OS X Yosemite vs Windows 10 full review

It's been a rough few years for Microsoft but Windows 10, which was released on 29 July 2015, has seen a resurgence of interest. It’s feels like the 1990s all over again as PC users coo with delight at what appears to be a genuinely usable version of Windows. But while PC users might be thrilled, how does Microsoft’s latest offering compare to OS X Yosemite?

The similarities lie in more than the version number. In fact, Windows X – sorry, that should be Windows 10 – is spookily similar to OS X in many key areas.

Read our OS X Yosemite review Plus: Doesn't Windows 10 sound rather like OS X to you...

And here’s what is coming in the next version of OS X and our preview of OS X El Capitan

OS X Yosemite vs Windows 10: Price

Apple has been giving OS X away for free since it introduced Mavericks in 2013. Just open the App Store and click Updates, or click Apple > Software Updates, and you can upgrade for zero cost if you haven’t already. If you buy a new Mac then you get all the iWork and iLife apps free too.

Well, wouldn’t you know but Windows 10 is a completely free upgrade too! There are conditions. This is Microsoft, after all. You need to be an existing Windows 8/8.1, Windows Phone 8.1 or Windows 7 user (sorry Vista users!) and you also need to be relatively quick because you’ve only a year in which to upgrade after the “Get Windows 10” app first appeared uninvited on your system. (It’s not yet clear what happens once the year is up but Microsoft moots a $110 fee in the upgrade app.) The free upgrade doesn’t stretch to corporate users who are covered by volume licensing.

Read next: How to install Yosemite and older version of Mac OS X

How get Windows 10 free

Windows 10 is free for home users running Win7/8/8.1, but only for a limited period while Microsoft’s feeling generous

Windows 10 deprecates quite a few features and sometimes asks for cash if you want them back. You might have to pay £11.59 for Windows DVD Player, for example, although this is free for some Windows 7 users for an unspecified “limited time” – although tread carefully because early reports say the app is both basic and might not even work correctly.

Even the Windows stalwart de-stressing tools Minesweeper and Solitaire now feature in-app purchases and must be installed manually via the Windows Store.

Any thoughts Microsoft turned a new leaf and become generous like Apple are dashed pretty quickly.

If you want to play DVDs then you might need to hand over cash for the Windows DVD Player app

OS X Yosemite vs Windows 10: Desktop

Yosemite’s desktop was visually overhauled with a new flat look but functionally is mostly identical to earlier releases of OS X. You get the Dock, from which you can launch apps, or open files and folders via Stacks. Mission Control lets you see what apps and documents are open, and switch between them via a graphical representation of their program windows as thumbnails. Spaces lets you switch between apps running in full-screen mode and also create or switch to additional desktops.

Read: Yosemite advanced tips | Yosemite beginners tips

OS X Yosemite’s desktop is simple, elegant, functional and very pretty – the perfect workspace

Apple was also clever enough to know that it’s not yet time – if there ever will be a time – when desktop and mobile can be merged into one sticky whole.

Windows 8’s basic fault was not understanding this, of course, and for desktop users Windows 10 apologises by restoring the Start menu, which was mostly banished from Windows 8. We don’t wave goodbye to Windows 8’s Live Tiles because the new Start menu is a hybrid. At the left is the familiar listing of features and apps – it’s here you’ll click the Power link to shutdown or suspend, for example, or access a list of your installed apps – while at the right are Live Tiles similar to those in Windows 8. This makes the desktop Start menu now firmly landscape in orientation, rather than vertical, but this makes sense considering most laptop and desktop screens are widescreen nowadays.

Windows 10’s Start menu is a mishmash of the traditional and the new Windows 8 Live Tiles. It works surprisingly well

Windows 10 doesn’t abandon the Metro-style apps that came with Windows 8, such as News, Money, Sports and Weather. These continue to eschew ribbons, icon bars or menus in favour of a sparse web-page-styled approach but they do run in program windows when Windows 10 is used in the default desktop mode. It’s still a little jarring that some apps have toolbars and/or menus, and others don’t, but it’s less irksome than you might think. It’s sacrilege compared to the elegant homogeneity that defines the OS X experience but, hey, Windows users aren’t even aware of such things are possible.

If you just can’t live without the everything-fullscreen-all-the-time approach of Windows 8 switch to Tablet Mode – although this means the Start menu and all apps, including traditional desktop apps like Office, fill the screen. In fact, Windows 10 includes Continuum, which makes switching between desktop and tablet modes automatic for those who use hybrid devices that feature detachable keyboards. This simply isn’t an issue for Apple laptops, of course – and hopefully never will be. If you want a tablet then get an iPad. If you want a laptop then get a MacBook. It’s super simple.

Windows tablet mode

If you really liked the Windows 8 fullscreen approach you can switch to Tablet Mode, and Windows Continuum can do this automatically for laptops with detachable keyboards

Read: Why Windows 10 is just like OS X

OS X Yosemite vs Windows 10: Notifications

Significantly boosted in Yosemite, the Notification Area lets your apps and OS X tell you important stuff, and also provides a home for widgets that show information like weather, or that let you perform quick and dirty tasks like calculate sums. Third party apps can add in their own useful widgets too. You can open Notification Area by clicking the icon at the top right of the desktop, or swiping in on a trackpad from the right-hand side with two fingers, but it otherwise keeps out of the way.

Notifications on a Mac

Notification Area on Yosemite provides widgets for quick functionality as well as a way of telling you about recent events and emails

Surprise, surprise – Windows 10’s Action Centre is almost identical to Notification Area, although is named after a similar feature on the older Windows Phone OS. You open Action Centre on the desktop by clicking an icon at the bottom right and, like Notification Area, it slides in from the right of the screen. New email notifications appear here, for example, but in reality the equivalent functionality of OS X’s Notification Area is spread across both the Action Centre and the new Start menu’s Live Tiles. These are “Live” because most update to show relevant information -- the Weather tile shows current conditions, for example. Provided its set to Wide or Large mode (you can choose by right-clicking it), the Mail Live Tile will list your latest emails – even though these are also listed in the Action Centre. True, the Action Centre’s listing is longer and more detailed, but you may find yourself bouncing between two desktop features that logically and easily could be combined into one – as Apple demonstrates.

Do Not Disturb on OS X and iOS lets you turn off notifications for a set period, controlled in System Preferences on a Mac. This too has been half-inched for Windows 10, with the equivalent feature within Action Centre being Quiet Hours.

Action Centre on Windows

It’s fair to call Action Centre a rip-off of Notification Area, and it even includes a clone of Do Not Disturb in the form of Quiet Hours

Read: How to manage Macs on a Windows-based network

OS X Yosemite vs Windows 10: Window organisation

Yosemite firms-up Apple’s goal for apps to run either as traditional program windows or full-screen. It does this by switching the maximise button (the green blob at the top left of windows) to a full-screen option. Working full-screen in apps courtesy of Mission Control and Spaces makes life significantly easier on smaller screens such as those on MacBooks.

As mentioned, Windows 10 splits out full-screen working to a dedicated tablet mode that you can switch on and off – a little irksome if you use a laptop with a small screen, although apps can still be maximised to occupy most of the desktop in the same way that’s been possible for a few decades now.

But more signs of Microsoft’s (ahem) homage to OS X Yosemite can be found in Windows 10’s new Task view – named with a typical lack of imagination. This looks, feels and smells like Mission Control, even allowing you to create new desktop spaces if you’re switched to Desktop Mode. In Tablet Mode it merely lets you switch between fullscreen apps. Task view replaces the ages-old Alt+Tab switcher, so forms a central part of the Windows 10 experience.

WIndows 10 Taskview

Look familiar? Task View is basically Mission Control, which has been a key part of OS X for years. It’s more basic although still allows access to additional desktop spaces

Windows 7 introduced the Snap window organisation tool, which lets you click and drag windows to the top or side of the screen in order to arrange them neatly into full-screen or half-screen sizes. Windows 10 enhances this with a little of the Task view magic – bash a window into the left of the screen, for example, and it’ll be arranged so it fills half the screen while the right will fill with a Mission Control-like thumbnail listing of windows. Selecting any will then fill the remainder of the screen.

OS X Yosemite vs Windows 10: Search

The Spotlight search tool is one of OS X’s greatest features. As Steve Jobs pointed out when he introduced it back in 2004, it makes the concept of a file system redundant and provides access to all types of data. You can use Spotlight to open files, start apps, search emails, and much more. In Yosemite it’s also been expanded to perform ultra-rapid web, Wikipedia, App Store, and map searches. Use Spotlight right and it will form the heart of your Mac experience.

Spotlight on a Mac

Spotlight is central to the OS X experience in that it can find files, provide dictionary look-ups, and much more

It’s with search that Microsoft has arguably leapfrogged OS X Yosemite because Windows 10 brings Cortana to the desktop. This is Microsoft’s Siri-a-like personal assistant that was introduced to mobile devices with the Windows 8.1 update. A new search field declaring the user should “Ask me anything” appears to the right of the Start button, and here you can type your query: “What’s the weather going to be tomorrow”, for example, or “What’s the most recent Arsenal score”. If you’ve a microphone plugged-in then you can just say “Hey Cortana” and start speaking – not entirely unlike saying “Hey Siri” when your iPhone or iPad is charging.

Cortana arguably isn’t as clever or elegant as Siri, and can spend a lot of time “thinking” about what you ask. More often than not you’ll be booted off to a Bing web search in any event. The Notebook feature lets you directly inform Cortana about yourself, which is a nice touch, but we’re not convinced personal assistants need to be instructed in this way. We’d rather they just learned from our existing queries.

Cortana is Microsoft’s clone of Siri and it arrives on Windows 10 in the form of a search field alongside the Start button

However, the inclusion of Cortana is a win for Microsoft. We remain baffled as to why Apple hasn’t yet ported Siri to OS X. It’s such an obvious trick to integrate it with Spotlight. Read: Siri for Mac launch date

OS X Yosemite vs Windows 10: Continuity features

While its operating systems are unique, Apple offers a number of features that unify both OS X and iOS. Apple has unified these features underneath the banner of Continuity and they include Airdrop, which is significantly boosted in Yosemite to let you share files between not just desktop computers, but also iOS devices.

Continuity on OS X lets you make calls or send genuine SMS via your iPhone, and it works extremely well

Windows 10 simply has nothing similar, which is somewhat crazy considering that the Windows 10 “Core” runs on all devices.

You have been able to send SMS messages to other iCloud users on your Mac since Mavericks in 2013, but now you can text anyone from your Mac, regardless of what smartphone they are using. Also new in Yosemite is the ability to make and receive calls on your Mac using your iPhone number (your iPhone just needs to be nearby with Bluetooth turned on).

Again, there’s nothing in Windows 10 that even comes close to this level of integration. The nearest equivalent is IP-based messaging services like Skype. If you're sending an SMS and both parties use Skype, Windows 10 will automatically flip to Skype so you can have a real-time conversation, whether that's continuing to use IM, or switching to a voice or video call.

OS X Yosemite vs Windows 10: Apps

Apple travelled more than a few steps down the path of unifying work patterns across iOS devices and Macs in Yosemite. Another new Continuity feature lets apps share data instantly between OS X and iOS. Thanks to Handoff, you can start an email on your iPad and you can pick it up instantly on your Mac, and vice versa. While there are separate versions of, for example, Apple's iWork apps, Pages, Numbers and Keynote, for each device, all documents are kept in sync so that you can easily pick up from where you left off on one device and continue working on another. Since Yosemite all documents can be stored on iCloud Drive and accessed on any device.

Because it's the same operating system across all devices, Universal Apps designed for Windows 10 will work with phones, small tablets and PCs. If you are using one Windows device you should find that apps look and feel the same across different devices and screen sizes. Data will be saved and will sync automatically via Microsoft's OneDrive. Full Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook will be included on phones - complete with the familiar Office Ribbon. The full Word engine will be built into the email app so you can format text just as you would in a document. A recent documents list will be available to all Windows 10 devices.

Many apps are getting an overhaul for Windows 10. For example, the Photos app has been improved so you'll see the same photo stream across your Windows 10 devices. This sounds a lot like the soon to launch iCloud Photo Library, currently in beta which will allow you to access all your photos from any of your Apple devices, and even a non Apple device via iCloud on the web.

OS X Yosemite vs Windows 10: App Store

Apple introduced the App Store concept to the world and it was immediately stolen by Google and Microsoft. Still, Apple’s used to that kind of thing. However, at least Microsoft is showing some initiative because Windows 10 unifies the Windows Store across all devices. Desktop and mobile versions of Windows 10 share APIs making it easy for developers to create a single app that’ll work on tablets and desktop computers. For users this means simplicity and perhaps the ability to buy an app once and use it everywhere.

In contrast, the iOS App Store and its Mac brother are entirely separate affairs. While there would be little sense in users running most iOS apps on OS X, and it’d be preposterous to suggest OS X apps should work on iOS, the ability to play iOS games on a Mac would certainly be welcome. This is technically feasible using existing software provided to developers so wouldn’t take a lot of adaptation to be integrated into a future release of OS X.

So, with its improved app store, Windows 10 scores a point over Yosemite!

OS X Yosemite vs Windows 10: Gaming & gimicks

Windows 10 brings Xbox Live to the desktop. Players will also be able to play Xbox One games on their PC by streaming them directly from their console to their Windows 10 tablet or PC within their home. Windows 10 gamers will be able to play against people on their Xbox One in multiplayer games. Game recording is also built into Windows 10 for Windows games.

Xbox in Windows 10

Microsoft cleverly extends its Xbox gaming empire onto Windows 10, allowing you to play games from your console on your PC screen

Microsoft is also working on an augmented reality system called HoloLens, using a headset a little like Google Glass. Windows 10 will be the first holographic computing platform and a set of APIs will mean developers can create holographic experiences in the real world. Apparently HoloLens lets you interact with 'holograms' that you see. You could use HoloLens to play games in a virtual 3D environment.

Outside of basic puzzlers, OS X has never been much of a gaming platform. The introduction of Steam is changing this slowly but Apple’s hardly pushing hard here. Additionally, so far modern-era Apple has steered clear of gimmicks like virtual reality headsets. We’ve got to say that we’re in no rush for this state of affairs to change.

OS X Yosemite vs Windows 10: iCloud vs OneDrive

Both iCloud and OneDrive offer the ability to sync files and settings via a magical shared folder whose contents are automatically duplicated on each of your computers and devices. However, OneDrive bears more resemblance to DropBox. Given iCloud’s issues – some of which are very serious – we have to say this mimicry is no bad thing. OneDrive is hard-coded into Windows 10, just like iCloud is in Yosemite and El Capitan, in that both appear in Finder/File Explorer.

iCloud is OS X’s cloud storage option and it just about works, although there remain quite a few usability hurdles that Microsoft’s OneDrive has already leaped over

OneDrive also provides remote access to ALL files on a user’s hard disk – including network shares if they’re mapped to drive letters. This a little like Back To My Mac on OS X, although much easier to setup because file transfer is handled via OneDrive rather than via a complicated port mapping setup that frequently doesn’t work. We have to say that OneDrive wins here again.

Any sensible person on either OS X or OneDrive will use Dropbox instead. But while OneDrive is far from innovative, we have to say it’s a more solid offering than iCloud – at least right now. It’s also quite a lot cheaper to buy space.

While most sensible people will simply use Dropbox, OneDrive is a compelling clone that’s significantly cheaper than iCloud – and it’s built into Windows 10’s File Explorer

OS X Yosemite vs Windows 10: Internet and PIM tools

The Safari browser gained much in Yosemite, including a whole new look providing more space for browser tabs and a significant speed boost. Safari’s developers have been focussing on features over the last few years, adding useful tools such as Reading List for offline browsing, and Shared Links for keeping up to date with your favourite sites and tweeted links. In Yosemite Mail gained the ability to annotate pictures and diagrams – a genuinely useful quick tool – while AirDrop takes care of large attachments that some mail providers balk at. Calendar gained the ability for users to input natural language instructions: “Appointment at 2pm next Wednesday with John”, for example.

Calendar for Mac

Calendar is built into OS X and in Yosemite brings with it the ability to type natural language queries in order to create new appointments

Windows 10 brings with it two built-in browsers. There’s Internet Explorer if you’re a masochist, or over the age of 70, although the system defaults to Edge. This was formerly known as Project Spartan, which tells us a lot about its intentions. The hated ActiveX has gone forever, for example, although Microsoft being Microsoft means there’s already a slew of bolted-on features – the ability to annotate web pages, for example, and reading view akin to Safari’s Reading List. Cortana is also built-in.

Microsoft’s new Edge browser promises faster browsing speeds and finally kills off the hated ActiveX

Windows Mail and Calendar are Metro-style apps that do the job but are much more basic than the OS X equivalents. Even the ancient Windows Express looks sophisticated in comparison. However, most people using Windows will arguably be using Outlook. Microsoft Office available for a bargain price to students, for example, while corporate and home office desktops can’t really live without it. If Windows + Office are indeed a pony and trap arrangement then all Microsoft’s really done is made the pony free of charge but continued to charge a hefty subscription fee for the trap in the form of Office 365.

OS X Yosemite vs Windows 10: Mobile integration

Where Apple has always maintained that two separate operating systems are necessary: one for mobile devices, one for computing, Windows 10 will run on PCs, smartphones, tablets and even Xbox One. There will no longer be a separate version of Windows for phones. The benefit of this strategy is that it means the same apps will be available on all Windows 10 devices.

Of course Apple's philosophy, initially outlined by Steve Jobs prior to that famous quote about not using styluses, is that an operating system that relies on mouse input isn't suitable for use on a mobile phone where the finger or thumb becomes the means of input (if you resort to using a stylus on the phone you have failed). 

How is Microsoft addressing this issue? Continuum Mode isn’t Microsoft’s answer to Continuity, it’s Microsoft’s answer to the dilemma of what happens when you disconnect the tablet part of the Surface from its base. The Windows OS will detect the loss of a keyboard or mouse and switch to the tablet (touch) usage modes.

That said, Microsoft is tailoring the OS to devices 8in and above, with a slightly different version for Windows phones and small screen tablets. This 'mobile' version of Windows 10 isn’t a successor to Windows Phone 8, it’s still the same OS as runs on PCs, however there are some tweaks. The mobile version includes the ability to float the keyboard around the screen. 

OS X Yosemite vs Windows 10: Internet Browser

The Safari browser gained much in Yosemite, including a whole new look providing more space for browser tabs and a significant speed boost. Safari’s developers have been focussing on features over the last few years, adding useful tools such as Reading List for offline browsing, and Shared Links for keeping up to date with your favourite sites and tweeted links. In Yosemite Mail gained the ability to annotate pictures and diagrams – a genuinely useful quick tool. Read more about Safari here: Tips for using Safari on the Mac

What can we say about Internet Explorer that hasn’t already been said? The user interface is still clumsy, with browser tabs crammed into the top right of the screen alongside the address bar. In terms of features it’s straight out of the previous century. Back in 2014 Microsoft was boasting a litany of under-the-hood improvements including HTTP2, but this is like a car manufacturer boasting their engines have new and improved sparkplugs.

However, in the consumer preview we learned more about Microsoft's new Window's 10 browser, code named 'Project Spartan'. Spartan is to be Microsoft’s new web browser, shipping with Windows 10. Built with interoperability in mind, according to Microsoft, Spartan has a new rendering engine that's "compatible with today's web".

It has a new look and feel, and it has three significant features, according to Microsoft. These include a reading mode and the ability to annotate with a keyboard, pen or a finger before you share an article. There's also integration with Cortana, so that when you're on a web page for a restaurant Cortana can make a booking. Spartan lets you create a reading list that shows up on all your devices, this content is then available to read offline, so it won't matter if you have no internet connection. Spartan’s reading mode also supports PDFs natively.

OS X Yosemite vs Windows 10: Mail

Apple's Mail offered new features in Yosemite including Mail Drop, which takes the hassle out of sending large files because Apple looks after the upload and download of files over 5MB so that you don't need to rush off to DropBox or similar in order to send emails without crashing the server, or that of your recipient.

The default (and only) email app on Windows 10 is Mail, a tablet app. This is basic. Forget about creating mail rules, for example. Even the ancient Windows Express looks sophisticated in comparison. Anybody who receives more than a few messages a day will be crying out for the likes of Outlook, which comes as part of Office 365. It’s not cynical to suggest that this is all part of Microsoft’s plan, of course.

Windows Mail is basic and no use for those who receive more than a handful of messages a day

Verdict: Windows 10 versus Yosemite

The bare truth of the matter is that Windows 10 steals the best bits from Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Mac OS X.

Such an approach isn’t guaranteed to work, of course, and could end-up an inelegant mishmash. If Microsoft deserves any kind of praise it’s that, at the end of the day, Windows 10 is a genuinely useful operating system. It really does feel like Microsoft’s got its groove back.

Is there anything that Apple can learn from Windows 10? Aside from integrating Siri, which we suspect Apple is avoiding for fear or being accused of prematurely merging mobile and desktop, the answer has to be a resounding no. Windows 10 just isn’t innovative.                                    

Nor will Windows 10 make any OS X user in their right mind more likely to switch. There’s a whole bunch of reasons why we won’t be using Windows any time soon. Installation is as much of a nightmare as it always has been, for example. Who wants to spend hours trying to track down hardware drivers? Then there’s the fact that Windows 10 still uses NTFS disk technology, more than a decade after both OS X and Linux switched to the more fault-tolerant journalled file systems. If your laptop dies without hibernating, for example, then the use of NTFS means there’s still the risk of lost data, and still a lengthy start-up scan phase to try and repair things. This is despite the fact that Microsoft has ReFS is ready and waiting to be a swap-in.

Then there’s the weird error messages that you only find in Microsoft products, or the usual Microsoft bugs that recently meant an system update (which are now automated by the way) meant that some PCs entered an endless reboot cycle. It’s all incredibly tiresome, especially for those who’ve seen this kind of thing countless times before. Why can’t Microsoft ever just get a grip?

We also have a comparison preview of El Capitan and Windows 10 here

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