An Apple fan opens himself to Windows

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A couple of weeks ago I was forced, by client work, to purchase a Windows laptop. It was not easy for me. For decades I've been a loyal Apple user/fanboy. The idea of spending time and money on a creaky, plastic computer running a bloated, janky operating system filled me with loathing. Still, professional that I am, I took one for the team and walked into a nearby computer store. To my surprise, for the $250 I spent I found I had purchased a light, credible device with a bright screen and just enough horsepower to run the Microsoft Office Suite the client work demanded. For the price, I also got a year's subscription to Office 365 for free.

Given that it all cost a quarter of an Apple laptop, this was pretty great. Sure, it wasn't carved from a single block of aluminum, and the fit and finish didn't even come close to a MacBook, but it also wasn't just a step above a Fisher-Price Baby's First Keyboard.

More surprising for me, was the Windows operating system.

The laptop came with the much-maligned Windows 8.1, which I quickly dumped for the recently released Windows 10. The last time I had needed to use Windows, I was working with Windows 7, and before that, Windows XP. Both made me want to scoop out my eyes with a dull melon baller.

They are both, in my opinion, bastard children of a proper graphical user interface that was humped by a sack of bedsprings. They are the sort of computing experience you would force on prisoners in Gitmo so that they would rat on sleeper cells. In short, they are the hellspawn of Klingons.

So, I was pleasantly surprised when I fired up Windows 10 on my little, low-powered laptop and found a good-looking, relatively snappy OS that was intuitive, colourful and even a bit delightful. It appears to be a product of a new Microsoft, not one hamstrung by its Balmer-fuelled baggage and not trapped in the belief that design is something you sprinkle on after developers do the hard coding work.

I was so surprised that I decided to see what the contemporary Microsoft experience is like on a much more powerful, more portable device: the Surface Pro 3.

My timing worked out well since last week Apple announced the iPad Pro, a large tablet with a keyboard cover and a stylus, just like the Surface 3. Unlike the iPad Pro, however, the Surface runs a full version of Windows 10, which I found incredibly fluid even using touch gestures on the Surface's screen. The iPad Pro will be running iOS, not the full Mac OS that Apple Desktops and laptops use.

In the short time I used it, I liked the Surface. Well, I liked it on the surface. When I actually fired up PowerPoint, the software my client wanted me to use to design templates, I discovered the old Microsoft again, hiding out, like a Unabomber.

Compared to using the elegant Keynote on the Mac, PowerPoint is like rooting around in the foul rag and bone shop of every version of Office that ever existed. The cruft is as thick as barnacles on the ass end of the Titanic. Templates offer hapless users five levels of sub bullets, the built-in slide designs harken back to the days when clip-art of an angry duck hitting a computer with a sledgehammer was the height of office humour and the user interface could only make sense to six guys who have been living on Microsoft stock options in Costa Rica for the past 27 years.

But, for many folks, me included, who have long since eschewed Microsoft Office bloatware for more streamlined online tools like Google Docs, Slack and Prezi, using a Windows 10 laptop can be enjoyable.

I've even taken my little Windows laptop to coffee shops in lieu of my MacBook Pro or iPad, and it's been a champ. And, last week, for the first time ever, I suggested that a friend actually consider a Windows laptop for her daughter who was going into nursing at university.

All of this doesn't mean I'll be abandoning my Apple ecosystem any time soon. But it does mean that cloud-based services, inexpensive hardware and a vastly improved Microsoft OS are all making it harder to justify the Apple tax you pay for elegance and ease-of-use. And that, my friends, is a painful reality for me.

Listen to an audio version of this column, read by the author, here.

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years, and is a long-time writer for rabble.ca on technology and the Internet.

Photo: Isriya Paireepairit/flickr

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