We’ve written some particularly negative things about Windows recently, focusing on the reasons why using the traditional Windows desktop can be a frustrating experience. Do we just hate Windows? Not at all. The Windows desktop is an amazing platform.
Speaking personally, I have a love-hate relationship with Windows, as I imagine many Windows users do. We’ve looked at the reasons for the hate, now let’s look at the reasons for the love.
The Windows PC ecosystem is messy. While Apple’s Macbooks start at $999, you can get Windows laptops for under $300. You definitely don’t get the best hardware or support with these cheap devices. But it’s a fact that such cheap devices allow people to afford a computer who wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
Put positively: The Windows PC ecosystem has put devices into the hands of people who would never be able to afford Macs, not just in developed countries, but around the world in places where Macs and high-end Windows PCs would be prohibitively expensive.
Even the bloatware we geeks complain about has an upside. PC manufacturers are paid to include bloatware, so this helps bring down the cost of buying a new Windows PC.
Hardware Choice, Including High-End Hardware
Windows PCs aren’t just about the low-end. No, they’re about choice. Want to build your own Windows PC from components? You can do it, selecting every individual component and knowing for sure that they’ll work with Windows. Even if you’re not into building your own PC, you can get desktops and laptops with any mix of CPU, RAM, storage, graphics hardware, and anything else you choose. Apple offers a handful of options, but PC manufacturers can give you almost anything you can imagine — including hardware that’s much more powerful than anything you could get in a Mac.
While more and more applications are coming out for mobile platforms instead, the Windows desktop is still the place to be for its huge library of desktop applications. There are over four million Windows desktop programs out there. Whatever kind of program you need, you’ll find it on Windows. This is particularly essential for productivity software that just isn’t as well-represented on mobile platforms.
Combined with a browser — and you have lots of browser choice on Windows — you can do almost anything on Windows, even experience competing ecosystems. Want to have a great Google experience? Google spends a lot of time on Chrome, Google Drive, and their other software for Windows. Want to use iTunes as a media store and interface with iCloud? Apple provides the full version of iTunes for Windows and offers both an iCloud Control Panel desktop application and web interface to iCloud. Want to watch Amazon Instant Video, read Kindle books, and use Amazon’s services? Of course you can do it on Windows. Practically everything is available for Windows.
Software Backwards Compatibility
Not only are there more than four million Windows desktop programs available, but Microsoft has done an excellent job of maintaining backwards compatibility with them. People complain about Windows being full of “cruft” that has built up over time, but the upside is that Windows offers the best compatibility with older applications. Want to use a line of business apps written fifteen years ago? You can probably still use it on Windows 8.1. Better yet, you can install that desktop application on a Windows 8.1 tablet and be more mobile with it than ever because of all the flexibility the Windows desktop offers.
Macs and Linux just aren’t as backwards compatible. Mac OS X no longer includes Rosetta for running PowerPC programs, while the Linux desktop has experienced so many changes that would break closed-source apps that rely on older APIs and libraries.
Multiple Programs at Once
Have you ever tried using an iPad or Android tablet as your main device? If you’re someone who cares about productivity, you probably haven’t. These devices are still so limited that they only allow you to view one application on screen at a time. Want to write something with a reference document open on the other half of your screen, or even just watch a video or chat while you browse the web? Nope, can’t do that on an iPad or Android device.
Although you can use keyboards with such mobile devices, you can’t use mice with iPads. Android does support mice, but just emulates touch events with left-click. Actions like hovering and right-clicking generally aren’t possible.
Windows is still synonymous with PC gaming. If there’s a game that runs on PCs, it runs on the Windows desktop. PC gaming is thriving thanks to services like Valve’s Steam and, while Steam supports other platforms, Windows is still the place to be for gaming. Windows still supports a vast library of PC games going back more than fifteen years, while the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 can’t even run games designed for the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.
PC gaming has tons of advantages: You can get the best graphics quality in a gaming experience, use a variety of different input types (keyboard and mouse or controller? you decide!), run games on either a typical laptop or a specialized gaming PC yourself, and take advantage of amazing sales and bundles to get games for practically nothing.
The desktop side of Windows is still an open platform. As a developer, you can develop for Windows and distribute your program without anyone’s permission. As a user, you can get your programs from anywhere and run them without worrying about app store approval processes and arbitrary rules that create categories of banned apps.
Want to install a server, or some sort of system administration tool that requires complete access to your Windows system? Yup, you can do that without jailbreaking or rooting your Windows PC. You’re in control.
The Windows desktop is the standard for PCs, so you know that any piece of hardware you pick up will be supported on Windows. Unlike with desktop Linux, you don’t have to research to make sure your hardware is completely supported by the community. Unlike with a Mac, you don’t have to check that the manufacturer bothered to create drivers for the Mac.
Just pick up a piece of hardware and go — you know it will work. (One exception is older hardware that manufacturers haven’t created updated drivers for.)
On a personal note, I’ve been accused of being very negative about the Windows desktop. I definitely have a love-hate relationship with it, but I can say that I use the Windows desktop most of the time. There’s nothing quite like Windows Live Writer for putting together blog posts quickly and efficiently — a great example of a specialized application that doesn’t have directly competitive alternatives on other platforms. I also play various PC games and wouldn’t dream of switching to Mac or Linux full-time and giving up easy compatibility with all these programs. And, of course, tablet operating systems like iOS and Android just aren’t as powerful for doing actual work with multiple applications at once. They can’t even do basic leisure things like chatting or watching a video and browsing the web at the same time.
The Windows desktop is nowhere near perfect, but it’s amazing. It’s a double-edged sword — for each of its problems, there’s a corresponding benefit.