Microsoft approach for productivity software is not tied to an operating system; not even its own operating system.

Office 365 is sometimes included free for one year with Windows computers, after which an annual fee is required if wanting to keep the service.

Apple OS X productivity suite is called iWorks and includes presentations (Keynote), documents (Pages) and spreadsheets (Numbers). The iWorks suite is not as powerful as the equivalent software in Office 365. However, depending on a user’s needs it may still be suitable.

iWorks is only available on Apple devices, for no additional cost.

Application availability

There are more applications available for Microsoft Windows than Apple OS X.

Historically, Apple has been popular in creative industries as the typefaces and colour representation by Apple computers closely matched the final printed output. Anecdotally, I understand that this advantage no longer applies. However, this legacy has endured, with creative industries having a familiarity with Apple products.

When it comes to your small business the key question is whether the applications you need are available. This is a question that only you can answer, and may fundamentally impact your operating system choice.

Please note that Microsoft Office 365 productivity software, as described earlier, is not as fully features on OS X compared to Windows. Advanced features, and sometimes even basic features are missing on OS X.

Mobile device features

Windows 8 and Windows 10, due to being touch screen optimised, can swap between a touch screen interface and a traditional desktop interface. This has benefits for hybrid tablet/ laptop computers.

Integration between Microsoft Windows and the Microsoft smartphone platform (Windows Phone, with a new version called Windows 10 mobile soon to be released) is primarily derived from the synchronisation features of mail/ calendar/ contacts/ documents or applications that run on both operating systems.

Apple provides tight integration, when considering Apple devices only. In particular, and this is unique to Apple, it is possible to receive and transfer telephone calls from an OS X computer, e.g. a MacBook, to an iPhone. This integration became available with the Yosemite release of OS X.

Disk encryption included

Only using a password to protect the data on a computer is a relatively weak security method. A motivated attacker can remove a computers storage and then directly access the stored data by circumventing the password used for starting the computer. The password, then, becomes meaningless.

The only method to properly secure data is to scramble the stored data. This means the password cannot be circumvented. The process for scrambling this data, in a way that cannot be easily reverse engineered, is called encryption.

Disk encryption is prudent if your computer contains sensitive data, and in some industries it is mandatory for protection of certain data, for example health records.

Microsoft Windows includes encryption capabilities through its BitLocker functionality, however BitLocker is only available on the professional or enterprise version of Windows.

Apple includes encryption capabilities through its FileVault functionality.

Antivirus included

Antivirus protects computers from malicious software (actually, viruses are a sub class of malware, or “malicious software”).

For various reasons, Apple OS X computers have been, and remain, less susceptible to malware than Microsoft Windows computers. Either way, both Apple and Microsoft computers do get infected by malicious software. As such, it is important to protect Apple OS X computers, even if this is to prevent passing on malicious software that may not impact it directly. This is especially important in a business context where sharing of files is normal practice.

Microsoft includes antivirus in its operating systems, called Windows Defender in Windows 8/8.1 and called Microsoft Security Essentials in Windows 7.

Apple does not include antivirus in its operating systems. As such, third party products are required.

Firewall

A computer firewall is software that provides control on what communication is allowed to and from a computer. This control helps prevent unauthorised access to your computer when connected to a network of any type.

Both Microsoft and Apple include a firewall with their computers.