The Mac is in trouble. And that’s not due to a decline in quality (okay, maybe a little); you can attribute it to more robust competition.
As a writer at PCMag, my primary laptop has been a MacBook Pro for the past eight years; I also had an HP Z420 desktop. I’d been holding on to my 2011 MacBook Pro, waiting for the new machines to come out. But when they finally arrived, I switched to a Surface Book.
Maybe I’m just not as brave as Jony Ive. While the new MacBook Pros are slim, powerful machines with great screens, I just couldn’t get with the super-flat keyboards. I pound out words all day, and getting rid of almost all the throw on the keys was pretty much a deal breaker. I’m also hesitant about whether the Touch Bar is actually going to be useful across a wide range of apps. (I was burned by high hopes for 3D Touch on iPhones, which has largely fizzled out.)
So my head turned, and I liked what I saw. Windows 10 is a lot faster, simpler, and cleaner than it used to be.
It helps that I’m an Android phone user. Apple has recently seemed focused on pulling you all the way into its ecosystem, and the power of macOS multiplies when you join an iPhone, iPad, iCloud, Apple Mail, and the Mac all together. But I’m a services mutt. I take notes in OneNote, use Gmail and Google Photos, sometimes listen to Amazon Music, and love my Android phones.
All these services work as well or better on Windows, especially OneNote—which gains powerful extensibility—and Android, which lets you transfer files natively without a buggy file-transfer app.
The Surface Dock, meanwhile, has let me replace two computers with one. The Surface Book has a display port, but the dock lets me plug in a monitor, keyboard, headphones, and Ethernet with one cable. Most notably, it works with my gigantic, old, DVI-D Dell monitor, giving me a full desktop setup when I want it. The magnetic single-port connection—hey, remember MagSafe?—makes it easy to grab the laptop and run.
Ironically, the only thing I really wish the Surface Book had is a USB-C port. I think those are going to be big in the future. I looked at some Windows laptops with USB-C ports like the HP Spectre x360, which is also a great machine, but I just prefer the Surface Book’s keyboard and trackpad. Input devices mean a lot when you’re doing a lot of input. The high-res screen also lets me have a lot of windows open when I want, increasing productivity.
The Surface Book’s touch screen is growing on me. I didn’t think I’d use it, initially. But now I find myself sometimes reaching up to rearrange or close windows, or scroll through articles. It’s a useful additional mode, icing on the cake. As a journalist, I’m looking forward to using the tablet mode with the Surface Pen in OneNote to take notes standing up; I just haven’t had the opportunity yet.
The keyboard, meanwhile, is the most important aspect of any laptop to me, and it’s divine.
Why Everything Became Easier
Moving over to Windows, I also realized how much I’d been pushing uphill against our company’s systems for years.
There’s a cost to being a rebel. For instance, our VPN passwords expire periodically. Windows users get a prompt. Mac users have to email the IT department. Our slideshow production system doesn’t work on any Mac browser; you have to use Parallels. Some of my data journalism has relied for years on writing Visual Basic scripts in the Windows version of Microsoft Excel.
In those cases, going to the Surface Book has been a huge relief. I’ve replaced two machines with one, and I can now carry everything I need to do—including the stuff I was using the Windows desktop for—with me.
Some of my developer friends who switched to Windows have complained that they haven’t been able to find command-line dev tools that are comparable to what they used on the Mac. So far, my only complaint is that I haven’t been able to find an equally cuddly replacement for Postico, a great PostgreSQL client I’ve used on the Mac. SQL Manager Lite is working out okay.
I thought I was being brave by sticking with the simpler operating system, but maybe I was just being stubborn. If the flat keyboards and lukewarm Touch Bar are bothering you, too, maybe it’s time for you to switch. Let’s talk about this more in the comments.