Many developers will tell you that Macs are the ideal platform for programmers. At the same time, others will tell you that you can do just fine with a much more affordable Windows PC. So what’s the real story here?
Programmers prefer to use Macs over PC since Mac has a Unix-based development environment and access to many tools and coding libraries. It’s also the platform of choice to develop iOS or macOS apps. However, if you’re into .NET development or game development, Windows PCs are the better choice.
In this article, I’ll give you a close-up of what makes Macs so popular among coders and when you should consider a Windows PC for programming.
Why Do Programmers Tend To Use Macs Over PCs?
Personally, I use Mac at work and PC at home for freelance projects. As such, I’m familiar with both platforms, and if I had to choose, I’d pick Mac. And this isn’t just me. The majority of programmers tend to prefer Macs over PCs.
Wonder why many programmers love Linux? Read more in this article.
According to the 2016 Stack Overflow developer survey, Mac came out on top, with 26.2% of programmers using it as their OS of choice. Windows 7 came in second with 22.5%.
So, is programming on Mac really that much more advantageous over PC? Or is it just an industry trend that programmers are “supposed” to use Macs?
Well, it’s a bit of both!
The biggest reasons programmers tend to use Macs over PCs are:
- Mac is Unix-based.
- Mac has cross-platform compatibility.
- Mac has better security and stability.
- Mac has an accessible UI and UX.
- Mac has superior build quality and longevity.
- Mac has excellent support.
- Mac has a history in programming.
So, as you can see, many factors play a role in the adoption and popularization of Macs in the programming community. I’ve expanded on each of these points in the following sections to give you a more detailed picture of what makes Mac ideal for programming.
Mac is Unix-Based
The Open Group has certified macOS as a Unix operating system. That means you get a fully-featured native Unix environment with macOS, which significantly benefits programmers, especially in web development.
You see, most of the internet is powered by Unix-like OSes, including most web servers that host all your favorite websites or web apps.
As such, by using a Mac to develop, run, and test your programs, you also ensure that they’ll run smoothly when deployed on an actual server. Other than this, with macOS, you get access to the Unix-based terminal, which is far superior to Windows’ MS-DOS-based Command Prompt or PowerShell.
The Unix terminal allows you to code in almost any programming language without a dedicated IDE (Integrated Development Environment). Here, you can write new programs, run and debug them, call different programs, and even connect to other computers and call programs from there.
A significant chunk of a programmer’s time is spent working inside the terminal, and with macOS, you get a feature-packed terminal that’s delightful to use.
Here’s a fantastic 30-min YouTube video by Academind offering a beginner’s guide to the macOS terminal:
Mac Has Cross-Platform Compatibility
Macs offer an excellent cross-platform system for programmers who want to develop apps for different operating systems.
First and foremost, if you intend to create apps for iOS or macOS, you need a Mac, period! On top of that, you have access to tools like Parallels Desktop to run a Windows virtual machine on your Mac. This allows you to use Windows-specific tools that aren’t available on Mac for your development process.
In contrast, there aren’t good macOS virtualization software out there that’ll give you a stable working experience. And possible workarounds involve using hacked versions of OS X, which isn’t something I use or can recommend. As such, if you’re using a Windows PC, you’re missing out on iOS and macOS development.
The same notion extends to browser support as well.
With Mac, you access the three most popular web browsers – Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.
Mac’s web-browsing versatility allows you to test your websites or web apps on all three platforms to make sure it runs smoothly. However, if you were using Windows, there’s no support for Safari, which means you can’t optimize your web app for a significant chunk of web users.
Overall, macOS is better if you aim to create cross-platform programs to maximize your reach.
Mac Has Better Security and Stability
As a programmer, you’ll often need to download different scripts & code snippets. You might also need to install various programs for research purposes. So what if you accidentally end up downloading a virus or malware?
Mac is based on Unix, making it a far more secure and robust operating system than Windows. There aren’t as many exploits for hackers and bad actors to target. So, as long as you don’t commit any human error, which you’re less likely to do as a programmer, you should be safe.
However, if you want to play it super safe, you can always install third-party antivirus software on your Mac to enhance your security.
Other than this, Macs are also more stable than PCs. Since Apple handles both the hardware and software, you get an excellent end-user experience.
You’ll rarely face any bugs or hiccups while using your system, even if you have it running for long hours. So, Mac’s reliability also makes it an excellent platform to use as a home server.
Here’s a quick 19-min YouTube video by Snazzy Labs on how to turn an old Mac into a new server:
Mac Has an Accessible UI and UX
Programmers are people too, and we enjoy using a modern and good-looking operating system.
For many other programmers and me, macOS offers a more polished, modern, and intuitive user interface and user experience design than Windows. All the macOS apps follow the same design style, which leads to a cohesive and immersive user experience.
On the flip side, with Windows, some parts of the OS are getting a user interface revamp, while others still look like they belong to the Windows 7 era. This lack of uniformity makes the OS feel unpolished and like a work-in-progress rather than a finished product ready for work.
Now, apart from just aesthetic preferences, the macOS UI with the dock on the bottom and the menu bar on top makes it a much more productive operating system.
Just take the cursor to the bottom edge, and you’ll get access to all your favorite and currently running apps. The menu up top will display the app menus, control center, notification center, and much more.
Mac Has Superior Build Quality and Longevity
Apple products are known for their excellent build quality, extending to MacBooks and iMacs. When using a Mac, the software and the hardware exudes elegance, premium-ness, and durability.
One of the significant troubles that I’ve had with Windows laptops is that they show signs of trouble within a couple of years. And at that time, it can be challenging to diagnose what’s at fault and even come across parts you’ll need to fix.
Whereas I still have my MacBook 2014 model, and it’s working great. In the last seven years, I only needed to take it to the technicians once, and that too was last year to replace the batteries (in 2023, however, I finally updated to a new model, but the old one is still working fine).
Now, I don’t want you to just take my word for it. You can also find evidence for the value of Mac computers in the marketplace, where prices for used Windows laptops depreciate rapidly compared to Macs.
Do you have a 2-year old MacBook you want to sell? Well, you can easily find a buyer that’ll give you a fair price. On the flip side, if you go to sell a 2-year old Windows laptop, even from reputed brands like HP or Dell, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a decent deal, let alone an interested buyer.
Mac Has Excellent Support
Apple is in charge of both the hardware and the software for Macs. They also release a relatively small number of Macs each year. That enables the tech giant to support their device over an extended period, something other laptop manufacturers can rarely promise.
For starters, you’ll receive the latest macOS version on your Mac for about seven years.
Furthermore, you’re also entitled to technical support from Apple Retail Stores for a minimum of 5 years from when your particular model was last distributed for sale. At the same time, the availability of repair parts extends up to seven years.
As such, if you take good care of your Mac, it can potentially last you five to seven years, even while running the latest OS version.
You’ll never see this type of support on the PC front.
First of all, laptop manufacturers tend to forget about any models they released over two years ago. As a result, you’ll cease to receive driver updates and bug fixes which are troublesome for your system.
Also, repairability from support centers and parts availability is another big concern and isn’t nearly as good as you have with Apple.
Mac Has a History in Programming
Apple’s desktops and laptops weren’t always based on Unix. The significant change came with the release of Mac OS X on 24th March 2001. This shift also coincided with the growth of the internet when web development started to become more complex and sophisticated.
You see, programmers of that time needed a platform that provided all the necessary tools to develop web technologies.
Windows wasn’t paying too much heed to this market. And then came Mac with its Unix-based OS and access to polished and well-crafted development tools like text editors, package manager, etc., which reeled in many programmers.
Gradually, over the years, more programmers started adopting Macs, which generated further interest in making Macs developer-friendly, which, in turn, again drew in more programmers.
Currently, one can argue that Windows is “good-enough” for programming and that it’s only a preference to use Mac over Windows.
And while, in part, it is true – I use Windows at home for freelancing projects – the history of Mac is one of the reasons why developers today still prefer using it over PCs.
So, When Do Programmers Use Windows PCs?
Windows PCs’ most prominent advantage over Macs is that they’re way more affordable. You can find a working Windows laptop for as low as $200, whereas a good coding laptop will cost you around $500. In contrast, Macs have a starting price of $1000, making it a hefty investment.
As such, if you’re a student or on a tight budget, going with a Windows PC makes the most sense to get your hands into the world of programming.
But does that mean Windows PCs are made for developers who can’t afford Macs? Absolutely not!
Windows PCs are usually the best way to go if you’re an enterprise developer working with .NET applications or a game developer working with the Unreal or Unity engine.
Furthermore, Windows might not be based on Unix, but as of 2016, it has WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux). With it, you have access to the Linux command line, specifically Bash, which is similar to the Unix command line on macOS and comes with the same perks.
The only problem is that WSL isn’t enabled by default on PCs, which sums up all the trouble you’ll have when working with Windows.
The platform isn’t optimized out-of-the-box for developers. However, if you’re willing to take your time, you can install the necessary libraries and packages and make them adequately efficient for your programming needs.
Programmers prefer using Macs because it’s Unix-based, provides cross-platform compatibility, offers better security and stability, has a clean and polished UI/UX, and delivers an excellent build quality backed by excellent customer support. It’s the platform of choice for web developers and programmers coding iOS or macOS apps.
Other than this, Macs were the first developer-friendly mass-produced computers available on the market, making the platform more popular amongst programmers.
On the other hand, Windows captures the .NET development and game development market. It also caters to programmers on a budget.