I’m now a week into switching from Mac to Windows and have mostly settled in. Here’s a list of gripes I have about the Windows experience. Compare to a similar post I wrote in 2011 when I switched to the Mac. Honestly mostly the Windows machine is fine and I think this change will take permanently. But you notice things when you try something new.
Operating system problems
Windows is actually not a bad operating system, the NT kernel is pretty good. But there’s still a lot of warts.
File paths are still broken in Windows. Stuff installs and writes files all over the filesystem: Program Files (two versions), root directory, various user directories. The fact that I need to know about a pathname like C:\Users\Nelson\AppData\Roaming\Sublime Text 2\Settings is terrible.
I have two GPUs: the motherboard and a fancy gaming card. It’s really unclear to me which GPU is used when. In theory I can use the motherboard plug but it still uses the card? I couldn’t make that work reliably, so I just used a plug on the card.
There’s no way to make Windows re-open programs you had open when you reboot and log in. And if you want a program to start when you log in, it’s a hideous process of opening one of two magic folders and creating and dragging shortcuts. Seriously, I have to make a shortcut and put it in C:\Users\Nelson\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs. That’s handy.
It’s remarkable how 30 year old DOS software still works on Windows 10. But that legacy support comes at an increasing cost.
There’s an uncomfortable mix of Windows 7 and Windows 8 philosophy in Windows 10. For instance there’s two overlapping sets of system settings: Control Panel (Windows 7) vs Settings (Windows 10). Also there’s too many backup options. The Windows 10 things are better, but they aren’t complete so you need the legacy Windows 7 sometimes too.
Windows still comes in a 32 bit version! That’s nuts. Worse, applications are also distributed in both 32 bit and 64 bit builds. OMG why? I wonder how many users choose the right one? And they’re installed in separate folders. “Program Files (x86)” is a very awkward name for a folder. There’s uglier stuff hiding under the covers too, like file system redirection.
Windows 10 still expects DOS newlines in files. Files have both CR+LF to end a line, and tools like Notepad won’t display a file correctly if it only has LF like everyone else in the world. This continues to cause headaches when using Windows tools to edit Unix files.
Windows 10 is ugly. MacOS is so calm and harmonious.
The biggest problem is the UI still seems designed for 75ppi screens. Modern LCDs are 100+ppi, so everything is too small. System tray icons are 16×16! A lot of apps default to 8 or 9 (points? pixels?). I get a headache from squinting and leaning close.
Microsoft has created display options to scale everything; 125% does look more or less the right size. But apparently every single app has to be smart about scalings; if they don’t, it goes blurry like it was up-sampled with a bicubic filter. Many apps are OK. But Electron apps like Slack and Discord have this problem right now, apparently a fix is on its way. Also Chrome up-scales all the images in a web page to 125% as well, which is entirely unacceptable and makes the scaling setting useless.
The fonts are ugly. They look spindly, thin. I’ve tried tweaking ClearType to make things better with not much success. Font rendering for CJK fonts is so bad a bunch of users have created alternate font renderers like MacType. But their installation is spooky and the English documentation is not great so I’m not using them.
So many apps play sound notifications. For instance, social apps like Adium and Discord love to make noise when people join/leave. You can turn these off in each app. But it’s hard to find which app is making noise. The Volume Mixer program will show you but the window is small and modal and not really practical to leave running all the time.
The default sound set in Windows 10 is goofy, too light and ethereal. I’m particularly missing a way to have a good clean beep sound for the BEL character in ttys.
The mouse scrolls backwards! This is actually Apple’s fault; they were the ones to reverse things in the first place. But now I’m used to it and switching back is annoying. There’s hacks to reverse it in Windows, but I’m soldiering on.
Mouse scrolling doesn’t feel good on Windows. The “scroll 3 lines at a time” hack in the driver seems dumb. And sometimes the wheel scrolls backwards at the end of a gesture, either through hardware flakiness or my fingers being inaccurate. Either way I never noticed a problem on a Mac.
It’s awkward that Windows uses Ctrl-C for copy and Unix uses it for terminate process. In general I prefer the Mac’s use of the Cmd key and wish Windows used Alt the same way. And don’t get me started on Windows’ apps love of Ctrl-Shift-Win-X type hotkeys.
Here are some things from my Mac I miss on Windows.
I miss auto-correct for typos. I’m confused because this is built in to Windows 10, and does work for me in MSIE Edge. But it doesn’t work in Notepad, or in Chrome, or many other apps. Apparently Chrome does its own thing. Also autocorrect only works for UWP apps, ie new things. Notepad seems like a strange oversight.
I miss the MacOS/iOS way of entering “special characters”. Hold down the E key and instead of uselessly repeating the E, it pops up a little GUI for you to choose É or the like. Windows doesn’t really have this (I wonder if Apple has a patent?). The best alternative I’ve found is the Touch Keyboard, which has a similar UI with the mouse.
I miss the emacs editing keys in text areas, particularly Ctrl-E for end of line.
I miss Keychain. I didn’t use it much on the Mac, but having a central system for secrets is really smart. The specific thing I miss using is the SSH agent.
I miss iMessage. It was great getting my phone text messages on my desktop. Apple seems uninterested in opening iMessage to anyone else.
I miss having a brightness control for my monitor from software. There’s no volume hotkeys either. Actually I miss everything about how the iMac integrates display, etc in to the computer. I now have no webcam and no microphone. OTOH my new external monitor is lovely. Better be, it cost half as much as an iMac!
So those are the gripes. Here’s good things about the Windows switch.
Gaming. That was the #1 reason I switched back to Windows, I wanted to dip back into PC gaming. Apple is simply not competitive in desktop gaming, not in hardware and certainly not in software. Microsoft’s lock-in strategy with DirectX succeeded.
The hardware itself is better and faster. Apple has neglected the iMac line and fallen behind. The GPU is the main thing I have that a Mac can’t do. But it was also nice being able to build a machine with Kaby Lake parts the second week they were available retail. I was also surprised that it was relatively easy to spec a clean, quiet piece of hardware; that used to be a big PC drama. It wasn’t much cheaper than Apple hardware though, particularly when you consider the display.
Network file shares work better. I gave up on using SMB on my Mac when Apple dumped Samba for their own broken SMB implementation. Of course SMB is quite nice on Windows. NFS worked on the Mac but was awfully slow and didn’t include an authentication solution. SMB is grody but seems to work.
My Network printer just worked. I had to do literally zero setup; it was discovered and configured automatically. Not so lucky with the scanner though.
Ubuntu-on-Windows is shaping up to be a good Unix environment, certainly better than MacOS. Here’s a post about it.